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The price of sprawl PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 16:51

Urban sprawl lives.
    Encouraging reports of American society turning away from the voracious consumption of land for urban expansion heedless of the damage to rural areas and their contributions to the quality of living have proven overly optimistic.
    Look no farther than Grafton.
    The Village of Grafton is on the verge of leaping hopscotch style into the Town of Grafton to annex 114 acres of farmland to accommodate a commercial real estate company that proposes to build a business park.
    The business park—apparently industrial plants, offices and such—would be located at the intersection of Ulao Road and Highway C, the gateway to the lakeshore countryside with its green expanses, farm fields, lake bluffs, beautifully undisturbed Lion’s Den Nature Preserve and growing numbers of homes for families that choose to live in the relative quiet of the Town of Grafton’s rural reaches.
    Why would village officials want to accommodate this development? To grow the village tax base, of course.
    A more pertinent question would be—how will this make life better for the people of Grafton?
    If adding chunks of commercial development valuation to the tax roll were a municipal panacea, the Village of Grafton would be a nirvana plying residents with first-class services at bargain-rate taxes, given the addition of tens of millions of dollars worth of property to the tax base by the massive retail development along the village’s flank abutting I-43.
    If only it worked that way. One of the reasons it often doesn’t is the imperative that municipal services expand apace with development. The pressure on the once all-volunteer Grafton Fire Department to provide the personnel, training, facilities and equipment to protect megastores spreading over hundreds of acres of land is but one example.
    Still, disciplined, carefully planned growth is desirable for most communities, preferable to stagnating or shrinking. And it can be said that Grafton has managed its spectacular east side commercial growth well. It helped that this expansion was logical, on land adjacent to the village and next to the freeway, which made commercial development a preordained certainty.
    Speaking of logic and the freeway, I-43 and the narrow commercial corridor on its east side seems an obvious limit to village expansion. Yet now the Village Board is considering large expenditures for extending sewer and water utilities out into the Town of Grafton and building streets and other infrastructure for the business park on annexed land that is currently zoned for agriculture.
    This would be paid for by village taxpayers via tax incremental financing, a convenient mechanism for development but one that delays return on the investment until well into the future.
    Other taxpayers would likely be involved as well. In a clue to the impact the project would have on the area, the village is in discussions with Ozaukee County about road reconstruction to hasten the movement of heavy traffic between the business park and the freeway.
    Village Administrator Jesse Thyes told Ozaukee Press the project is on an “expedited schedule.” He explained, “There will be a big open discussion where we’ll discuss the feasibility of the project and then we’ll move forward.”
    The expectation is that the project will be approved because it was the village government that invited the developer, MLG Properties, to identify potential sites for a business park in the first place.
    Thyes said the decision will be based on economic feasibility, but there is something else Village Board members should consider, and that is the physical character of the community they represent.
    Grafton, apart from the shopping extravaganza beside the freeway, is at heart a small town, not a sprawling suburban tract, but a true community, and an elemental part of its appeal is its proximity to the countryside where open space and small gifts of nature still abide.
    Some of that will surely be lost, taken away from residents of both the town and the village, if the plan to turn outlying farmland into a business park goes forward.       

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