City of Fitchburg

With several people in the audience registered and prepared to speak about a controversial plan to change the zoning in the North Stoner Prairie Neighborhood, nobody got to discuss it.

Not even the alders.

Two successive motions to defer the discussion were put up in rapid-fire succession, and the second one, for April 23, passed on a roll-call vote.

Ald. Tony Hartmann (Dist. 4) asked questions about the procedure and tried to get around the parliamentary rule that appeared to made the motion non-debatable, but he was cut off.

“Tony, without discussion, we can’t do that,” city administrator Patrick Marsh explained. “If it votes it down, you can pick another date.”

The motions were actually phrased as tabling, which according to standard parliamentary procedure, takes precedence over all other motions and cannot be debated. The effect of the motions, however was a postponement or deferral, meaning the procedure was used incorrectly.

The item up for review by the council had already been put off from the Feb. 12 meeting, which was one day after the League of Wisconsin Municipalities had issued an opinion that the council could not make a change to the comprehensive plan without the Plan Commission’s approval.

The commission and council had been unable to agree over the past several months on how to change the comprehensive plan to address neighborhood concerns.

The original neighborhood plan was changed in 2017 to allow high-density zoning (no limit), and it met with no resistance, but when developer Chris Ehlers proposed a high-density, “affordable” condominium complex there, east of Seminole Highway and south of McKee Road, neighbors objected and asked for the plan to revert to its previous cap on density, 5-9 units per acre.

The commission disagreed and recommended a compromise of 16 units per acre, but the council did not agree, and in November it voted 4-4, with Mayor Jason Gonzalez breaking the tie, to send it back to the commission.