City of Fitchburg City Hall March 2020

The outside of Fitchburg City Hall.

After years of bickering between the Common Council and Plan Commission and a lawsuit from citizens over the zoning of land on South Fish Hatchery Road, the city will allow only single-family housing development on it.

The council voted Tuesday, April 14, to rezone the two parcels, at 2546 and 2556 South Fish Hatchery Road, back to low density residential, by a vote of 5-3. The council also removed the option of industrial-commercial zoning on the parcel, counter to the Plan Commission’s recommendation.

Alds. Dorothy Krause (D-1), Anne Scott (D-1) and Julia Arata-Fratta (D-2) disagreed with removing the option for industrial-commercial zoning and voted against an amendment to remove it.

The council had postponed the rezoning decision in December so officials and residents could do more research on what kinds of development could be allowed on the parcels based on an industrial-commercial zoning.

The council included a condition that any development would not be allowed to have traffic exit onto Fish Hatchery Road. Any development must have exits on Nobel or Research Park drives.

The Plan Commission had recommended that condition because of traffic concerns, which had been central to arguments last year against allowing a senior living apartment development.

Ald. Sarah Schroeder (D-3) said she lives in the area and experiences the traffic issues first hand on a regular basis. She added that she felt the Plan Commission had good insight to add the condition for exit options.

“Traffic safety is definitely a concern, and just even how this zoning came to be is a concern,” she said. “Let’s just get this back to low-density residential as it was proposed and kind of move forward.”

Before March, the council and Plan Commission had been required to agree on any comprehensive plan amendments, which kept the fate of these properties in limbo. The city’s update to the comprehensive plan changed that, with language that asserts the council has the sole right to approve changes.

Frustrated citizens encouraged the council to add the wording after two separate instances in which the council and commission disagreed over zoning, one with the North Stoner Prairie neighborhood near Lacy Road and Seminole Highway and the other over the Fish Hatchery parcels.

The Fish Hatchery parcels had been the subject of a lawsuit from nearby residents David and Cheryl Strassman after former mayor Jason Gonzalez violated open meetings laws by putting a senior housing development for the land back on the council agenda without holding a public hearing after the development was denied. A Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled in December the council’s denial of the development signaled the end of the process, so any additional conversations required the process to start over.

Before the vote, Arata-Fratta said even if the council were to keep the Industrial-Commercial designation, it would still have the right to approve or deny proposals alders don’t like.

“I think traffic will also be an issue even with low density,” she said. “I want to vote to provide flexibility to this lot for future development, as it’s surrounded by commercial lots. I think it makes sense to keep that language.”

Krause warned that if a commercial development is not one of the options for the parcels, the land will stay in limbo because the current owner is not willing to do single-family housing developments.

She argued that putting single-family homes around industrial commercial properties is not allowed in the city’s SmartCode zoning and is not the correct way to plan a city.

“This is a difficult (situation) because it’s a neighborhood against purposes that others, including the land owners, want to use the land for,” Krause said.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.​