City of Fitchburg

Two properties along Fish Hatchery Road that have been a point of zoning contention for years will stay zoned as high density at least until April.

The Common Council voted to postpone a vote on whether to return the properties at 2546 and 2556 South Fish Hatchery Road to a low density residential classification with the potential for industrial or commercial use. That vote now is scheduled to take place at its first meeting in April, prior to when the council could potentially turn over, with four members up for re-election.

Earlier this year, the council rejected a proposed senior housing complex there, citing mainly traffic and safety concerns. An October 2018 vote to approve a version of the project after it had failed earlier in the year drew a successful lawsuit voiding the approval, and the developer proposing the project suggested this year he might take legal action, as well.

Ald. Sarah Schroeder (Dist. 3) proposed postponing the vote until April so both the council and nearby residents can do more research on what kind of projects could go there.

“Having four options is kind of confusing,” she said. “If we can answer questions of exactly what the Industrial-Commercial allows and potentially give examples, talk with residents to make sure there’s full understanding.”

Ald. Shannon Strassman (Dist. 3) agreed, stating she feels extra time needs to be put forth to ensure any decision the council makes can withstand any court case that comes up against it.

“I took a look at the ordinance, and you can put anything there – anything,” she said. “A huge apartment complex, anything.”

One condition of the rezone proposal was that any future industrial or commercial development to the property would have to be accessible only from either Nobel or Research Park drives, rather than South Fish Hatchery Road. The condition was created after residents expressed concerns over the impact on traffic if the access point was located on heavily traveled Fish Hatchery Road.

Ald. Dorothy Krause (D-1) said she has no issue with industrial or commercial development on the property and that an access point off of Nobel or Research Park would completely alleviates the traffic concern.

The two properties do not line up next to either Nobel or Research Park drives, however; any development would need an access point that goes through fields currently zoned for industrial-commercial.

“The property owners on Nobel Drive adjoining these properties are not interested in using their properties as an access point for residential to come through from these other properties,” Krause said. “The only option if it goes to residential is for that traffic to enter onto Fish Hatchery Road, which I have heard, if it is low density residential, is going to be just as much traffic and just as much problem as we’ve discussed ad nauseam.”

During the ordinance’s public hearing, resident Rita Burke-Hendricks said zoning for the property should be restricted to what was in the original comprehensive plan, as low density residential.

“The right thing to do is to return this property to where it was in 2009,” she said. “It can be amended when a good project comes forward, but it needs to follow state laws concerning notification. Adding something back that was not properly noticed in the first place is not doing the right thing.”

Dane County Judge Stephen Ehlke ruled this month the city had failed to provide proper notice when alders reconsidered the initial rejection of the senior apartment project in June 2018.

More than a dozen residents registered in opposition, all with similar language to what Burke-Hendricks proposed: “Return to low density residential and publish or delay until April 2020 Common Council meeting.”

City administrator Patrick Marsh warned against postponing the rezone, stating that doing so would leave the property at its current zoning classification.

“If a project comes forth as high density that meets those requirements, it’s going to be up to this body to come up with reasons not to allow it,” he said. “That could be an issue moving forward.”

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