Towns of Milton, Fulton laying groundwork to consider industrial park

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, January 14, 2014

TOWN OF MILTON—The towns of Milton and Fulton are laying groundwork to begin discussions with landowner Bill Watson about his plans to build a major industrial park west of Milton.

The Milton Town Board on Monday forged a legal agreement to accept $5,000 in funding from Watson to investigate potential re-zoning and land use changes for a plan he has to develop as many as 1,200 acres of farmland for the project.

Watson has offered to pay for technical and legal costs of zoning reviews the towns might have to undertake if they begin to consider his sweeping plan. That includes Watson's plan to fund a potential interchange at County M and Interstate 90/39 that would create access for what he says could be a 4 million- to 5 million-square-foot industrial park.

On Monday, the town of Milton also unveiled a pending intergovernmental agreement to work with the town of Fulton to discuss potential zoning and land use changes that would be linked to Watson's plan, though Watson has not yet formally asked for zoning changes in either town.

The town board's moves Monday came in front of a large crowd of about 60 residents at Milton Town Hall, and they drew questions and comments from a handful of residents.

Among those attending were Watson, state Rep. Andy Jorgensen, Fulton Town Chairman Evan Sayre and Milton City alderpersons Anissa Welch and Nancy Lader. 

Watson has said that at its outset, the project could involve a 750,000-square-foot facility. He also has hinted that some prospects for development could include intermodal freight transporting or warehousing and distribution, as well as a large-scale dairy equipment manufacturer.

Town Chairman Bryan Meyer said the town is still trying to learn more about Watson's plans, but that it needed to set a legal agreement on Watson's offer to cover funding legal or technical review of zoning and land use linked to the proposed project.

“We were in a rush, because Mr. Watson dropped off some funds (to the town),” Meyer said. “I said, 'That's wonderful, but we need an agreement.'”

The town's agreement would make room for Watson to spend more in the future if necessary. The town of Fulton is expected to discuss a similar agreement at a meeting tonight, officials said.  

Some residents attending Monday's meeting had questions about Watson's plans, particularly about authority over annexation and taxing jurisdiction.

Watson told The Gazette last week he plans to petition the city of Milton to annex all or part of the 1,200 acres he's earmarked for development, but it remains unclear if the city would have authority to annex the property or if adjacent farm landowners would agree to the annexation.

Steve Busch, a resident who lives on Manogue Road adjacent to Watson's proposed industrial park, wondered about the city's authority to annex the property.

“Can they just reach out and grab us? Do we have a say in it?” Busch asked.

Meyer told Busch that while the city doesn't have a clear line of jurisdiction over the land in question, industrial use fits in with the city's comprehensive plans.

That fact alone would give the city leverage to negotiate with the state Department of Administration over authority to annex the land, Meyer said.

Watson has made it clear that one reason he'd like the city to annex the property is because he believes it could undertake zoning and land use changes necessary for the development on a faster timeframe than the towns could.

Watson elaborated on that idea Monday, explaining to residents that the city could use its own rules for industrial zoning and development to write potential agreements quickly, whereas the towns could take months to hammer out the same agreements.

“'We're not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “If you bring a guy (company) in from Frankfurt, Germany, then you say you've got to go into the town board and you could wait a year and half. That ain't going to go for us.”

Some residents, including Busch, said they're concerned about the townships losing out on taxing authority if the city of Milton annexes the land.

Meyer indicated that from the town's perspective, that would have to involve agreement between all municipalities involved over how tax revenue from Watson's development would be split up.

“The concept is for all the local municipalities to have an intergovernmental agreement by contract as to what seems fair, to share the wealth,” he said. “I don't know if it would take a month, three months, six months.”

If there isn't a shared agreement, Meyer said, “it's feasible to kill the project as a result.”

Sayre told residents that the town of Fulton is on board with forging an agreement to work closely with the town of Milton, and he suggested the towns work to form an ad hoc committee to regularly discuss updates on Watson's emerging proposal.

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