Developer seeks to annex 1,200 acres into city of Milton

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Neil Johnson
January 15, 2014

MILTON—Developer and landowner Bill Watson has told the city of Milton he plans to petition the city to annex 1,200 acres of land he owns for a proposed Industrial park.

Milton City Administrator Jerry Schuetz announced Wednesday that Watson plans to use a unanimous direct petition process to seek the city to annex property he owns along the Interstate 90/39 corridor along County M in the towns of Fulton and Milton.

Watson is proposing to build a 4 million- to 5 million-square-foot industrial park on the land, and is seeking approval from the state Department of Transportation and federal highway authorities for an interchange at I-90/39 and County M.

Watson's move to get his property annexed into the city comes after a pair of meetings Monday and Tuesday at the towns of Milton and Fulton. The town boards worked to galvanize agreements on legal and technical review of zoning and land use changes necessary for Watson's proposal.

Watson has offered to pay the towns for those reviews, but he's said he'd seek annexation to speed up the process of planning and zoning. He has yet to file any official requests to rezone or change land use for the project, which would be built on land owned by Watson and a handful of adjacent farm owners.

Annexation would give the city authority over taxing and major zoning and land use changes in the proposed industrial park. The towns of Fulton and Milton are forging intergovernmental agreements town officials hope would lead to shared authority over planning and sharing of tax revenues from the industrial park.

Milton Mayor Brett Frazier said the city has an overarching interest in seeing an interchange at I-90/39 and County M, which is why he initially sparked talks with Watson over his industrial park plan.

He said the city is investigating infrastructure issues around the annexation area, including roads, police and fire needs, and sanitary sewer systems.

According to state statutes, direct annexation by unanimous approval, the method of annexation Watson is seeking, would require Watson and any other landowners of the properties in question to sign an annexation petition.

An annexation would need to be contiguous to Milton, approved by a two-thirds vote of the Milton City Council, and approved by the state Department of Administration.

According to a map Watson provided The Gazette, two landowners potentially involved in the plan have land that connect the annexation area to city limits along a rail spur on Milton's south end.

The city is planning a public session Tuesday during which the city council would probe Watson for details on his proposal, including a potential timeline for the project and the status of an Interstate justification report and environmental review that Watson must provide the state and federal governments.

The state plans to start work expanding I-90/39 between Beloit and Madison in 2015. Watson has made it clear he'd like to break ground on his proposed interchange by April, but a DOT official told The Gazette it's unlikely state and federal approval could move that fast.

Frazier said it's the first time he's seen a developer seeking to simultaneously juggle so many parts of a development.

“This is new. This is new for everyone,” Frazier said. “I think, normally, you would kind of go from point A to B, C and D, and you wouldn't do the second step before the first step worked out. Probably the reason he's going about it is that it's such an expedited timeline the developer is wanting.”

Watson has said the industrial park situated near a major highway and major railroad lines would be ideal for intermodal freight transport, warehousing and distribution.

Some residents wonder if Watson plans to get the area annexed and rezoned by the city to lay groundwork for gravel mining. Under zoning laws, if the area is zoned industrial, one allowable use would be gravel mining.

Watson told The Gazette the property in question is currently “too valuable for industrial use” to be annexed and then switched to another use, such as gravel mining.

“We looked at it for mining. We know plenty of it (sand and gravel) is there, but it's not prudent to mine it at this particular point in time,” he said.

Watson claims the current value of sand and gravel aggregate, which he said is worth a couple of dollars a ton, would be outstripped by costs for mining and shipping material out of the area.

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