Janesville will not pursue land annexation

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Marcia Nelesen
Friday, March 21, 2014

JANESVILLE--After hearing concerns from town and city of Milton officials, the city of Janesville will not pursue a request from Bill Watson to annex land that Watson owns in the towns of Milton and Fulton.

Watson has been trying to convince Milton town and city officials to allow him to develop 1,500 acres. He is proposing to pay for an interchange at County M and I/90-39 to provide access to the land, but that plan is pending a justification report and state and federal approval.

Town and Milton city officials have been hesitant to get on board. One reason is that  Watson will not guarantee he won't mine the land for gravel. Other details have been few, as well.

Watson has said he doubts he will mine the land, but he needs that option open to get investors on board.

Watson has said his primary goal is to develop an industrial park. He claims to have interest from companies that would create hundreds of jobs, if not more. The land is  zoned for agriculture, and he needs a municipality to annex the land, change its zoning and provide utilities.

City Manager Mark Freitag said Janesville was surprised when Watson contacted the city late last month, and staff was not even sure the city could legally annex the land.

Staff has since talked to several lawyers who are experts in the field of annexation, Freitag said.

“They said, 'Yes, it is legal, but it is very difficult,''' Freitag said.

The land is beyond the limits of the city's comprehensive plans, which presents a major difficulty. As such, “we would have to get support and buy-in from those communities that are affected.”

Freitag said he has since talked to officials in the towns of Fulton and Milton and also the mayor and city administrator of Milton.

 “What I took away from those conversations was that there is not currently the sufficient local (town) support that the city of Janesville would need to be able to proceed with an annexation program,” Freitag said.

Freitag said he called Watson earlier this week and told him that, as much as the city is “interested and intrigued” by the proposal, “the conditions are not right to proceed on a possible annexation.

“I just added, by the way, we have a whole lot of industrial development (land) on the southeast and south sides of Janesville I would be more than happy to show you, and he thanked me for the interest,” Freitag said.

 “The bottom line is, it was the timing,” Freitag said. “It's just not right for Janesville to move out on this … until there is such a time as there's local support. I just don't see it as something that is going to play out.

“I thought we did the right thing by taking his request very seriously,” Freitag said. “We analyzed it, studied it, researched it, and in the end, it just didn't seem it would be something that would be achieved.

“I certainly hope we can get Mr. Watson to get interested in the south and southeast sides of Janesville.”

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