Green committee scrutinizes comprehensive plan

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
— The city's proposed Smart Growth plan encourages urban sprawl at the expense of farmland, according to some members of Janesville's new green committee.

"How do we restore downtown Janesville when the plan encourages downtown to be moved to Highway 14/51?" committee member Alex Cunningham asked at a Tuesday night meeting of the Sustainable Janesville Committee.

The committee was formed to advise the council on environmental matters.

"This is uncontrolled real estate speculation at a time when the city, the state and the nation are going into fiscal crisis," Cunningham said. "We need to figure out how to manage our operations and not just give development rights away to the people who have land on the fringe."

The city is in the final stages of a two-year process that will result in a 20-year comprehensive plan.

Committee member Julie Backenkeller said the plan is weak on farmland preservation.

"The city of Janesville should never have jumped Highway 14 to the east," she said.

The Smart Growth plan calls for taking development farther east to Henke Road, she said.

"We need to make a stand to protect that farmland," she said. "It is a natural resource that cannot be replaced."

"To jump Highway 14, to me, is nothing less than irresponsible."

Cunningham wrote a letter that he wanted to forward to the city council, urging it to delay approval of the Smart Growth plan.

Cunningham, who said he has done long-range planning for other communities, said the Smart Growth plan is missing realistic growth projections, cost estimates and best alternatives, specific strategies on the landfill and phased growth.

Cunningham said objectives and goals listed in the city's plan are generic to all communities, and the methods used to calculate housing, commercial and industrial needs are flawed.

But other committee members thought Cunningham's letter was too antagonistic.

"I would feel very uncomfortable with having this committee take such a strong stance about a process that has gone for two years," Committee member Katie Udell said.

Adopting such a stance would make it impossible for the committee to work with city staff in the future, she said.

Rather, she said, the committee could come up with specific questions of city staff and the city's consultant.

Committee member Dan Swanson, too, said he wouldn't vote to forward the letter to the council because he is not an expert in city planning.

But, "(Cunningham) raises enough issues to put serious question (as to) whether it should be just rubber-stamped as it is," Swanson said.

The committee will draft a list of questions at its Nov. 4 meeting to ask of the city's development department.

After Tuesday's meeting, city council member and committee member Tom McDonald said he, too, advocates farmland preservation.

He said he hears that from his constituents as well, but they say they feel helpless to do anything about it.

"Now people have the opportunity to do something," McDonald said.

"We can say, ‘Don't expand past Highway 14.'"

To see a copy of Janesville's proposed comprehensive plan, click here.

The Sustainable Janesville Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in City Hall. Contact information for committee members is not yet available on the city Web site, but residents can speak at the beginning of the meeting in council chambers.

Last updated: 10:40 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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