Leaders don’t see reduced water service area as barrier to Waukesha’s development

Business in Waukesha County

A fall survey showed 72 percent of Waukesha County businesses plan to expand or remodel in the next three years.

When the city of Waukesha initially applied to withdraw water from Lake Michigan, the city proposed a water service area that included more than 50 square miles across five municipalities.

The recommendation that emerged from the Great Lakes Regional Body’s work on the application essentially cut that area in half, limiting any diversion to the city’s current service area and a few parts of the town of Waukesha that are islands within the city.

Waukesha mayor Shawn Reilly said the redevelopment of a former Kmart into an Xperience Fitness is among the types of projects he expects for the city.
Waukesha mayor Shawn Reilly said the redevelopment of a former Kmart into an Xperience Fitness is among the types of projects he expects for the city.

The amount of water the city could withdraw was also reduced, from 10.1 million down to an average of 8.2 million gallons per day.

As a result of the scaled back request, the city will be less likely to expand its borders through annexations and the communities originally included in the service area won’t have the safety net of turning to Waukesha if there is a problem with their water supplies.

But leaders for the city and the other communities say they don’t expect a reduced service area to hurt development moving forward.

“I still see us having really good development potential,” said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.

About 18 percent of the service area included in the original application was open and available for development, including about 5 percent within the city, according to Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. What remains of that land will still receive water from the city under the revised service area.

The land outside the city borders is a different story.

A 2000 land use inventory by SEWRPC that was part of Waukesha’s application included 4,222 acres developed as single-family residential outside the city, but within the original service area. The 2035 plan in the application called for an additional 4,328 acres in that area to be developed as single-family housing.

Waukesha’s downtown is ripe for redevelopment, mayor Shawn Reilly said, including a proposal that would convert a portion of the Waukesha County Historical Museum into apartments.
Waukesha’s downtown is ripe for redevelopment, mayor Shawn Reilly said, including a proposal that would convert a portion of the Waukesha County Historical Museum into apartments.

The city estimated half of the planned residential development had taken place by 2010 and more has been added in the past six years, but Yunker said the land was included in the service area in case a public health need ever developed.

It wasn’t envisioned that a water supply was going to be sent out to those communities, he said.

That’s exactly why town of Waukesha chairman John Marek doesn’t see any impact on his community’s development because of the reduced service area.

“For us, it was purely a safety net if our wells became contaminated,” he said.

Many town residents are on their own wells and Marek suggested that even without having the city to fall back on, the combination of having their own water source and lower tax rates would be more attractive to some homeowners.

He said there would likely be a dramatic slowing in those looking to be annexed into the city and the potential to not have the city drawing from the shallow aquifer was still a good outcome for the town.

“The fact of the matter is, even if the town of Waukesha was included in the service area… there was no time in the near future we would have (had) water supplied (by the city),” Marek said.

The town of Waukesha made up the majority of the additional land in the originally proposed service area, but the story was similar for the town of Delafield.

“It’s always good to have a safety net and that’s kind of how we viewed that,” said Larry Krause, town of Delafield chairman.

The town had 1,200 acres included in the original application and the 2035 plan called for almost 75 percent of that to be single-family residential. The rest was planned for environmental, recreational or government use.

“We have very little commercial activity in our town, and that is by design,” Krause said.

But what if a water emergency happens?

Waukesha’s Great Lakes diversion calls for the city to clean the water and return it via the Root River.
Waukesha’s Great Lakes diversion calls for the city to clean the water and return it via the Root River.

Marek noted that something like the 2012 pipeline spill in Jackson or hazardous materials moving through the town by train could potentially cause problems.

“Hopefully nothing like that ever happens,” he said.

If it did, Marek said it wouldn’t be feasible for the town, which has an annual budget of roughly $3 million, to pursue Great Lakes water on its own.

At a May Waukesha Water Commission meeting, Waukesha Water Utility general manager Dan Duchniak said some of the issues the city has seen in the shallow aquifer could come up again.

“I would anticipate that there would be problems in that aquifer,” he said, highlighting the high levels of chloride he’s seen in the city’s shallow wells.

He said if one of the communities did need to submit an application for Lake Michigan water, the utility might need to work with it.

With the diversion setting the outer boundaries for the city, Reilly said he would like to work with the town to address the islands within the city. He was quick to point out that would take a number of years and no talks have taken place.

“There would be a lot of issues,” he said.

As for development in the city of Waukesha, Reilly said there are plenty of opportunities to repurpose older buildings. He highlighted The Shoppes at Fox River on Sunset Drive as one such development and the conversion of a former Kmart into an Xperience Fitness as another. The city’s downtown, which has undergone several summers of construction to improve streets and infrastructure, is ripe for redevelopment, he said.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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