Waukesha County development observations

Mounting land-use issues keep Delafield attorney Richards busy
By John L. Campbell, for SBT
Take a close look at the new land-use developments in your community. There’s a trend away from homogeneous bedroom communities to a diversified amalgam of single-family homes, multiple dwellings, retail, commercial, municipal and institutional usage. It’s part of a national initiative fostered by the American Planning Association’s Smart Growth program, outlined in a 1,450-page booklet titled Growing Smart Legislative Guidelines. Wisconsin is one of 14 states using the guidelines as a model for planning and zoning legislation. Not everyone agrees with the concept, but knowing about it explains what’s happening and what will happen in your community.
An expert on the subject of land-use and growth planning is Dean Richards, an attorney with Weiss, Berzowski, Brady in the firm’s Delafield office. For the last nine years of his 21-year career, Richards has specialized in real estate and land-use transactions.
People buy property for one purpose, then discover the zoning won’t allow them to use it as they intended. Zoning changes can decrease land value, especially property being inventoried for its future appreciation.
Richards humorously refers to his work as “aggravated real estate,” designing land-use transactions and assisting landowners in locating jurisdictional authorities. Often there’s more than just one agency or governmental entity involved.
“We sometimes joke about what we do, using the old Ammco transmission commercial: “You can pay us now or pay us later,” Richards said. “Like many other professional services, the money spent on prevention is a lot less than the money spent on remediation of a problem.”
Along with his law practice, Richards functions as fire chief for the Town of Delafield. (One of his first purchases after college was an antique fire truck.) He’s the outgoing president of the Waukesha County Association of Fire Chiefs and a member of the town’s economic development commission.
He acknowledges his life-long fascination with firemen and the adrenaline rush produced by their emergency medical duties.
Witnessing the tragic accident of June 4 on 1-94 in Brookfield, where two drivers were killed, Richards compared the teamwork of several different fire departments on the scene to a well choreographed ballet.
He talks with the same enthusiasm about the latest trends in community growth and land development as he does about his work as a firefighter.
“People look at the county in which they live from the viewpoint of where they’re living. But Waukesha County, as an example, has every level of land-use problem imaginable,” Richards said, outlining the differences between the mature eastern parts of the county with the more rural western half.
“Communities like Brookfield and Waukesha are already experiencing redevelopment efforts on property that has passed its economic life. In Butler, New Berlin and Mukwonago, with industrial properties, they have urban problems, compared to western communities like Eagle and Ottawa with virgin farmland. It’s an exciting time (for developing land),” Richards said.
“The amount of shelf space in my office for zoning codes has increased substantially,” said Richards, explaining how zoning regulations are in a fluid state, constantly being revised.
“Seven years ago, I handled a case in a Milwaukee County community where I had 60 to 70 pages of zoning regulations. Recently, I had a case in rural Washington County, where I needed a three-inch ring binder to hold the zoning regulations.”
One of the major problems, Richards says, is that “there’s no single source of information that a land owner can go to for jurisdictional questions, like, ‘Who has the authority to approve this project?’ You’ve got towns, villages and cities and agencies like Waukesha Park and Planning, the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers. Let’s say, for example, that you live in Okauchee. There is no Okauchee legal entity! You’re living under the jurisdiction of the Town of Merton or the Town of Oconomowoc or the Village of Oconomowoc Lake. The overlapping of authority is great.”
Despite the overlapping of jurisdiction, Richards believes that Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley, along with Bill Mitchell, the director of Waukesha County Economic Development Corp., have done a good job getting communities to cooperate with each other. More communities are seeing the need for writing land-use plans or revising codes to accommodate growth.
Richards says that the Economic Development Commission in the Town of Delafield hasn’t done anything yet. The commission was established to obtain grant money used to write a land-use plan.
When questioned about the economics of merging local governments, Richards didn’t see any advantages to it. There’s the City of Delafield and the Town of Delafield, two separate government entities. Likewise in Brookfield, there’s the city and the town. Towns can only approve new residential sub-divisions with county approval, whereas, cities and villages have the power to approve such developments.
“The merging of these local towns and cities are possibilities always being studied, but where’s the advantage?” asks Richards. “When we buy a piece of equipment for the Town of Delafield Fire Department, we consult with the City of Delafield, so we’re not duplicating what they have available.”
In calling attention to the trend toward more diversity in land-use, Richards used Brookfield as an example. “Take a look at the southwest corner of Capitol Drive and Brookfield Road,” he said. “Along the high traffic area of Capitol Drive they’ve built banks and commercial buildings. Behind those are retailers like Sendiks, along with restaurants and other retail services. Behind the retail shops are multi-family dwellings – in this case senior housing. And behind the multiple family housing are single family homes.”
Another example of that concept is being built in Brookfield along Capitol Drive and Beaufort on 11 acres Just east of Stonewood Village. V-K Developers successfully petitioned for zoning changes that allowed it to build commercial, retail and low-cost senior housing. Single-family homeowners in Imperial Estates raised vociferous objections to the higher density zoning change. Focused on higher tax yields for the property, the Brookfield Planning Commission recommended approval, and the majority of aldermen followed their lead.
People move out of the city to experience a more rural environment. “What develops,” said Richards, “is a syndrome I call, ‘Close the gate behind me.’ People want to retain a rural atmosphere and a low tax structure. Yet, they expect the same services as they had in the city, just as long as they retain the undeveloped flavor of the country and lower tax rate.” As a result, they resist the cost of building the infrastructure necessary for continued growth.
Richards cited the recent vote by residents in the City of Delafield against constructing a municipal water system. Likewise, the Town of Delafield voted against becoming part of the Del-Hart Sanitary Sewer District, a system that serves the City of Delafield and parts of Hartland.
Richards believes that residents in his community are obstructing the necessary infrastructure that will cost more in years to come. Population increases attract commercial development, as can be seen at the junction of Highway 83 and J-94, which is in the Town of Delafield.
“The more metropolitan communities have the improved tax base, employment opportunities, diversity and destination,” said Richards, who can enumerate benefits as readily as reciting the alphabet. He recognizes the need for long-range land-use planning in all growth communities, including his own.
Personal: Age, 47; married with two children. His wife is an attorney; resident of the Town of Delafield
Education: Bachelor of science degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and a law degree from Marquette University
Avocations: Fire chief for the Town of Delafield and scuba diving
Favorite vacation spot: Cancun, Mexico
Favorite restaurant: Fish Bones on Lake Nagawicka
Role model: Dick Richards, his father and a hotelier, a Horatio Alger clone whose first business was a South Milwaukee gasoline station, who now owns and operates the Country Inn Hotel and Conference Center along 1-94 in Waukesha County
June 27, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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