If your head is spinning after this one, it is completely unintentional.
The news, Janesville will not pursue land annexation" from city officials is very good from the angle that locals still have some power to control their destiny, however at the expense of losing greater potential opportunity. At the same time, I fear Wisconsin’s Koched-up ALEC state legislators will pick up on this and figure on an end-around amendment to destroy what little is left of local control.
Here’s the story as briefly as I can tell it.
In late 2013, a Rock County landowner approached the small city of Milton and later Janesville officials with a request to annex parts of or in whole, 1,500 acres of his land. As the landowner proceeded forward with negotiations, the “deal” became more baited with promises of a yellow brick road leading to a privately funded interstate exchange, industrial parks and of course, hundreds of new jobs. Over the last decade or two, sprawl hungry TIF-crazy Janesville and Milton officials would move the heavens and the earth if they had to, to annex anything offering this promise of tax base expansion.
In the past, several city council members would even insist it is their DUTY to never deny annexation requested from a landowner. That was like their holy grail to unsustainable land development. There was no stopping them and anyone opposing these expansions would be marked as a tree-hugging anti-business librul or malcontent by the local media.
But now, something has changed. Area townships, including Milton and Janesville officials are suddenly reluctant to annex this land and more importantly, refuse to change the zoning.
Why? Well, it turns out the landowner will NOT agree to a deed restriction or covenant (in writing) that would permanently prohibit mining (sand/gravel) on the land. Why is that so necessary or important? Because new laws pushed by the WMC and mining companies covering metallic and non-metallic mining and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker have taken away local authority to prohibit or place limits on sand mines.
In fact, the new law specifies that the only way local governments could regulate sand mines was through zoning, but not other means. Or ...if the landowner signed on to a deed restriction. That would be about the only exception and without that, once his land is annexed and rezoned for commercial development, there is no stopping a mine. Under the old rules, local councils and boards could annex and rezone the land to allow development plans to proceed and later separately vote on whether to deny or permit mining. But that is no longer an option.
Now, things would only get worse for locals once the land is rezoned from AG and a mine is started. State republicans have also barred local governments from requiring mine operators to get local air or water permits or require them to install air or water monitoring equipment. And who can forget the statement from Sen. Tom Tiffany, (R-Hazelhurst) that practically guarantees mining companies immunity from legal challenges on adverse environmental impacts.
"If the law is challenged and ends up in court, the judge needs to know it was the Legislature’s intent to allow adverse (environmental) impacts. That way, a judge can’t find fault if the environment is impacted.” --Tiffany
What local government would want to start the wheels of an industry that has that level of pre-determined protection heading into a court battle if defending the water supply, public safety or the environment?
So, Janesville officials made the right decision to back away from annexation and they can play it politically safe by claiming they don't have sufficient local support or that the timing is bad, or that "the conditions are not right to proceed." But we know the truth here. The conditions will never be right to proceed as long as local authority is stripped away.
Centralized state control pushed by Walker and Republicans under the guise of uniformity leads to uncertainty and chills economic development. It is wrong for Wisconsin and to think, this is just one example.