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Thursday, May 28, 2009

City Council Throws Caution To The Wind

Tuesday night’s Janesville city council meeting got off to rather slow start but slowly heated up to an interesting debate when council members discussed a request for a plat approval to subdivide 2.5 acres into six lots for residential development. The parcel in question, known as Willow Glade, happens to be north of I90 along the Milton Avenue corridor in an area that has come under fire from the city’s water utility director as having inadequate infrastructure to satisfy all the requirements necessary to deliver water for safe consumption or fire department usage.

It was only a month ago when the Janesville Utility Director, Dan Lynch, stood at the council podium and for the first time publicly revealed there have been eight episodes over the past several years where utility inefficiencies on the city’s NE side have raised public endangerment to a level that now requires urgent consideration of a new water tower. The utility director felt the danger incurred even one time under these circumstances was one time “too many.”

So the questions remain. Should the utility director’s statements be taken seriously? Or were his statements just the dishonest rant from a city employee using fear to exaggerate a minor if not common water utility problem just to help capture public support for a water tower? I don’t know what to believe at this point, but after Tuesday’s city council vote to add six new residential properties, I do know this – after the fact, four Janesville council members had no problem putting six more families potentially in harm’s way – that is true, whether a real danger exists or not, just to satisfy the wishes of a single developer.

By voting for the Willow Glade infill at this point in time, they don’t believe the dangers exist or a water tower is needed. And they don’t believe Lynch’s “one time is too many” alarm. “What’s another six more?” when over 20,000 people are already exposed to the potential dangers was an actual talking point in favor of approving the Willow Glade Plat. Their attitude towards the very people they are charged to represent and defend against all doubt was despicable. The city manager and administration along with the plan commission, despite the earlier warnings from one of their own (Lynch) regarding the water infrastructure inefficiencies, also recommended that the council approve the plat request.

Surprisingly, two council members, Tom McDonald and Frank Perrotto had the sense not to endanger even one more resident than necessary after Lynch's public disclosure. They made it known they will not vote for approval of the Willow Glade Plat until the water issue could be resolved. To their credit, both council members voted against the developer's request, although it still was approved by a majority of the council.

In addition, Councilman Russ Steeber countered statements made by Councilman McDonald over concern about the additional growth at the outer fringes of the city during a time when the city’s inner core was being abandoned. Steeber said that the city council should not deny land owners and developers the ability or opportunity to redevelop their property after annexation. His statement referring to the Willow Glade sub-division infill was verbally demonstrative of how inflexible both the Comprehensive Growth Plan AND city councils are.

During city discussions covering Janesville’s growth plan, several council members re-iterated how each parcel development and proposal brought forth to the council would be acted upon and voted independently on their own merit, that the plan was not laid in stone, but simply a guide that could be changed at anytime. Tuesday night’s meeting was another example that that’s simply not true. Once the Comprehensive Plan and its boundaries are approved by the city council, it becomes the written law that makes it nearly impossible to deny landowners and developers annexation. And once the land is annexed, it then becomes equally impossible to deny landowners zoning requests and building permits. Steeber’s comment even further demonstrated the power of the greed and profits driving the Janesville growth plan in the first place, that some council members were not going to allow a very credible concern for public safety get in the way of a developer’s passion to turn a buck.

From the genesis of the Comp Plan to the final nail driven into the last house on the plat - the Janesville city council's role in between is expected to be nothing more than a rubber stamp of approval. This has become evident.

The Willow Glade council action was another one of those key votes exposing city council members for what they really stand for and who they represent. Kathy Voskuil, Russ Steeber, Yuri Rashkin and George Brunner all ignored an unresolved warning from the city’s utility director and pressed on to put more people in harms way. Bill Truman was absent from most of the council proceedings and did not vote.

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