Dear Friend, Mayor Steve Arnold gathered a lot of support in his 2015 bid to be mayor by opposing any development of the NEN before the other large n


Working to preserve the land west of Lake Waubesa from poorly planned development

Dear Friend,

Mayor Steve Arnold gathered a lot of support in his 2015 bid to be mayor by opposing any development of the NEN before the other large new sections of the Urban Service Area had been filled in.

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On Tuesday night he betrayed the people who voted for him when he changed this position in favor of the developer. At the Fitchburg Plan Commission meeting on Aug. 16, after hearing from 24 people who registered against Phil Sveum's petition to rezone his 225 acres within the NEN, six of whom gave eloquent testimony, and after acknowledging that he had heard from many more, he voted for the petition, making spring construction in the NEN likely.

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We were as busy as bees to elect Steve Arnold mayor,
Photo by Rosanne Lindsey

The West Waubesa Preservation Coalition was his ally; our supporters provided a huge portion of his volunteers, his donations, and his voters. He won by only 73 votes – anyone familiar with his campaign knows that the work we did garnered him many more votes than that. We believed that he would hold the line on premature development of the NEN, and without a word of warning, he betrayed us.

If you want to let him know how you feel about that, here is his contact info from the city's website.
(608) 278-7700

Has our work been a waste?

No, definitely not. Because of our 10 years of work, the current development plan is better than it was, on paper at least. (But so many developments do not turn out to be the sustainable paradises they are described as!) But significant problems remain:
It's still leapfrog development, meaning that the developer leaped over a rural area to plant an island of development away from the rest of the urban area.

Higher taxes for Fitchburg residents will result from approving a leapfrog development, on top of the at least ten other approved new developments now in the planning or construction phases. Every new development means another set of infrastructure for the taxpayers to maintain, repair and replace.

It's still a serious threat to Lake Waubesa and the Waubesa Wetlands.

a. Doing pre-construction testing of phosphorus and turbity only-without testing of nitrogen-and doing this testing for only one year, clearly is not sufficient, and fails to tell us what we vitally need to know about downslope fertilization of Swan Creek and Waubesa Wetlands.

b. Increasingly violent and frequent storms caused by climate change could overwhelm the developer's stormwater management plans and result in flashfloods, silting, nutrient overload and invasive weeds harming the wetlands and lake. (For an excellent NPR report on the extreme weather that global warming is bringing us, with wildfires and floods in the U.S., click here and then scroll down and choose the 8.18.16 podcast, which isn't up yet as we go to press.)

That was then, this is now….

Here's how Mayor Arnold explained his vote.

"...I'm very sympathetic with those arguments, but I do believe that the development proposed will improve water quality in the Waubesa Wetlands by dramatically improved management of stormwater and …sediment runoff from the existing ag use. So that is important to me."

(Click here to read Dr. Joy Zedler's take on that statement! And click here to read her "The chain of impacts that threaten Waubesa Wetlands.")

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There are 10 other developments currently "in play." Click to enlarge map.

And then Mayor Arnold said the most surprising words:

"I would personally prefer that we not have quite so many large neighborhoods all in play simultaneously. I think that fosters lower value and more scattered development and requires the city to provide more infrastructure sooner, at a greater cost to the general taxpayers.

However, that proposal to enable this for development was made by a previous administration and duly approved, and from a political standpoint, I do not see the will of the Council, on which I would not have a vote unless there was a tie, I don't think that they are going to delay this further."

(To watch the video, click here, scroll down and choose "Plan Commission 8-16-16," start the video, and after it has buffered, go to 01:01:25 to hear the mayor's complete statement endorsing the development.)

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A failure of nerve? Just tuckered out?

What a change from candidate Steve Arnold!

He never used to mind being the lone vote against something. He stood up for his principles, he never voted for something he didn't agree with. He could have tried to bring Plan Commissioners around to vote against it, and indeed Commissioner Bill Tishler, an emeritus UW Professor of Landscape Architecture, did so, saying that after hearing our testimony he could not in good conscience support it. And Ron Johnson appeared sympathetic to our cause. With a little effort the mayor might have had a 3-3 vote.

But more importantly, he didn't need to win Tuesday night to stop the premature and inadequately-researched development of the NEN. The Plan Commission only advises the Common Council. And if the Common Council passes something that the Mayor disagrees with, he can veto it. It takes 6 out of the 8 alders' votes to override his veto, and Mayor Arnold's veto has withstood other challenges, as he is often supported by Alders Dorothy Krause, Tony Hartmann, and Jake Johnson.

So his statement that he didn't think the Council would vote against this is inexplicable.

vote graphic

Or perhaps the explanation is that he is trying to get re-elected in April 2017, and he thought that this action would help him?

That seems like a plan of dubious value, given the reaction of Alder Carol Poole (at 01:07:16 on the video), who said : " So I just want to make sure that I understand...It was a campaign issue. I took a beating at the doors… because I had supported at least sending it to the DNR...I believe, Mr. Mayor, that you ran on this saying that you would prevent this from ever happening…You have been against this from the very beginning, you have fought it tooth and nail, and now you're saying… that you agree that this will improve the water in this area…What I don't like is the implication that you are only supporting for it because you don’t think you can get the Council to not support for it."

For once I agree with Alder Poole.

That's a lousy reason to vote for something, and I don't think it will convert his adversaries on the council to supporters, nor attract those who voted against him in 2015. And now he has also alienated the people who trusted him to protect the wetlands and their pocketbooks. I guess it was a sad day for him too.

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The Waubesa Wetlands, looking NNE
Photo by Nadia May Olker

What's next?

We don't know. We need to study the situation. As I said in my testimony (click here to read it), with bold leadership, Fitchburg could be a leader in creating templates for how to preserve and restore our wetlands and lakes while creating needed housing. "Why not engage scientists, urban planners, developers and environmentalists in a well-funded study to come up with designs that could achieve that balance?" But it seems like bold leadership has dropped off of Mayor Arnold's agenda.

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In the NEN
Photo by Nadia May Olker

As he said in his remarks, "The nitrogen question is an important one the national and international scale.
While Fitchburg could proceed with new nitrogen regulations, and maybe strike a reputation as a leader, the incremental benefit to the biogeochemical cycle globally would be hard to measure…"

Thankfully this attitude is not shared by local leaders around the world who have started all kinds of bottom-up movements to protect the environment!

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The graphic for Bill McKibben's article

(For an example of the kind of leadership we need, read Bill McKibben's article: "We Need to Literally Declare War on Climate Change" in the New Republic. Maybe if Mayor Arnold had read this, he would not have thrown in the towel!)

If there are partners out there who would like to collaborate with us to find solutions to these problems, I invite them to contact us.

The NEN development is still a threat to the Waubesa Wetland Gems and Lake Waubesa!

Stay tuned...


The southern end of Lake Waubesa, looking northwesterly towards the Northeast Neighborhood.
Photo © Nadia Olker

Thank you to all who came out during the last few days, who contacted the mayor, and who made donations! Your support is much appreciated.

Phyllis Hasbrouck, Chair