Jefferson, Wisconsin is a community of 7,400 people in the southern part of the state, within commuting distance of Milwaukee. The city, largely of German descent, is proud of its small town atmosphere and history. Within 50 miles of Jefferson, there are 10 Wal-Marts, including one in Whitewater and Watertown just 15 minutes in either direction. When a Wal-Mart supercenter was rejected in nearby Fort Atkinson, the company transferred its attention to an 18 acre corn field near the water tower along Route 26, at the southern entryway to town. The parcel must be annexed into the city, and will have to be rezoned. Plans for a Wal-Mart supercenter as large as 190,000 s.f. have been discussed in Jefferson, but no plans have been processed yet, because three months ago, the city put in place a moratorium on big box development. Although the Mayor and City officials have done nothing to implement the moratorium, the pause in development could last another nine months. The City Council recently considered repealing the moratorium, but the motion failed to get a second, and the moratorium survived. Over the past three decades, the city has added about 64 new people per year, so the marketplace has not expanded dramatically. Food sales per capita in Jefferson County are right at the statewide average, so more grocery stores are likely to succeed only by cannibalizing the existing stores. Local residents have formed the Coalition for A Better Jefferson to try and do to Wal-Mart what their neighbors in Fort Atkinson did. The surrounding town of Jefferson has indicated its opposition to the Wal-Mart, and the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, written in 1998, says the city should “discourage poorly-planned, incremental strip commercial development along major community entryways.” Although the Mayor appears taken with the Wal-Mart idea, his constituents have pointed out that the City’s Plan calls for strengthening “the retail power of established commercial areas by discouraging new unplanned commercial developments on the city’s fringes.” Land use planners have discouraged “large, bulky, box-like structures” and “speculative rezonings” on the fringes of the community. One of the city’s commercial development policies calls for officials to “carefully consider the impact of proposed commercial rezonings on the economic vitality of existing commercial areas.” The Coalition is now gathering signatures to place a size limit on retail stores in the city, and a Coalition public forum last week featuring Sprawl-Buster Al Norman attracted more than 400 people to the Jefferson High School — roughly four times the crowd that came to last month’s Wal-Mart presentation in town. Jefferson Mayor Arnold Brawders was quoted in The Madison, WI Capital Times newspaper as saying: “I guess they are paying a pretty penny for him to come in and spew whatever he is going to spew. I told the folks that are setting this up, I said, if this is just going to be a Wal-Mart bashing affair, you are not going to make a whole lot of friends in town here by doing that.” The Coalition is not concerned about bashing Wal-Mart, but the reverse. The group hopes to call upon the Mayor to set up a special Moratorium Commission that will review the city’s zoning code in light of the land use objectives in the Comprehensive Plan.
For futher background, search this Newsflash page by the word “moratorium”. For local contacts in Jefferson, email [email protected]