Brookfield Residents Against the Dump leaders delivered a box full of petitions signed by more than 3,600 resident to City Hall on Friday, hoping to delay development of a former sand pit southeast of Burleigh and Lilly roads.
Members of B.R.A.D. say the city has not been transparent about the project, which some residents oppose because of the truck traffic it could bring.
"It's a closed-door policy," resident Jack Berlinski, a B.R.A.D. supporter, said of the process. "Their attitude has been anti-citizenship."
The direct legislation attempt asks the city to either pass or put to referendum an ordinance that would require the city to get permission from the community, via referendum, before acquiring any land that has ever been used for mining or filling, such as the property — sometimes referred to as the Sileno property — at issue.
Although Mayor Steve Ponto questioned what the legislation would accomplish, he said the City Clerk's Office will have 15 days to verify the signatures before the petition will go before the Common Council. If it passes review by legal counsel, the Council will have to either pass the ordinance or put it to a referendum, Ponto said.
Why a referendum?
The property at issue, which was operated as a sand pit from 1921 to 1978 and never remediated, is now owned by The Quarry Group Joint Venture, where Jim Sileno is managing partner. Another company, Super Excavators, wants to buy the land, level out the pit with clean fill from construction of the Zoo Interchange, and prep the land for a city park and multifamily housing development.
Several residents have long protested the plan, arguing that it would bring loud trucks through the neighborhood, emitting pollution and posing safety hazards.
Jennie Votto, who dressed her 22-month-old grandson in a red B.R.A.D. shirt for the group's announcement of their signature count Friday, said she lives across from the proposed site and fears the traffic it could bring.
"I babysit my grandson five days a week, and I'd like to be able to take him outside without worrying about his safety with the trucks going by," Votto said.
Members of B.R.A.D. said they hope a referendum will provide the opportunity for more public discussion on the project. They said phone calls to Ponto and Common Council members have gone unreturned.
"A referendum is really self-legislation," Brookfield resident Lynn Broydrick, who signed the petition, said. "It means your government isn't really doing what you want it to do."
Ponto said he has tried to address the many concerns brought to him by residents.
"I've made a real effort to answer everyone that calls my office," he said. "We've tried to be very open."
The city has proposed buying 70 acres of the property from Super Excavators for $1.15 million. Ponto said this offer has put the city in the position to negotiate with the company over how much fill is dumped on the site.
Since the original plan to dump 2 million cubic yards of fill over 10 years, the city has asked the company to reduce dumping to 1 million cubic yards over five years — what it says is the minimum necessary to prepare the land for a park and development.
"The city is really trying to protect residents' concerns, and that is why the city has explored the possibility of acquiring the property," Ponto said.
If the city is blocked by referendum from acquiring the property, it could lose its spot at the table. If another company bought the land instead, that company might decide to dump in greater quantities over a longer period of time.
According to state statute, the city cannot prohibit a company from dumping clean fill on a site if the property owner agrees to it. Since the city would not acquire the property until after it had been filled and prepped for a park, it does not have authority to stop the filling, the mayor said.
The city is in the "final drafting" stage of an agreement with Super Excavators that will finalize the amount of dumping to be done. That agreement likely will go to the Plan Commission and Common Council before it is passed.
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