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'Fast-tracked' Corners project has loose ends

Jan. 31, 2014

When residents had the opportunity to sound off on the Corners project plan and public funding proposal Jan. 29, only one person spoke against it — city of Brookfield Alderman Chris Blackburn. The closing of comments clears the way for town officials to approve the plan, with more than $30 million in public financing, later this month.

Although public hearings for the project showed little resistance and town officials have been working around the clock to move it along, some members of the Plan Commission expressed concern about how quickly plans are being drafted and approved.

Emails 'flying'

With excavation proposed to begin as soon as Feb. 15, owner Marcus Corp. has yet to provide detailed building plans to town officials, although representatives have shown some in presentations and shared some renderings.

"What we've gotten so far are pretty pictures," Gary Lake, the town's building and zoning administrator, said. "We don't have specific plans."

Lake said "emails are flying" on a daily basis between town and Marcus officials as they race to start a project targeted for completion and opening by fall of 2015.

"There's no question the project is fast-tracked," Lake said. "The time line is incredibly aggressive. The professionals they've engaged are struggling to get documents for me."

At the Town Board meeting Tuesday supervisors were scheduled to approve a consultant to monitor public spending on the project but decided to wait until the consultant could review specific plans. Supervisor Steve Kohlmann confronted Katie Falvey, director of real estate for Marcus Corp. who was sitting in the audience, about getting them plans.

"To me there's more to hinge on the plans than just this piece," Kohlmann said. "I don't know if the plans are coming next week, or a year from now. When are the plans coming?"

Falvey said Marcus was working on a tight timeline, bringing the town the most urgent pieces of the plan as quickly as it can. When pressed further, she said the company did have schematic plans that had not been shared with the town, and it could do so.

"We're submitting the plans with what are the most time sensitive and critical in sequence," Falvey said. "And the rest are underway."

Time for decisions

The plans will come after several other decisions were made without complete information.

When Plan Commission members gave conditional approval of Marcus' plan for excavation and utility relocation Jan. 28, Marcus had not decided where to move sewer and water lines — a sensitive step for the three businesses on Bluemound and Barker roads that will remain open during construction.

Plan Commission members decided to grant the approval, pending the town engineer's comfort with the final decision about the utility lines. The decision was still not made when the Town Board approved the plan Tuesday, still pending the engineer's agreement.

Again with details unclear, Plan Commission and Town Board members approved an overlay zoning district for the Corners property that will allow the development to break some rules under the regular zoning code.

Falvey said the zoning alterations likely would be limited to reducing the required distance between buildings to allow shops to abut Von Maur, and increasing density — 8 units per acre up from the usual cap of 7.3 — to accommodate 158 apartments. She said there were some uncertainties about elements of buildings that project into sidewalks, which may compromise the required distance of at least 12 feet between road and building.

"One red flag is we're talking about fast-tracking this project," Plan Commission member Eric Halbur said. "I think this gives you the flexibility you need, but going forward I really emphasize the need, before we get too crazy, to see some plans."

The Community Development Authority also found information lacking for its meeting after the public hearing Jan. 29, when it was scheduled to recommend the Town Board approve the Corners' project plan and a tax-incremental financing district to enable public funding for the development.

The current value of the TID is actually higher than originally recorded, town Financial Adviser Mike Harrigan said. Since the value of the project when completed remains the same, it means estimates of how much new value will be created have been too high. That, in turn, means estimates of the money that will be available to pay off the town's debt for its contribution to the project, need to be recalculated.

CDA members postponed their decision and scheduled a special meeting for Feb. 5, when they hope to have final numbers to consider in a 73rd draft of the project plan.

Additionally, Lake said there are unresolved legal issues, such as how a bridge over Poplar Creek will terminate on the Corners property and how much of the roadway will be owned by the town.

Two comments at hearing

At the public hearing Jan. 29, two people made comments.

Blackburn said he opposed public financing for the project, speaking as a Waukesha County taxpayer and not as a public official. He pointed to the struggles of Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, which received funding from a TID.

"You're taking risks," Blackburn said. "If they want to go forward, have the developer pay for all the costs."

Town resident Dean Pearson, a former Plan Commission member, disagreed, and said the project is an example of good planning.

"I don't think it's fair at all to compare this project with anything in the city of Milwaukee," he said. "People actually want to live and work and shop in this area."

By the numbers

The following numbers were presented in draft 72 of the Corners project plan. They will likely change slightly in draft 73, which the Community Development Authority was to consider for approval Wednesday.

·$34.3 million: amount the town plans to give to the project for public improvements, including the parking lot and bridge over Poplar Creek; will be borrowed through sale of bonds

·$46.4 million: amount the town could give to the project without needing an amendment to the project plan

·$187.357 million: projected increase in taxable value on the Corners property after build-out

·$58.4 million: estimate of property taxes to be generated from new construction at the Corners by 2033, at about $3 million per year

·20 years: time before the town plans to close the Corners' tax-incremental financing district and begin collecting full property taxes on the development

·27 years: time before the town is required by state law to close the TID

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