Owners ask for change to I-90 land use


by Sarah Squires

Land along the I-90 interchange in Wilson Township has long been recognized as a potential for development, both commercial and industrial. Now, a request from the Winona Area Industrial Development Association (WAIDA) and private landowners may be the first push to see it happen.

A request will be heard before the County Planning Commission next week which would amend the county’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan for the area to be categorized as an “Urban Residential Service Area.” After that first step, the group will pursue a zone change from agricultural and natural resource use to industrial.

The property owned by WAIDA is about 210 acres along the interchange. But when adding the other, private landowners’ property, the size jumps to over 350 acres, seated to the north and south of the Interstate.

John Bengfort, one of the private landowners who is a co-petitioner with WAIDA for the change, said he just wants his land to be more attractive to developers. “I can’t speak for the others, but on my own behalf, I just want to sell the land,” he said. “If I don’t have a zone change, I can’t sell the land.”

Much of the property in the area had to wait for potential developments and zone changes because of a state program for agricultural preservation, delaying any other development or use for up to seven years. Now, for those 350 acres, that wait is up.

Future development in the area comes as no big surprise; in fact, three municipalities have been waiting for the first moves toward development there.

The players

The city of Winona’s Comprehensive Plan calls for city expansion through Wilson Township and down to the I-90 interchange through further annexation. Its master sewer and water plans call for tens of millions to be spent to extend utilities to the area, and Winona leaders have been hinting that the city is running out of industrial land for some time. Ultimately, the city would like to extend down County Road 17 and County Road 44 to the interchange site, with planned residential developments up to the industrial Interstate corridor.

But Wilson Township would like to retain some control over how it is developed, and has been making a plan to pull in the reins. It recently wrote and adopted its own Comprehensive Land Use Plan which details a more light industrial and commercial use for the I-90 interchange area.

In order for Wilson Township to gain zoning and planning control, that Comp Plan must first be approved by the County Board. County Planners are likely to begin reviewing the document next month. From there the township must also write its own zoning ordinance, which must also be approved by the County Board.

In the meantime, the county has zoning control over the area, and is set to hear the request next Thursday at the Planning Commission level. Planning Director Brian Bender said it might be hard to make a recommendation on the request to the County Board without knowing more details about development plans.

“It’s not a straightforward discussion because certain types of uses will require infrastructure,” he said. “The county is not in a position to provide them; the township is not in a position to provide them.”

Additionally, said Bender, the county will have to consider neighboring uses, which are almost exclusively agricultural. Figuring out how development might affect neighbors could be difficult without a clear picture of what might be developed there, he said.

And with three municipalities with hands in the pot as far as I-90 development goes, Bender said that will complicate the issue, too. “[Winona’s] Comp Plan has earmarked expansion to this interchange, so there are three significant layers [of municipalities] you’d have to work your approval through,” he said. “And every time you work with another agency, it compounds the effort and expense.”

Keep reading the Winona Post for more on the push for development at the I-90 interchange.


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