Last week, after years of debate and work, Wilson Township enacted a plan for development in the township, including the hundreds of acres at Highway 43 and Interstate 90 owned by the Winona Area Industrial Development Association (WAIDA) and other business interests. The plan, coupled with ongoing revisions to the township's zoning code, lays out specifications for development of light industry, and certain other businesses, while reserving broad authority for the township to block development that it deems detrimental.
WAIDA President John Eddy adopted a wait-and-see response, when asked about the impact of the new development plan and proposed zoning on his organization's plans to fill its acreage with businesses.
Developers, city of Winona officials, and business interests in the area will be watching closely to see what happens in the township. The city has long coveted the interchange area and has a history of annexing township land. In 2009 WAIDA requested that the city annex its land at the interchange and publicly pressed city leaders, warning that businesses would leave town if the city did not provide space for them to grow. That request is still on the table, according to WAIDA.
In 2010, attorneys for the township advised that its best chance to resist losing that much of its land is to appease WAIDA and other development-minded landowners, including Tom Severson and Bob Hemker.
"We want to create a home for expanding business. We'll work with anybody who wants to work with us," said Eddy. "That includes city hall," he added.
The Land Development Ordinance embodies conflicting desires of township residents: to preserve the rural character that has defined the township by limiting development, and to prevent the city from taking their land by keeping development-minded landowners happy.
Initially, the township balked at the idea of smokestacks and convenience stores in its "town hamlet." Now, the township is accepting some development, said Town Board member Dave DeLano. The plan is "a give and take," he explained. "We've laid out rules to make it more palatable to industries to invest within the confines of Wilson Township, rather than be annexed."
Smokestacks are definitely not going to be erected, however, and the township has reserved plenty of power to prevent the construction of convenience stores. The plan allows some development, but includes many protections for the aesthetics, environment, and existing land uses of the township. Dense residential development, chemical-intensive manufacturing, raw material processing, and most retail stores are not welcomed by the new and proposed regulations, but other businesses are. One provision of the development plan allows the township to require developers to build runoff controls, "solar panels, wind turbines, and any other measures which may improve the outcomes and diminish the impact of development in areas of geographic or topographic concern." The plan also offers an example of an ideal industrial development that includes a large lot with a comparatively small building surrounded by green space and pathways.
Only small parcels of the township are currently zoned to allow commercial and industrial use. Only twelve acres of the WAIDA property are zoned Limited Industrial, and the association has not asked for more.
Revisions to the zoning ordinance will have a final public hearing before the Wilson Township Planning Commission makes a recommendation on Wednesday. That ordinance would disallow manufacturing that is "hazardous, offensive, or objectionable by reason of odor, dust, cinder, gas fumes, noise […]" as well as industrial and commercial uses that would pollute, require increased utilities, conflict with existing land uses, or "increase demand for urban services." It would also limit large transportation and warehousing facilities and more intensive commercial uses.
In previous interviews regarding the upcoming regulations, Eddy stated that all businesses want to work under a reasonable and predictable framework that is not overly costly. When asked if he thought enacted and proposed regulations achieve that, Eddy stated that WAIDA is still reviewing the documents, but "at the end of the day the marketplace is going to decide. If it's onerous and difficult, nobody is going to be willing to develop there."
Eddy praised the township for its open process and for listening to his organization's input.
"We listened and we changed," DeLano said. "We did not tell them to go to hell." All in all, the town board has tried to be receptive to residents and investors alike, DeLano said.
The plan's final approval was not dramatic. The town board approved the plan unanimously on July 8. Only two residents were in the audience.
The Wilson Township Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the town hall.