September 28, 2019
By Cara Spoto and Darryl Enriquez
Change to appease New Berlin homeowners could increase price by $2M-plus
New Berlin — In a bid to appease property owners near the site, the Waukesha Water Utility has submitted a new plan for a pumping station and twin reservoir tanks at the southeastern edge of Minooka Park.
Submitted to the city of New Berlin last week, the plan, which calls for lowering the height of the pumping station to two nine-gallon water tanks by 10 feet — to 32.5 feet and 35 feet respectively — is expected to increase the overall cost of the already $40-$50 million project by somewhere between $2 and $5 million.
The move comes after the New Berlin Plan Commission voted against a permit submitted by the utility to construct the pumping station and reservoirs.
Commissioners rejected the permit after New Berlin aldermen passed a resolution on Aug. 27 recommending that the commission find that the project did not fit the definition of an essential service.
That recommendation came after residents near the project site, planned for an 8.57-acre parcel near the corner of Swartz Road and Racine Avenue, circulated a petition trying to stop the development.
Many of those residents were concerned about the height of reservoirs. The new plan for the project reflects those concerns, Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak said this week, while seeking a permit for the project as a conditional use as opposed to an essential service.
“We heard what the public was saying, and we responded to the public’s concerns and have lowered the pumping station and tanks by 10 feet at a significant cost to the city,” he said
While they are still analyzing how the price increase could affect water utility customers, Duchniak said staff are confident there will be no additional impact on quarterly bills, which are expected to increase three-fold by the time the city is required to have its new water supply in 2023.
If there are more delays, however, there could be a bigger impact, he said.
While the Plan Commission rejected its application for an essential services permit, Duchniak believes the utility will easily be able to meet the requirements of a conditional use permit.
New Berlin Mayor Dave Ament agrees.
Ament said the advantage of obtaining a conditional use permit, as opposed to receiving a rezoning permit for “essential services,” is that the Plan Commission’s ruling is the final say on the matter.
In theory, the Plan Commission is designed to be comprised of appointees with expertise in land use, construction and finance. Commissioners are supposedly shielded from politics so they can make difficult decisions on residential and commercial projects and land use with little fear of citizen backlash.
Ament, however, is an elected official and chairman of the commission.
Not political, Ament says
Ament said he disagreed with the utility’s use of “essential services” as the reason the city should grant it construction and use permits. But he stressed that his decision was not political, despite receiving pressure from residents near the project to move it away from New Berlin.
“It was purely about definition and strictly interpreting the code from a legal standpoint,” he said. “There was nothing tawdry going on there. We try to follow the same process for everyone.”
At first blush, using essential services seems logical because water and utility are listed in its ordinance as permitted uses. But the city’s codes are more complicated, meaning the water towers and pump station do not qualify, he said.
A public hearing on the conditional use permit is slated for Nov. 4 before the Plan Commission.