Town Board approves rezoning request

Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The Sheboygan County Highway Department is planning to move its headquarters, now located in the city of Sheboygan, to the town of Plymouth.

That plan – which includes consolidating the current Elkhart Lake and Plymouth highway sheds at the same location – took its first step Tuesday, first back and then ahead.

The Plymouth Town Board, reversing the recommendation of its Zoning Commission earlier in the evening, unanimously approved rezoning from agricultural to industrial for a 36-plus acre parcel at the southwest corner of State 67 and County J.

County Transportation Director Greg Schnell and County Surveyor/Highway Engineer Ed Harvey presented the county’s plans for the parcel being purchased from John and Bonnie Mueller.

Plans call for two salt sheds, an unheated garage/storage shed and a main building that would combine a heated garage/storage area and office facilities on the site.

“We believe this makes a lot of sense,” Schnell told the Zoning Commission of the planned consolidation, which he noted has been in the county’s discussion and plans for a number of years. “We want to put together a facility that fits everybody’s needs and creates efficiency.”

“As long as I’ve been here there’s been discussion of ultimately moving the Highway Department headquarters somewhere more central in the county,” County Administrator Adam Payne told The Review Wednesday.

Commission members and town residents who spoke at the public hearing expressed concerns about safety at the proby posed location just south of Road America and about the potential loss of farmland.

Concern was raised over the impact of the proposed facilities on heavy traffic on State 67 and County J given their proximity to Road America.

“That’s a valid concern,” Schnell conceded, “but the majority of our facilities are located on state highways.”

He pointed out that the entrance to the facilities would be on County J, not State 67.

“Summer is when there’s a lot of traffic on (County) J, but they (the Highway Department) only work from Monday through Thursday (in the summer), so there’d be no trucks coming in or out on race weekends,” Supervisor Gene Blindauer noted during the Town Board’s discussion of the rezoning.

“How do you replace that 38 acres of farmland,” Supervisor Jack Hanke asked during the commission hearing.

“I understand your concern,” Schnell replied, adding that farming will continue on the site until the county is ready to begin building.

He noted that the proposal requires a large and relatively level piece of land, which is more typical of farmland.

The county considered the city of Plymouth’s industrial park as a location, Schnell added. “But if you build in an industrial park, you’re collapsing yourself to that area.”

He pointed out that a concern with the facilities that are being replaced are the limited space available for possible expansion, which the new site would offer.

Zoning Commission member John Laack recalled that the town had turned down rezoning for the Mueller property seven years ago because of the concern over losing farmland.

Supervisor Glenn Kruschke, during the board discussion, noted that the previous rezoning request had been for residential use.

“If this was a subdivision it wouldn’t fly, but this is kind of a unique and special situation where it’s located,” Kruschke said of the current rezoning request.

John Mueller noted that the town had lost farmland when Plymouth Utilities built its operations center on County PP several years ago.

“Everybody’s living in some situation where (farm) land was taken for another purpose,” Board of Adjustments chair Othmar Jetzer commented.

Schnell was asked why the county did not look to locate the facility at the county’s gravel pit on State 23 in the town of Greenbush. He responded that the county would still have need for the resources there in the future.

The county official reassured audience members that salt storage on the site would be closely monitored by the state Department of Natural Resources, as it is at the county’s current salt storage facilities.

“We want to be good neighbors. We’re going to be here for the long haul,” Schnell told the audience.

Plymouth Mayor Donald Pohlman added his support for the plan during the public hearing.

“Consolidating your campuses is a winwin,” he told Schnell. “I think this serves all of us credibly to have a larger facility and what that all brings out to the western end of the county. This serves our end of the county quite well.”

A motion by Zoning Commissioner Janice Abraham to approve the rezoning failed to gain a second, and she was the only commissioner to vote against the motion to recommend denying the rezoning to the full board, with Laack and Rick Nick voting to recommend denial.

The board then voted unanimously to approve the rezoning.

“It’s going against my belief in saving farmland,” Hanke conceded. “But I see it probably will be a good thing for the community. Even though I don’t like to see farmland being wasted, but this is not being wasted. I think it’s going to be good for the community.”

Schnell noted that the County Board must still approve the accepted offer to purchase the Mueller property for $548,600, then will have to approve financing for the project.

He suggested the building project could be done in two phases, with consolidation of the Elkhart Lake and Plymouth sheds on the new location first, followed by relocation of the department’s office and other facilities from the Sheboygan location.

Preliminary estimates for the entire design and construction project are $20 million.

Payne noted that the Highway Department consolidation had been in the county’s long-term capital projects list until several years ago when no progress was being made, but that it came back into consideration in the last year or so.

That was when, according to Payne, Schnell began looking at potential properties and settled on the Mueller land.

“We’re going to use retained earnings from the Highway Department to purchase the property,” if the full County Board approves, Payne said.

The county will also be looking to eventually sell the Elkhart Lake, Plymouth and Sheboygan facilities as they are replaced. Those proceeds could be applied to the total project costs, Schnell said.

“We’ve already heard from a handful of people interested in the Elkhart Lake property,” Payne noted.

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