Bethesda property changes, train station among proposals in 2040 plan

If the proposed comprehensive plan is followed by the City of Watertown, many changes could be on the horizon for the city before the year 2040.

A new train station, over a dozen new parks, a fire station and a major redevelopment of Bethesda are among the proposed changes envisioned in the plan, which strictly layout the city’s recommendations for potential development.

During a joint Plan Commission and Common Council meeting Wednesday night prior to the council meeting, the council heard a presentation of a proposed comprehensive plan by Vandewalle and Associates Inc., a process which it does every 10 years.

The plan shows numerous potential plans for Watertown up to 20 years in the future, or 2040 in this case. Sections in the plan cover: agricultural resources, natural resources, historic and cultural resources, community character and design, land use, transportation, utilities and community facilities, housing and neighborhood development, economic development and intergovernmental cooperation. Some of the opportunities for the city listed in the plan include fostering redevelopment, reinvestment and new development, overarching demographic trends, leveraging of city’s natural assets and building on the momentum of positively driving change in the community.

Some of the proposed plans stand out among others in terms of impact on the community.

One of the biggest proposed ideas is the proposed usage of land currently owned by Bethesda Lutheran Communities, a group that works to educate, advocate for and empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Currently, the property Bethesda sits on is roughly 400 acres of land, most of which is agricultural property and the area where the organization’s campus was razed in recent years, according to Watertown Zoning Administrator Jacob Maas.

Currently, only the corporate offices are on the land and the group has looked to open the land for development in the past. Discussions on future land use of the space has occurred between the organization and the city, though they have not been substantial, according to Maas.

According to the comprehensive plan, the space is one of the most important opportunities for the city over the next 20 years due to it already having utilities. The plan encourages the city to continue to communicate with the organization for the future of the site and a desired long-term outcome.

“Very rarely are there such large undeveloped areas within the city limits already served by utilities and other infrastructure,” the plan reads. “It will be a key location for future development in several different forms and uses.”

The plan lists the area in its future land use as a Riverside Mixed Use, the only one within the city. The Riverside Mixed Use is an area created to hold a mix of residential, commercial, and institutional uses on public sewer, public water, and other urban services and infrastructure, according to the plan.

This area would be able to house a blend of single-family residential, two-family residential, multi-family residential, office, business,industrial, and institutional land uses within its space which could include residential neighborhoods at various scales, high-quality indoor professional office uses, health care facilities, indoor retail, commercial services, and community facilities, according to the plan.

Bethesda still owns the property and changing this future land use category would allow for flexibility for development though no plans are imminent, according to Maas.

“Bethesda has the right to develop the property or sell it for development. I am not aware of any plans either way,” Maas said.

If this area were to be redeveloped, the plan also recommends the future development of an interchange at County Highway A and the Highway 26 bypass. The plan however states that the future development along Milford Street would determine the need of this new interchange.

Another recommendation proposed in the plan is the development of a new passenger railroad station to accommodate for the existing Amtrak route that runs through the city. According to the plan, this station is recommended to be located on the south side of the railroad between the Rock River bridge and South Church Street where the former Shopko currently sits.

According to Maas, the station is a carryover from the 2009 plan, but the City wanted to maintain the option if Amtrak ever adds a stop in Watertown. If it does, the property would fall under a Public Service & Utilities land use. However, for the station to be built, the proposal would have to go through a process before being approved, due to how the land is currently zoned, according to Maas.

“It is zoned general business. Any development would have to be reviewed for land use intentions,” Maas said. “A determination of what zoning code compliance would be needed would be dependent on what is being proposed.”

Other future recommendations proposed in the plan include a new fire station being built over the next five years that “will be needed in the city in order to service the far western and southern areas effectively,” a planned neighborhood being developed south of the intersection of South Milford Street and Johnson Street, which would be designed “to promote a balance of residential dwelling types and to provide sound housing for a full range of income levels” and the eventual addition of 13 new neighborhood parks and two new community parks (which are currently a part of the city’s park and open space plan for 2019 to 2024).

No schools are projected to be built by 2040 and it is recommended the city instead focus on maintaining the existing facilities and programs it has, according to the plan.

In addition to the proposed changes in facilities, changes in population are also projected with the Wisconsin Department of Admisitration’s 2013 projection for the town being 27,960 though the group did use a number of models that showed that number as low as 23,300 and as high as 29,306. With the projected increase in population, the plan also projects an increase of between 850 and 3,500 new households in the town by 2040 and recommends an increase of 2,300 new households over the next 20 years.

The group also listed some other potential areas of future development and redevelopment in the downtown area, Milford St. Bethesda campus area, South Water Street, North and South Church Street, West Main Street and the rail corridor from Milford Street east to Concord Street.

During the meeting, the plan commission unanimously recommended the plan to the common council. The council unanimously approved the first reading of the plan and it will need to be approved again during the council’s next meeting on Dec. 17 to be fully approved.

“Although the comprehensive plan is a statutory requirement, it is a plan we intend to use to guide our work in the coming years,” Mayor Emily McFarland said. “I’m glad that I was able to start my time here with a new version of this plan, and be able to join the city team in providing input.”

The comprehensive plan is a 20-year plan which outlines ways the city could promote and foster sustainable growth and development to aid in prosperity for the city’s future. Although the plan is very detailed and outlines numerous ideas for future plans, these are just recommendations proposed by Vandewalle and do not reflect any imminent changes in the city if it is approved.

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