There’s a problem in Walworth County. It isn’t that our fields are lush and our lakes wet. It’s not that our towns are busy and our streets are clean and our schools are new. Walworth County, in spite of all the good, has a serious problem. Walworth County should, at its very heart, know what it is. It should know what it means. It should know why it is successful and why it is desirable. Walworth County should know it is a rural county intermixed with lakes that bring significant resort business to our towns on the weekends. Walworth County should know exactly what it is, but the problem these days is that Walworth County is suffering through a full blown identity crisis.
The South Eastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is an organization that claims to act on the best interests of the seven Wisconsin counties that fall under its jurisdiction. This is the group that put together the 2035 Plan, which reads like a developer handbook. Develop these fields, make small lots so people can pass sugar between their windows without needing to toil through the effort of outstretching their arms fully, but give those suckers (residents) the ability to walk to a community park. Put that park near a high speed transit line, and you’ll have completed the liberal dream for these United States. Cram residents into tight corridors, reducing theoretical congestion on roadways, make it easy for the government to shuttle them to and from work, and then let them all mingle together after work at a community provided playground. This is what SEWRPC wants, and this is what it wants for Walworth County.
The problem with SEWRPC is that it applies agendas for Kenosha County and Waukesha County with the same heavy hand that it applies those concepts in Walworth County. There’s a significant difference between these counties, as one is an affluent collar county to Milwaukee (Waukesha) and one is an industrialized county (Kenosha) with immediate and easy interstate access to Milwaukee and Chicago. Walworth County, on the other hand, doesn’t have a primary interstate bisecting it, nor does it have a high full-time population of affluent professionals. Walworth County, much to the chagrin of SEWRPC, is an affluent county due mostly to its high influx of vacation home owners and vacationing tourists, which is something that the other counties under their domain can not claim. Walworth County isn’t at all like these other counties, and yet we align with SEWRPC and we ask them to give us our development and land use goals, and then we let developers run rampant over our farm fields based on some blessing from an organization that has such amazing land-planning skills that they consider Kenosha and Walworth counties to be the same.
As I’ve written about before, SEWRPC dictates growth to our rural county, and they do so largely on population projections. The theory states that if a county is growing, it needs new, cheap housing so that the people who wish to move to the county can afford to live there. Nice concept, even if it’s ridiculous because it assumes people only move to a county if they can find a $219k vinyl ranch on a quarter-acre lot near the highway (plus playground!). Because of these population projections, SEWRPC tells Walworth County which fields are primed for development, because develop we must if we wish to thrive. How on earth will we get a multi-billion dollar high-speed rail subsidized by the Federal Government if not for mass development? And so SEWRPC tells us of their growth plans and Walworth County, desperately wishing to please their multi-county overlords, obliges.
Earlier this week there was an article in a local paper written by Walworth County Administrator David Bretl. The article discussed population growth in Walworth County, and much to the dismay of Bretl he delivered the “bad” news. Walworth County has only grown by 365 new residents since the year 2010. Worse yet, 305 of those residents were added to Whitewater, which is about as non-Walworth County as a municipality can get. So excepting Whitewater, the entirety of Walworth County has added 60 new residents in six years. This summer the suits at SEWRPC held open meetings wherein they pushed their newest agenda for Walworth County- the 2050 Plan. I argued against their agenda based on market factors, population growth, and demographics, but I was quickly rebuffed. Now the Administrator of our county has told us that our population growth is anemic, which might be giving it too much credit. Meanwhile, SEWPRC swung and missed wildly on their projected growth estimates for Walworth County, and yet we continue to be led by them like so many sheep.
Here’s an idea. Walworth County, remove yourself from the SEWRPC fold. Why would we agree to be under the authority of an organization that doesn’t understand us, particularly one who has proven, heretofore, to be completely and amazingly inaccurate in their predictions? Why would we let some outside organization tell us that our county, with its mix of agriculture and tourism, isn’t up to their standard? Why on earth do we listen to these suits from Milwaukee who push their agendas for high-speed transit, when Walworth County doesn’t even have regular old fashioned transit? Why are we letting SEWRPC give us a crisis of identity? We are acting like we don’t know who we are, but we know full well who we are. We’re a rural county with recreational lakes, and that mix is what makes our county so much more attractive than the neighboring counties. Let’s remind ourselves of that, and let’s stop having SEWRPC tell us what they’d like us to be and start embracing what we already are.
Last night, another development denial in Walworth County. The Town of Walworth board yet again told a Kane County developer that he’s not going to build a couple hundred homes on the farm fields of North Walworth Road. Another win for the people, another win for the corn and the beans, and another defeat for a Kane County developer. Why does this development keep coming back? In large part because SEWRPC shaded an area of this land in yellow ink and said it might be a good spot for future development. Who will the homes be occupied by? SEWRPC isn’t exactly sure, but growth!