Residents in the Town of Verona are hoping to preserve agricultural land — and have recently formed the Verona Rural Preservation Alliance to do so.
The alliance is an informal group of people who want to provide resources, host guest speakers and discourage dense development on the Town of Verona’s acres of agricultural property, co-chair Jo Tucker told the Press last week.
Tucker, along with neighbor and co-chair James Owen, formed the group after plans for a proposed 400-unit development at County Hwy. PD and Shady Oak Lane were brought to the City of Verona in May. The 149-acre development on what is known as “The Marty Property” would be annexed to the city, and then developed into residential homes under the proposal, which has inspired extensive discussion on social media.
The Marty property is in an area designated as an area of city/town interest area, meaning either party could express interest in developing it, under a boundary agreement signed by the city and the town in 2016. The boundary agreement outlines what areas it expects the cities of Verona, Madison and Fitchburg to annex for future development, and what acres it wants to protect for itself as town land.
A joint committee of city and town residents get to review the plans and make recommendations to the city, but the Common Council has the final call.
Tucker said the alliance is about more than this single development, but ensuring there are large green spaces left for farming and agriculture.
“I think people are saying, ‘Let’s do things better. Let’s do things differently,’” she told the Press.
The preservation alliance has created a website, with the help of Community and Environmental Defense Services, a company that labels itself as a group that helps clients with land development battles.
That site is at ceds.org/vrpa.
Tucker said she believes Veridian’s plan for the Marty property is an inappropriate amount of development in a location not well connected to the rest of the city. And she hopes elected officials will take another look at the development and find more creative solutions to preserve the agricultural space.
“It’s prime farmland, prime ag land, some of the best ag land in the country,” Tucker told the Press. “We should be trying to encourage farmers to stay on the land and farm it. It’s really sort of sad to see high-density, residential developments or any kind of development coming into some of these areas.”
The alliance sent a petition to 200 residents in the City of Verona and the Town against the Marty Property development. Tucker said it had a 15% response rate, with 90% adding comments about their specific concerns.
Tucker said towns lose acres to annexation, and petitioners expressed fear of losing open agricultural space.
“Where does it all end?” Tucker said about the petitioner’s comments. “You know, the cities are all going to connect with each other at some point with no green space in between.”
In 2016, the Town of Verona created the Natural and Recreational Areas Committee to research preservation programs.
Tucker acknowledged that residents’ desire to preserve land is not new but the alliance is an immediate response to development.
In Dane County, there are at least two established programs that are working to preserve agricultural land and open space through town government. Both the towns of Dunn and Dunkirk participate in a Rural Preservation Program (RPP).
These preservation programs purchase development rights from landowners through a nonprofit or government agency, and then place a conservation easement to restrict the property’s future land uses. The property owner still owns and manages the property, and receives payment for the development rights.