LAWRENCE, Wisc. (From news reports) -- Georgia-Pacific LLC will seek another Green Bay area site to build a 1.1-million-square-foot warehouse after withdrawing its request to the town of Lawrence.
The company's decision to back away from the site was confirmed Wednesday, just hours before the town was scheduled to host a public hearing on the paper-products manufacturer's request to rezone 90 acres of farmland for industrial use, Lawrence Administrator Patrick Wetzel said.
The town cancelled the public hearing and a town board meeting scheduled to review the plan on Thursday evening.
Mike Kawleski, Georgia-Pacific's public affairs manager, said uncertainty about the rezoning request's chance of success led the company to withdraw its proposal.
The land, located between Williams Grant Drive and Mid-Valley Drive, is within a mile of hundreds of Lawrence residents who opposed the project, even as Georgia-Pacific changed its plans in an attempt to address residents' concerns about semi-truck traffic and noise.
The company's initial proposal included driveways off Williams Grant Drive and an expected 75 or more semitrailer trips each day along Williams Grant. Nearby residents said the volume of truck traffic would have created a dangerous situation for children and families who live off Williams Grant or whose children attend Hemlock Creek Elementary School on the street.
Residents put up signs along Williams Grant Drive voicing their opposition, and the town received hundreds of emails, phone calls and comments from residents over the summer and fall.
Kim Sullivan, a staunch opponent of the warehouse who lives on Williams Grant Drive, said opponents were gearing up the public hearing Wednesday and town board meeting on Thursday when word reached them that the request was being withdrawn. She said the initial reaction was one of disbelief until it was confirmed Wednesday morning.
"The feeling from the residents I'm talking to who are against this see this as good news," Sullivan said. "I think we made a difference in the end, but we need to keep our eye on things going forward."
Georgia-Pacific revised its plan this fall so that trucks would access the site from Mid-Valley Drive. It also included a 10-acre area along Williams Grant Drive. But residents still raised concerns and the town's Planning and Zoning Committee voted to recommend the town board deny the rezoning request.
"We really value mutually beneficial relationships with communities where our facilities are located," Kawleski said. "Georgia-Pacific made significant changes to the plans to address the specific concerns from the community, but it became clear this was not the site."
Kawleski said the withdrawal doesn't change the fact Georgia-Pacific needs to find space to build a 1.1 million-square-foot distribution center. Right now, the company's distribution operations are spread out over five warehouses in the Green Bay area.
"We're going to look at all the options available to us," Kawleski said. "The intent is to review options in the Green Bay area for a similar size project. It will be basically the same warehouse, though there would be some adjustments based on the site and location."
Wetzel called Georgia-Pacific's withdrawal of the request a "missed opportunity" which would have seen a boost in property tax revenue from the $50 million project.
But he also saw a silver lining to the town's review of Georgia-Pacific's request, and the strong reaction from nearby residents. He said it kick-started discussions about updating the town's comprehensive plan, the big-picture document designed to guide further growth and development in the town.
"The town of Lawrence is developing on the north end and more rural on the south end," he said. "This project property is in between those areas. The benefit of this is that it started the conversation about charting out the future of development in the area. It's a conversation that was going to be needed."
Sullivan also wants to see that discussion continue.
"It will be excellent if this incentivizes the town to begin updating its comprehensive plan," Sullivan said. "Let's be proactive and make a plan for what this area should look like."