DNR Approves Wetlands Fill for Sturgeon Bay Fleet Farm

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gave final approval last week to allowing Fleet Farm to fill 5,550 square feet (0.13 acres) of wetlands where the company is planning to build a roughly 92,000-square-foot retail store along the west entrance to Sturgeon Bay.

The approximately 40 acres of land the city annexed from the Town of Nasewaupee, south of where Grant Avenue connects with Highway 42/57, has three areas identified as wetlands on the site where Fleet Farm is planning a retail store with an automotive service center, exterior yard, gas station and two-bay car wash.

DNR water-management specialist Ryan Pappas said the total affected wetland area includes 4,435 square feet on the west side of the property (where the gas station and car wash will be located) in what is classified as a wet meadow/farmed wetland. That area had been farmed since the 1930s and was put in fallow last year.

Fleet Farm’s revised site plan, created by the engineering firm raSmith, included the use of retaining walls around the entire wetland fill area to reduce disturbance.

Pappas said that site is unlike the larger two wetland areas, which have cattails and shallow marsh areas that will not be affected by the project. He said the remaining 1,065 square feet of wetland to be affected is in a roadside ditch where the entrance is being located.

In applying for a wetland general permit – which involves filling in no more than 10,000 square feet and does not require mitigating or replacing that amount of wetland area – Pappas said Fleet Farm demonstrated being able to avoid wetlands where possible.

“This Fleet Farm project was impacting a relatively minor amount of wetlands and was able to meet the wetland general permit standards/eligibility criteria for the easier [general permit] review,” he said.

Pappas said the DNR annually handles “hundreds” of wetland general permits, which the agency is required to review within 30 days. These contrast with wetland individual permits involving more than 10,000 square feet, which require public notice and could take longer than three months to process. 

An alternative plan that Fleet Farm provided to the DNR to show how the project could stay out of the wetland area includes an option to eliminate the frontage road planned off the highway, thereby shifting the gas station and car wash to the north. But because the City of Sturgeon Bay asked Fleet Farm to provide the frontage road for future development, the company stated that “it was a risk whether this project could even be approved without providing a public frontage road.”

The alternative with no frontage road – which would require two access points to Highway 42/57 instead of the one access point with the frontage road lining up with Grant Avenue – would also be expected to create traffic backups during the peak summer months, raising safety concerns, according to Fleet Farm’s response to the DNR.

“Traffic and congestion would only increase over time, with no way to improve the situation,” the company stated. “This plan would be undesirable for Fleet Farm.”

The city’s Aesthetic Design and Site Plan Review Board in February approved a “certificate of appropriateness” for the project, which the Plan Commission agreed that month to allow under city code as a large retail store.

Still pending for the project is final approval of a development agreement between the city and Fleet Farm.

The parameters that the Sturgeon Bay Common Council has backed for that agreement include the city agreeing to contribute $425,000 toward the cost of the public street, intersection and utility improvements for the project; and Fleet Farm agreeing to a minimum assessed value of $8 million for 10 years, beginning with the first tax year following occupancy of the building.

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