It has been a heated battle between the Village of Sussex and Sussex farmer Pete Meissner over plans to construct , but the situation has just reached new heights.
The 120 acres of farmland being evaluated for the new corporate center, near the corner of highways 164 and VV, was formerly owned by the Meissner family, but was sold in 2002. The family farm has continued to use the land after its sale, and Meissner says its essential to his cattle business in Sussex.
“If Sussex buys that ground and we’re left with 120 less acres, I don’t believe we’ll be able to maintain our farming enterprises here,” said Meissner, whose family has been farming on the site for nearly 80 years. “Once that happens, there’s no turning back. The (cattle portion of the) Meissner farm would cease to exist in Sussex.”
While Meissner says his family would still farm in Sussex, he said he’ll remove his almost 650 head of cattle from the village because he would no longer have the 120 acres to spread the manure. He currently has about 1,800 head of cattle at a farm in Iowa, and another 450 at his operations in North Prairie.
Sussex a detailed preliminary cost estimate for the proposed business park behind and , with the first phase totaling a little more than $4.6 million. A majority of that is to buy the farmland, currently owned by Johnson Bank, costing almost $2.4 million.
"...with having the village come in here and match us, I can’t beat them. I don’t think it’s fair.”
And while Meissner wouldn’t say specifically how much money his family sold the land for, he said it was less than the current asking price. Now his family wants to buy the land back to stamp out ideas for a new business park, but competition with the village is fierce.
“I’ve made a commitment that if we buy the farmland back, we’ll keep it in farming,” Meissner said. “I think the only other offer on the table is ours… We thought we offered a premium for what the farmland is worth, but with having the village come in here and match us, I can’t beat them. I don’t think it’s fair.”
In his offer to Johnson Bank, Meissner said it has provisions about selling the land to another party within 10 years. If they did so, it would result in huge monetary losses, so residents in the Sussex area can be assured he has the best intentions in mind — unlike developer MLG, according to Meissner.
The most controversial part of the potential corporate park deal is the developer’s refusal to purchase the land, instead saying that they’ll develop it if Sussex makes the purchase. Representatives with MLG said considering the current economy, it’s virtually impossible for developers to go to a bank and borrow money for land, but Meissner doesn’t believe it.
“For a developer not to buy it, it takes all the risk out of it for them,” said Meissner. “To make a blanket statement and say banks aren't loaning to developers on things like this, I don’t believe that at all.”
But Sussex’s plan to fund the purchase and development of the land using a new TIF district is leaving officials confident about the project. Under TIF district financing, the assessed value of the land is frozen for taxing purposes. As the value increases because of new development, any additional tax dollars generated from that increase go toward paying off the initial investment.
The village has done this successfully five other times, according to village officials.
Public to weigh in July 25
Similar to the public hearing held for the , the village will also hold a public hearing regarding the TIF district and farmland development on July 25 at 5:30 p.m. at .
While there are no plans for an official vote at the public hearing, there’s a possibility the group of officials could unanimously strike down the idea, similar to what happened with the idea for roundabouts.
“It’s all going to come down for a vote on July 25,” Meissner said. “I’m hoping for at least a 4-3 vote against buying the ground and putting the business park up. The public comments I’ve heard have been at least 90 percent against the park. They like the rural feel, and they don’t want a business park at every entrance to Sussex.”
Although it’s unlikely the Sussex Community Development Authority will strike down the project at the public hearing, Meissner says, for his family’s sake, he’s hoping they do.
“I’m the third generation farmer,” he said. “My grandpa Fred Meissner started here in 1935, and in 1958 my dad Dan went into partnership with him… My dad was instrumental — just a vision he had for the farm. He got to see us expand into Iowa (before passing away), and he would be against this business park.”