Q: Is this neighborhood totally against development?
A: No! We welcome development of this site. It’s been increasingly dilapidated over the past several years. We would like development here to be consistent with the size and scale of other buildings in the neighborhood. Many residents of the area have responded negatively to this particular proposal due to its outrageous size and density next to a neighborhood of single-family homes. The tallest building in this area is only 4 stories. Many area residents seem to agree that an apartment building of about 3-5 stories with maybe 100 units would be best for the neighborhood. Given the proximity to Ascension and traffic concerns, perhaps some affordable senior apartments would be the best use for this site and most beneficial to the City of Wauwatosa for the future.
Some buildings we think would be great for this site:
Q: Doesn’t this violate Wauwatosa’s Comprehensive Plan?
A: Yes – and that is against state law. Per Wis. Stat. § 66.1001, municipal land use regulations must be consistent with (defined as “furthers or does not contradict the objectives, goals, and policies…”) a comprehensive plan.
Wauwatosa’s Comprehensive Plan is clear, in spirit and (over and over again) in its plain language: development in residential areas needs to preserve neighborhood character and quality, prohibit incompatible land uses, and be at the same size and scale as the surrounding neighborhood.
Vol. 2, p. 103: “…guide development in a manner that maintains community character, protects sensitive environmental features, and directs public and private investments to appropriate areas of the City.”
Vol. 2, p. 105-106: “Plan for a future land use pattern that accommodates the City’s future population and job growth, preserves the character of the City’s neighborhoods, encourages well-planned and attractive development, helps maintain property values, minimizes land use conflicts…”
“Support land uses and development projects that enhance the character of existing neighborhoods and complement surrounding land uses… maintain neighborhood quality and property values… prohibit incompatible land uses from locating within or adjacent to residential neighborhoods… preserve safe pedestrian access to [park] facilities… encourage preservation of the City’s existing housing stock…”
“Follow the land use recommendations mapped and described in this Plan… Whenever possible, avoid locating potentially conflicting land uses adjacent to each other…”
Vol. 2, p. 107: “Amend the zoning ordinance as necessary to ensure that redevelopment and infill development… complements the character and scale of existing homes while still allowing for reinvestments in existing neighborhoods… Work with property owners and neighborhood associations to preserve the character of the City’s homes and neighborhoods.”
Vol. 2, p. 111: “Ensure that future Planned Commercial development is adequately buffered from residential development areas…”
Planned Unit Development was only mapped for the “Burleigh Triangle and along State Street east of the Village.” The Burleigh Triangle was further noted as an area appropriate for high-density, high-rise multifamily residential. (Vol. 2, p. 115) An area specifically targeted for high-density, high-rise does not even compare to the level of density of this proposal.
Vol. 2, p. 135: “Preserve the integrity and overall composition of existing neighborhoods…” “Ensure the redevelopment and infill development in existing neighborhoods complements the character and scale of existing homes while still allowing for neighborhood reinvestment… Plan for higher-density multi-family housing in parts of the City where streets and sidewalks can handle increased amounts of traffic… Promote ‘complete neighborhoods’ that offer a compatible mix of residences, services, businesses, community facilities, jobs, recreation, and education.”
Vol. 2, p. 136-137: “Multi-family housing should include both renter-occupied (apartments) and owner-occupied (condos, townhouses) options. Too often, community resistance to higher density housing is a result of people’s experience with poorly designed multi-family developments that do not reflect the character of the community or are generally unattractive. To address these issues, the City will continue to enforce design standards for these types of developments, … and ensure that the scale of such developments is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.”
Vol. 2, p. 138-139: “Avoid monotonous facades and box-like buildings…” “Large parking garages are undesirable…” “Encourage underground parking…”
Vol. 2, p. 139 & 146: “Wauwatosa will strive to maintain a land use pattern that allows an appropriate mix of uses within or in close proximity to all neighborhoods in the City, without compromising the integrity and character of those neighborhoods.”
Vol. 2, p. 175: “Preserve the integrity of each of the City’s unique neighborhoods.” “Support the City’s neighborhood associations in preserving and enhancing the character of neighborhoods.”
Given all of the above references (and those we spared you from reading), does a 25-story tower looming over single-family homes preserve the integrity and quality of the neighborhood, sound well-planned, maintain property values, and minimize the land use conflict? Do another 400+ area drivers preserve safe access to Chippewa Park in a neighborhood without sidewalks for walking? Does placing the highest-density high-rise directly adjacent to a single-family home sound compatible?
Given its proximity to a single-family neighborhood, should this property even remain under its current zoning? Shouldn’t this zoning be altered to be more compliant with the Comprehensive Plan? Not only is this project out of character for the neighborhood, but it’s also out of character for the City as a whole. The level of density proposed for this site is 29 times the density of the surrounding area, well over five times the density allowed under current zoning, five times the average density of other Wauwatosa luxury apartment complexes, and nearly three times the density of any other single luxury apartment complex (approximate densities are listed below). Does this really belong in a primarily single-family residential area? Is this something the City feels area residents should have expected?
Q: Are there other sites available in Wauwatosa for this scale of development?
A: Absolutely. There are several sites currently for sale in Wauwatosa that have more acreage, better traffic circulation, and do not abut residential areas:
Q: Does this developer have plans for expansion of this project in the future?
A: Probably. While it was repeatedly denied at the August 20th neighborhood meeting, the developer has expressed his intentions (and had architectural renderings drawn) to develop the entire block into more exceedingly high-density apartments, commercial and retail properties, and possibly including a large hotel. The developer even admitted to wanting to develop the entire block in a recent news article. Any expansion will only go further into this single-family neighborhood, also violating the Comprehensive Plan and advancing the erosion of this neighborhood. What protections can be put into place to prevent this?
Q: Will this cause additional traffic problems?
A: Most definitely. In addition to nearly 2,000 more daily trips generated by this proposal (per the developer’s own preliminary traffic study) on an already overburdened intersection at Bluemound and Mayfair Roads, we have little doubt these new residents will use the neighborhood side streets to cut through and avoid the larger intersection. We already have problems with traffic cutting through from Ascension and other commercial buildings bordering the neighborhood. Employees, patients, and vendors of Ascension regularly travel on Mount Vernon Avenue and North 110th Street to gain access to and from Bluemound Road. Delivery drivers cut through regularly all day long, including large semi-trucks, despite numerous signs prohibiting them from doing so. Some even like to park in front of our driveways from time to time. Delivery drivers from Jimmy John’s are known to regularly speed through the area as well. When asked at the August 20th meeting how he intends to prevent cut-through traffic in the neighborhood, the developer responded that he would “coach” tenants not to do so.
It should be noted that the developer’s preliminary traffic study is inherently flawed. The two study dates – December 4, 2019 and March 12, 2020 – do not reflect normal traffic levels. The December 4, 2019 date clearly states that schools were not in session that day. This already brings traffic down significantly due to fewer parents and school buses using these roads, along with the fact that there are generally fewer drivers during winter months. The March 12, 2020 date should not have been included for planning, per a WI DOT COVID-19 Memo dated June 10, 2020 stating that traffic data after March 1, 2020 is “considered to represent COVID-19 conditions” and they “shall not use traffic data collected during this time for planning or design.” Additionally, both the traffic study and apartment market study completely ignored the residential side streets surrounding this proposal. The traffic study assumed 100% of the trips generated will result in no drivers using the neighborhood streets. As mentioned above, this is inaccurate at best, purposefully deceptive at worst. We know they absolutely will – because it already happens. How many more cars and heavy trucks should neighbors have to tolerate driving through their residential area?
Moreover, anyone living or working in this area will tell you that traffic is regularly a nightmare on Bluemound Road from Hwy. 100 west for several blocks – and not just during rush hour. Hwy. 100 experiences regular traffic jams north and south of Bluemound Road. A long line at Starbucks or a bus stopping too long next to the proposal site causes traffic to back up well into the larger intersection. While higher traffic counts might be desirable if one were to perhaps own an Irish pub, residents of the area find the traffic already at levels that are much too high. The City should not be encouraging any kind of higher density in this already overwhelmed area.
Q: Will this building have environmental impacts on air pollution due to disruptions of natural air flows?
A: At this point in time, we do not know. If built, this would be the tallest building in Wauwatosa, so there has not been any opportunity to see how a building like this here would affect wind patterns that could trap pollutants and exhaust from nearby cars. Studies have shown that high-rise buildings can disrupt existing air flows and dispersion patterns that can create dead zones that can cause pollution hotspots due to particle accumulation. Before considering anything of this height in Wauwatosa, the environmental impact from pollutants that could be trapped due to disruption in air flows should be studied to make ensure the building is not putting nearby residents at risk.
Q: Will this building affect migratory bird patterns and cause unnecessary bird deaths due to striking windows?
A: As with the air pollution question, we do not know. If you visit downtown Milwaukee in the spring and summer months, you will unfortunately come across dead birds that have hit buildings in the area. There was an article recently in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding glass buildings and bird deaths (the article can be found below). In the article, it suggests materials and methods that buildings can use to help birds avoid collision and lessen the impact of bird deaths due to large buildings. Cities such as Madison have enacted ordinances to make development safer for builds. Before considering this building, the City should ensure that it will not cause a disruption in migratory bird patterns, as well as require the developer to have strategies and materials in place to make it safer for birds. If Wauwatosa is going in the direction of high rise, high density builds, ordinances should be in place to make sure that we can lessen the impact of bird deaths.
Q: Has this developer been a good neighbor?
A: We don’t think so. In addition to the myriad of rowdy Mo’s patrons and police calls for service to this establishment for loud music, drunk drivers, and illegally opening during the pandemic, the properties currently owned by this developer are not maintained. This developer and his associated entities own several homes surrounding this proposal site, in addition to the proposal site and two other nearby commercial buildings. All of these properties have been left to blight – seemingly on purpose. The commercial properties have had squatters, long weeds, untrimmed shrubbery, and trash and debris strewn about. The residential homes are even worse. One property is rented by a tenant with a hoarding mental illness. The front and back yards are effectively covered with junk and garbage, and the home suffers from horribly peeling paint. The homeowner next door has complained to the developer several times about a rat infestation from this home, but the developer has done nothing to remedy the issue. Another home – vacant for most of 2020 – had six-foot-tall grass that was only removed after a complaint was filed with the City. Two of the other homes owned by the developer have had regular issues with trash and debris in the front yards, as well as broken windows and uncut grass and shrubbery.
Additionally, this developer has regularly harassed homeowners surrounding this site to sell him their homes, despite their repeated refusals. When he has been asked not to call these homeowners, he has continued. Also, one homeowner reported that two men sent on the developer’s behalf were seen looking in her windows when she didn’t answer the door. In response to this, the developer shrugged and said, “I guess they got carried away.” No one should be surprised that many in the neighborhood do not trust this developer to be honest, transparent, or fair.
Q: Has this developer collaborated with the neighborhood at all regarding this project?
A: Nope. Many people have tried to tell this developer that a project of this size and scale would not fit the neighborhood. At the PUD-required August 20, 2020 neighborhood meeting, the developer was told by the vast majority of people in attendance (some 100-150 residents) that his rendering of 23 stories and 350 units was too high, too dense, would cause more traffic issues, and doesn’t belong next to homes. The developer refused to make the building shorter, claimed that having this number of units is the only way he can provide this level of amenities (almost certainly not true, and the amenities do not benefit area residents anyway), and threatened the neighbors that if he doesn’t get his way, he will put up a strip center. Less than two months later, he submitted a proposal for an even larger building of 25 stories with 354 units. As it turns out, even at this meeting he was already considering a larger building (see Market Study included with developer’s submission, dated August 28, 2020). The neighborhood meeting in this instance was never going to serve its intended purpose of neighborhood collaboration – it was merely a box to check off his list of requirements.
Around the time of his application for this project, this developer canceled a meeting with our neighborhood group at the last minute and hired a public relations firm to try to sell this project to the neighbors. The neighborhood’s concerns regarding this project are not the result of a “messaging problem,” but are real and valid concerns about the proposal itself. At no time has this developer been willing to compromise and collaborate to find a project that would benefit himself, the neighborhood, and the City. We are, and we have tried. It should also be added that the public relations employees went door-to-door throughout the neighborhood without following proper CDC guidelines and Wauwatosa’s ordinance requiring masks to be worn. Several neighbors found this unsafe and felt the police should be notified.
Q: Will this developer even be keeping this property after completion?
A: Doesn’t sound like it. At the August 20th neighborhood meeting, the developer stated that he would most likely be selling the building to a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). An astute observer (to this and other points included in this document) would likely note how it seems he doesn’t care so much about neighborhood improvement as he does about making a quick buck and driving traffic to his restaurant.
JV (1:23:32) “Great question. And unfortunately, condos in Milwaukee, because of property taxes and homeowner’s fees don’t seem to work great and so the buildings don’t always work. And so the building of this predominance would be a high level, class A asset and it would be managed, probably not even by us, we’ll probably end up selling it (1:23:48) to a REIT that will handle this unbelievably well.”
Q: What about parking?
A: The aboveground parking garage is large and overbearing – and, according to the Comprehensive Plan, should be discouraged. Does this proposal even meet the minimum code parking requirements? Between the added parking cost for tenants and relative scarcity of spaces, will people be parking throughout the neighborhood and causing additional traffic issues?
Q: How about that construction staging plan?
A: Terrible. They plan to put a dumpster right next to a single-family home, as if it’s not bad enough to have area families undergo two full years of construction. They also appear to have nowhere for their construction workers to park. A few at Mo’s, a handful at the old Dentists office, maybe some at Ascension. The majority allegedly will use a Park ‘n Ride almost two miles away – will these workers actually do so? Or will we just find them parked all over the neighborhood streets causing even more disruption? Will the construction trucks actually be kept away from the homes as well? As residents, we already know we will be overrun with parked cars and construction vehicles surrounding the site – because we already have trucks disregarding our homes and local ordinances.
Other Questions and Issues
These are some additional questions that we have but have not been able to answer yet. We are hoping for further clarification from the developer, city staff, and our local elected officials.
What costs will be incurred by taxpayers if area sewers and water mains are insufficiently sized to provide service to this building?
Does this even meet the objectives and standards of a Planned Unit Development?
Is this spot zoning?
Is it really “mixed use” if its only retail area is a small coffee shop primarily intended for tenants to use?
What benefit does this serve to the surrounding neighborhood? How does this protect public health and safety?
Where is the screening for the home next to the site?