St. Marks and their development team want to build
a 55-unit apartment building next to the Church on Hackett Ave.
We are a group of neighbors who think it should be done better, for us and for our future neighbors.
In return for granting a zoning change, the city should be asking whether the project can do more for the city, and require the designers to be receptive to genuine community input into the design.
UPDATE - the Common Council voted 11:0 on 9/20 to change the zoning from RM3 to RM6, allowing the development to proceed according to St. Marks' and Mr. Demichele's plan.
We've learned a lot through this experience, though, and would like to use this website to document this flawed process and imagine a better way.
To be continued.
We're for development. Just not THIS development. Here's why:
Out of Scale & Out of Character
Compared to the neighboring condos and Eastside apartment buildings it is supposedly modeled after, the overall impression of the proposed development is more commercial or institutional than residential. The contemporary material choices & detailing, as well as 4 stories compared to 3 in neighboring buildings, evoke the feeling of busier districts like Prospect Avenue south of North Ave and Oakland Avenue in Shorewood.
We'd rather see a development of owner-occupied units more similar to the condos already existing on the block. There are other areas of the city better-suited to the kind of development they have proposed, and zoned accordingly.
Milwaukee's Comprehensive Plan supports a diversity of housing options within the city, and the existing character of this street and neighborhood with many owner-occupied houses and some much-lower-density condos is one housing option we think worth fighting for. Try to find a decent, affordable house or condo to buy in this area, and you'll recognize there is a major supply problem for that kind of housing, not for apartments.
More Apartments? What about Homeownership?
There is a glut of "market-rate" apartments within a mile which are expensive and not even close to fully-occupied. So why apartments? Because they're the most profitable, and the main financial goal driving this development is to maximize the profit St. Marks Church can get for their land and put it towards building a new parish hall.
Developers have recognized that the future income stream from market-rate apartments is more valuable now than selling owner-occupied units. Because the market for homes to buy in the area is extremely tight, according to Realtors, would-be homeowners who want to live here will have little option but to rent. This will make it harder for the next generation to build wealth through equity in a home; and it will further solidify structural inequality in our city.
Property management companies also seem to be consolidating in Milwaukee (Eastmore was recently purchased by "Enigma", which we think is not a local company), and rents are going up. The affordability of housing is not as simple as supply-and-demand; it depends also on the kind of units that are being developed, their location, and who is managing them.
Poor Process, Bad Precedent
If zoning means anything and is to be resilient against influential people gaming the system, a single developer shouldn't be able to get zoning changed just because he wants it. Basically, that's what St. Marks and Mr. DeMichele are doing here; taking land as currently zoned and changing it to make the project more profitable. Should we allow this just because this development is presenting itself as a benefactor for St. Marks? We think not without some genuine public debate.
St. Marks and its partners could have reached out to neighbors in the years of discussions and planning leading up to this; instead they kept it under wraps. Now, without an alderman to represent the neighborhood until November, the process is being fast-tracked.
We think it's our duty to object. This is a terrible precedent. We want future developers to know that sincere outreach to citizens and good-faith consideration of neighbors' concerns should be the norm. Our message: Engage with the neighborhood, even if you think you're well-connected enough to get your project through the common council without community support.
Model a Better Process - Communities as Partners in Development
We're not against development -- development builds wealth in cities and creates the places & spaces we all use and enjoy. We want St. Marks to grow and flourish. We want to increase the local customer base supporting the wonderful commercial district we enjoy. But what does such an imposing building provide for the community that one or two smaller, more appropriately-sized buildings wouldn't? Is this the best we can do here? In return for a zoning change, which in this case is not without practical and aesthetic impacts, we should ask "what does the community get?". The onus should be on the developers to show us, to show the Plan Commission and the Common Council, what changing the zoning rules here will do for all of us!
9/3 Traffic & Safety Impact Analysis posted.
You can download it here: Traffic & Safety Impact Analysis.
It was uploaded to the City Plan Commission's Legistar website for the zoning-change ordinance. This is the ordinance which is required to change the lot's zoning from RM3 to RM6 to allow for denser development, and which was conditionally approved on 8/22 subject to the traffic study.
We are looking at (and trying to understand) the report now and will post our opinions soon.
8/22 City Planning Commission conditionally approved zoning change.
You can access all the materials for the meeting, including video, here on legistar.
The 5-hour meeting concluded with the commission voting to conditionally approve the project, subject to a traffic study from a Cedarburg firm that will be paid for by the developer, Michael DeMichele.
We are disappointed with this outcome, as it only addresses one of the objections we have to the project as currently planned.
Tuesday 9/13 at City Hall - ZONING COMMITEE HEARING.
Meeting Starts at 9:00 am. Public Hearing for the zoning change ordinance will be at 10:00 am.
Spot zoning for the 55-unit apartment will be voted on at a meeting of the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee on Tuesday September 13, at 9:00 am, Room 301B, in Milwaukee City Hall. City Hall is on the corner of Wells and Water Street.
Your IN-PERSON ATTENDANCE at that meeting, whether you choose to speak or not, has the potential to SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE our chance that the board (composed of elected officials) will vote in our favor.
If you are unable to physically attend, you can watch the meeting here:
Spectrum Cable - Channel 25
ATT U-Verse - Channel 99
There may also be a way to attend virtually (no link to that yet) -- we'll keep you posted on that option.