Still Trying to Save the County Grounds
A recent Journal Sentinel article, the "Fate of Wauwatosa's Historic Buildings in Flux" describes the sorry state of the existing Eschweiler Buildings on the Milwaukee County Grounds and their uncertain future.
They are part of the 89 acre parcel of the County Grounds that Milwaukee County sold last year to the UWM Real Estate Foundation for development of Innovation Park - a project to include a university research building as well as privately owned technology-oriented companies and other uses.
UWM officials have been negotiating a sale of the Eschweiler buildings to Mandel Group Inc., which wants to convert them into apartments. The City of Wauwatosa allowed for development of new residential buildings on this portion of the County Grounds as a compromise to help fund the expensive rehabilitation of the Eschweiler Buildings.
Riverkeeper and our partners opposed this new development, which encroached upon important habitat for monarch butterflies and other wildlife. If Wauwatosa allows for demolition of one or more of the Eschweiler Buildings, the density of new residential development, if any, should be reexamined.
Please consider attending the Wauwatosa Historic Preservation Commission meeting tomorrow on Thursday, May 3rd at 7pm (7725 W. North Avenue in Wauwatosa). This is a “special” meeting and is being fast tracked for unknown reasons.
For a meeting agenda click here. To read our full comments see below.
Alderman McBride and Historic Preservation Commission members:
Alderman McBride—if you could forward these comments to the Historic Preservation Commission members, I would appreciate it as I could not find contact information for most of them online.
As I understand it, you will be considering the future of the Eschweiler Buildings and getting an update about their status on Thursday, May 3rd. I also read with interest, Tom Daykin’s recent article “Fate of Wauwatosa's historic buildings in flux” on April 25th: http://www.jsonline.com/business/fate-of-wauwatosas-historic-buildings-in-flux-og55j28-148995905.html
I realize the difficult decisions that lay ahead regarding the future of the deteriorating Eschweiler Buildings. I am unable to make the meeting on Thursday as I will be in Portland for business, but allow me to make a few general comments. Throughout the discussions over the last several years, first with the creation of the Kubala Washatko Plan for the NE Quadrant of the County Grounds and later with the Master Plan for the area to be developed as UWM Innovation Park, there was always a commitment on behalf of the City to preserve the Eschweiler buildings. The Innovation Park area was sold to the community as a UWM engineering campus, which would also house some companies that were innovators in engineering and technology. Later, we learned that a portion of the County owned property was also being considered for residential development and possibly commercial development unrelated to the campus. Still later, it was found out that UWM was proposing to sell off a portion of what used to be our public property outright to a private developer. The City accommodated this proposal allowing for new residential development (along with increased construction of impervious surfaces and increased destruction of habitat) as part of Innovation Park as a compromise so that a developer would have funds to subsidize the huge expense of renovating the Eschweiler Buildings.
We now learn from the Journal Sentinel that due to the poor condition of the buildings, that Mandel (the presumptive buyer) is stating that a portion of the buildings should be demolished and are too far gone to save. We assume more information will be presented to the Commission on Thursday night on this matter. We’d like to remind the City though that construction of any new residential development was “allowed” presumably as a compromise to subsidize redevelopment of the Eschweiler Buildings. If Wauwatosa allows the developer to take one or more of the buildings down, then the amount of new development proposed for the site should be re-examined to come into compliance with the original build out recommendations of the Kubala Plan.
The original Kubala plan proposed 850,000 sq ft for the amount of development that was agreed would be allowed and still maintain the integrity of the County Grounds. My recollection was that during the rezoning and master plan process for UWM in 2010, that footprint was increased by 342,200 sq feet. Our worst nightmare is that all of the buildings are demolished, new condos built there, and essentially, Milwaukee County and the City have given away our public open space to a private developer. I don’t expect a developer to commit “hare karri” as Bob Monnat was quoted saying in the article, but I do expect the City of Wauwatosa to honor its commitments to the community in protecting as much of the monarch habitat and natural areas that remain in this portion of the County grounds by limiting the footprint of new development. If there is going to be no re-development of the Eschweiler buildings, there should be no new residential development either.
We’ve all heard the expression “death by a thousand cuts”, and I would add that the County Grounds are dying a death of a thousand “compromises”. It does seem that the floodgates have opened to allow for development of the County Grounds. We were originally told that development of this portion of the County Grounds would be phased, but now there is an oversized road that is going to be cut through the Grounds, which will permanently compromise its biological value. As we all know, the economy is very bad right now and much of the promised development may not materialize for years or decades. To allow for construction of the road given such little promise right now of future development is foolhardy. That road will be nothing more than a “short cut” to bypass Zoo interchange construction, and not a slow, meandering road that students and park users could park along to enjoy the open space, which was originally envisioned. To allow for demolition of the buildings with nothing in return, would be equally foolhardy.
I am also a bit confused as to the speed of this issue being pushed through the Historic Preservation Commission (including a special rescheduled meeting), given that Mandel does not own the property in question and its highly unlikely that any development is eminent. Why must approvals be granted so quickly and with so little information? I tried to get more information on this issue on the Wauwatosa website, but there is nothing listed except for the agenda.
We encourage you to recommend to the full Common Council that the Eschweiler Buildings be preserved, and if some buildings need to come down (after independent analysis), than the development footprint and designs for this portion of the site should be re-examined.
|Eschweiler Letter Tosa 8-6-2012.pdf||157.53 KB|