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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Now it's up to Wauwatosa

Wauwatosa, Economy, Development, County Grounds

One of the key players in the development of the Milwaukee County Grounds wasn't at the table today. But the Milwaukee County  Economic & Community Development committee agreed that nothing will happen with the UWM Foundation plan for the engineering campus and other related development  "unless and until (it is) approved by the City of Wauwatosa."

If you've ever wondered why it matters who your local elected officials are, here's your answer. The whole vague area of "ancillary development"--shops, restaurants, "boutique hotels," and anything else that might end up there--depends entirely on the kindness of Wauwatosa zoning.

The 4-2 vote by the committee to approve the offer wasn't the last step. But it's a pretty sure thing that the county board will also approve the sale when they meet next week Thursday.

After all, as Supervisor Rice pointed out, the county's land sales goal (who knew they had one) for this year is a cool $6 million, and they've only gotten $110,000 toward that goal. There's a big budget deficit hole to fill.

Still, this deal is not a "fire sale on county assets" but a plan with many merits. Putting innovators and educators in close proximity sparks better ideas; the land was already designated for development (or doomed to, if you prefer); even if UWM stayed in the city limits they'd need to develop an off-campus campus; and UWM has all the makings of an excellent neighbor to welcome into the 'hood.

Speaking out

Most of the public  who spoke were opposed to development of the land. No surprise there. While some may have been people who did not have a chance to speak at the public hearing a month ago, most of the faces, voices, and stories were familiar ones.

Major points of objection:

  • Almost everyone now understands that the monarch migration layover is not some fluffly thing girls fancy  but an extraordinary, rare international phenomenon. The intrusion of any sort of development poses a major risk to the monarchs, the land, and other wildlife. Once gone, this habitat can never be reclaimed.
  • Pulling the potential riches of the engineering school from Milwaukee's starving city to its better fed suburbs is almost certainly shifting wealth in the wrong direction. As Supervisor Lipscomb pointed out, the building of Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa siphoned most of the hospitals and doctors out of the city and sped an economic decline on the city's west side that, with the exception of the Marquette area, continues today.

It takes a gunslinger to know a gunslinger

Nearly everyone was civil. However, one Wauwatosa man was almost successful in his repeated attempts to provoke committee chair Clark. He started with a legitimate complaint about not being able to see the site map, but continued to escalate even after a clerk was sent scurrying to make copies for all. Later, he called UWM Chancellor Santiago and benefactor Michael Cudahy "Buffalo Bills" bent on slaying the last butterfly in the area. In between, he tried to show me on the map where Hooters would go (a figment of an over-exercised imagination, not a real plan for the grounds just in case you were wondering.)

I wanted to pop him, and I am more or less on his side of the issue. Butterfly people, you might want to carry duct tape to the next meeting: this guy is not helping the cause.

Tweaking

The 3 1/2 hour discussion included two noteworthy amendments.

The first, by Wauwatosa supervisors De Bruin and Schmitt along with Clark, Broderick, and Dimitijevic (I think: no paper copies were provided) aimed to finalize boundaries, delineating the Monarch Trail and other restoration or preservation areas. The amendment was developed with input from UWM, museum butterfly expert Sue Borkin, county parks director Sue Black and staff, and Monarch Trail (and perhaps other) environmentalists.

Two points worth noting: $250,000 for land restoration is being held as part of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District project that dug the giant holes (aka "swales") and dumped the dirt willy-nilly around them, and it doesn't need to come from anyone else's coffers. Furthermore, the preservation area looks to be a little wider, not narrower, than the area in the Kubala-Washatko plan Wauwatosa approved in 2005.

It seemed like a noble effort by well-intentioned people in the full spirit of cooperation, not a perfect one. Buttterfly lady Barb Agnew and others noted that the language had too many hedges and places for the slippery to slide through. It falls short of being a restrictive covenant. It wasn't clear whether the agreement would remain binding for future owners. Perhaps some of these issues were resolved  when the committee moved into closed session later.

The final amendment, called "an 11th hour" amendment by Schmitt, and not because it was presented at 11 am by supervisors Weishan and Clark, called for taking $2 million of the $13 million purchase price, putting it into a fund for engineering scholarships for women and minorities, and requiring UWM to match the amount.

Painful and honest discussion followed, during which uncomfortable questions about who would benefit from the plan--and who would not--were raised. The proposal was defeated, as it probably should have been, for procedural reasons. But it's a great idea that should be revisited.

Back to Wauwatosa

With this project moving forward fast, Wauwatosa will be pressed to move fast, too. So now's the time to begin trying to influence your alders and other elected officials to honor the city's past work in determining what's appropriate for the land. One thing that probably isn't appropriate: the additional retention ponds in the UWM plans that are floating around.

I say "trying to influence" because I'm not sure it's possible.

At the last Tosa Town Square meeting, we were waxing nostalgic about the good old alders, the old guys like Treis and Bachman. They could be stubborn, but there was never a doubt they were passionate in serving the city and its people. When you talked to them, they felt it was their duty to listen and try to help, whether they agreed with you or not. Some of the new ones don't seem to have the same notions. It's hard to know what motivates them. 

Fortunately, Mayor Didier and her daughter have come forward as supporters of the Monarch Trail. So we can hope that the desire for glory from a big development portfolio won't lure her astray, and she will lead us down the better path, along with the butterflies and engineers.

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