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A Tosa State of Mind

Alderman Dennis McBride represents Wauwatosa's 4th District. An attorney and graduate of Wauwatosa East High School, Ald. McBride strives to be an effective, thoughtful, and nonpartisan representative for his constituents and for his hometown.

No mo' bad rezonings

I like Irish pubs.

I don't drink anything stronger than Diet Pepsi, but I'm an Irish guy -- and an Irish Fest volunteer -- and I like Irish pubs, even the Irish-American variety.

I like Mo's Irish Pub.  It has revived a dead corner at Blue Mound Road and 109th Street.  But when the Wauwatosa Common Council voted a few weeks ago in favor of Mo's proposal to add parking, I voted no.

Why?  Not because Mo's couldn't use more parking, but because to add that parking the City had to do what it has never done before:  rezone residential lots so the houses can be torn down for parking lots.  Mo's bought two nearby houses and asked the City to rezone the lots.  The Council supported the rezoning. 

Mo’s owner, Johnny Vasallo, is an honest man who is responding to what he believes is good for his business and the surrounding neighborhood.  I respect him for that.

But the rezoning is not good for the neighborhood or for Wauwatosa:   

  • No one – including Mr. Vasallo – said that he needed the zoning change to stay in business or that without the zoning change, Mo's will suffer.  So the Council, by voting for the rezoning, traded two houses and undertook a type of rezoning that Wauwatosa has never done to help a business that does not need help.
  • Some aldermen said that we need this zoning change for “economic development.”  But to promote economic development, we should only do a rezoning for a business that we are trying to attract, or for one that needs the rezoning to stay in business.  Mo’s is already here, so we don’t need to attract it, and it does not need the rezoning to stay in business. 
  • Virtually all of the people who spoke or wrote e-mails in favor of the rezoning do not live in the neighborhood that will be affected by the rezoning.  Most of those who wrote in support of Mo's don't even live in Wauwatosa.  The supporters might have changed their minds if their own neighborhoods were being affected.

In opposing the Mo's proposal, I also added that the staff of our Community Development Department recommended against this rezoning, and the City's Plan Commission voted against it.  There are two reasons for this:  (1) such a rezoning is bad urban planning, and (2) it is not consistent with our comprehensive plan. 

In 2008, we adopted a new comprehensive plan for the City.  The plan states that we will protect residential neighborhoods, and does not show this neighborhood as changing from residential to business.  The rezoning ignored the comprehensive plan.  Are we so fickle and short-sighted that we will abandon a plan, which took years to develop, to help a business that does not need help?

Finally, the rezoning will set a dangerous precedent.  Here is why:  for the first time, we rezoned residential properties, and took homes, to promote an individual business.   In the past, the City has rezoned land and approved the removal of housing when Wauwatosa East High School, the Lutheran Home for the Aging, Wisconsin Lutheran College, and the Wauwatosa Fire Department needed to spread out.  But these are all civic or nonprofit institutions which serve the entire community.  They all have been in existence for a long time, and will continue long after the readers of this column are gone.

Mr. Vasallo is running a successful business in Wauwatosa, but, perhaps through no fault of his own, not all of his businesses have been successful.  Restaurants and bars turn over all the time.  We have no assurance that Mo’s will continue to be successful or even remain in business.  If it goes out of business, we will be left with surface parking lots bordering on a residential neighborhood.  And, although I trust Mo's commitment to pay the City for the lost property taxes for the next 10 years, what will happen if Mo's goes out of business or goes bankrupt?  Too often the City has chased the dollar in front of us rather than looking at economic development as a long-term process in which business development depends on strong residential neighborhoods, and vice versa.  Regrettably, this rezoning seems like short-term profit-taking.

When I ran for office in 2008, voters told me to preserve Wauwatosa's historic and residential character.  The Mo's rezoning, however well intentioned, destroys part of a nice neighborhood.  I might be wrong -- and I hope I am -- but this rezoning might hurt Wauwatosa.  Let's think twice next time. 

Let's say "no mo'." 

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