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College plans cause worry

Wisconsin Lutheran looks to rezone homes it bought

July 11, 2012

Wisconsin Lutheran College wants to rezone 15 homes it bought in Wauwatosa so it can change one to use as office space and allow more students to move into the others.

Dozens of neighbors worried about continued expansion by the college into the residential community came to the Plan Commission on Monday to voice their concerns. They fear that rezoning will just open the door to replacing the buildings with larger dormitories or classroom buildings in the future.

Homeowners said they have battled the college for nearly 30 years. It purchased less than 10 acres of land in Milwaukee initially and has been expanding to the east into Wauwatosa since then, residents said. In 2000, the college requested a rezoning that led to a mediation effort between the college and city. It resulted in a 10-year college boundary agreement that has since expired on the east side of the campus, adjacent to the rear yards of the properties on the west side of Pleasant View Street.

"This is something that's really going to have a big impact on our neighborhood and our property values," resident Tom Genack said.

Residents talked about the increased crime, parking problems and poorly maintained properties that have resulted as the college has bought up homes during the last decade.

"It has eroded our quality of life," resident Lisa Bevington said.

Waiting for presentation

Commissioner Jody Lowe moved that the college's request be held for a month so the college can bring forward information about its plans for future growth and, specifically, about the parcels on Bluemound Road, Maywood Avenue, Bel Air Court and Wisconsin Avenue. The college owns additional homes in the neighborhood that aren't up for rezoning at this time.

There was no presentation by representatives of the college, and Lowe took that as an insult to the commission.

"I'm disappointed they didn't take the city more seriously and give more thought to a presentation," she said.

When the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee pitched Innovation Park it brought in senior faculty to speak and laid out site plans, Lowe added for comparison.

Gary Schmid, vice president of finance for Wisconsin Lutheran, said he was under the impression the commission wouldn't want a full-scale presentation and that could be provided further along in the approval process.

Master plan in works

The college has made a business decision to ask for rezoning so it can place a larger number of students into the homes, he said. The college's enrollment continues to grow - hitting 1,000 students in 2011 - and it is working with a consultant on a master plan for the future. Those plans aren't expected to be completed until fall.

The homes have been emptied of tenants, and supervised students and a security and maintenance team provided by Johnson Controls should cut down on problems, Schmid said.

He's not an expert on the history of the school's development issues with the city. There has been a turnover in the college's administration in recent years.

Mayor Kathy Ehley, commission chairwoman agreed, saying it's important that all groups get fully informed from the start. She encouraged the college's new leadership to build some bridges with the neighborhood.

"The history and actions have created a lot of skepticism," Ehley said.

Next step

WHAT: Wisconsin Lutheran will return to the Plan Commission with more details about future plans for growth to support a request to rezone 15 residential properties to institutional use.

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 13

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