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Wauwatosa considers allowing funeral home in residential area

Church no longer can support building

July 25, 2012

Allowing a funeral home to operate in a residential neighborhood on Wauwatosa's northwest border would add some dollars to the city's tax roll.

Unity West Church constructed its building at 4750 N. Mayfair Road in the 1970s on what was then vacant property. With costs increasing, keeping up the building is no longer financially feasible for the shrinking congregation, said Church Board President Russ Gnant during a public hearing Tuesday. Unity West has 50 members, far fewer than the 250 it had two decades ago.

"We have not been the best stewards of the property over the past few years," Gnant said.

As Unity West looked to relocate to a smaller space west of Wauwatosa, it sought out other churches that might want to move into the space.

"Sadly other churches are having the same issues we are," he said. "No one is expanding."

When Church and Chapel funeral home came knocking, church officials saw it as a good fit. The company wants to hold visitation and memorial services as well as the option for funeral luncheons in the building that sits on about 1.6 acres. The sanctuary and basement community room would facilitate that, said Ted Larsen, funeral business owner.

There would be no embalming or cremation done at the Tosa location. All the preparatory work is completed at the company's Brookfield facility, Larsen said.

The city held a public hearing on the request to allow a funeral home as a conditional use in a residential district. Representatives from the church and funeral home spoke in favor of the use, and one letter was received from a neighbor in opposition.

The church real estate market is a difficult one right now, said Rachel Schmidt, a broker representing Unity West.

"It's a comparable and compatible use with a buyer that would have the financial wherewithal," she said.

Gnant said the congregation enjoyed its time in Wauwatosa, having participated in community service projects such as collecting teddy bears to donate to the city's Fire and Police departments.

As a church property, the property has been tax-exempt. If Church and Chapel moved in, that would change.

"The community would be well-served if that property could go back on the tax roll," Gnant said.

The church property was listed for sale at a price of $875,000.

The Community Development Committee will discuss the request July 31.

Next step

WHAT: The Community Development Committee will take up a request to allow a funeral home as a conditional use in a residential district.

WHEN: 8 p.m. July 31

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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