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Wauwatosa Village project still bucked by residents

Preferred fire station plan a work in progress, panel says

Dec. 10, 2012

A city panel continues to study a mixed-use development at the city-owned parcel so-called the fire station remnant site, 1463 Underwood Ave., just as residents of Church Street behind the site continue to raise objections.

In its current form, the preferred proposal, called Ardor in the Tosa Village, would be a four-story building that would take up the lot just south of the current fire station and the property occupied by the Cody & Company hair salon adjacent to it. It would have 36 one- and two-bedroom residential units, parking for those units underground, and about 6,600 square feet of retail space, with 34 surface-level parking stalls for retail customers.

Residents have complained that the building is out of scale with the neighborhood, that it would block sunlight from their homes and yards, present a wall just beyond their property, disturb their privacy, and possibly leave trash bins in their view, among other concerns.

Church Street resident Kathleen Pulz called the proposal a "hulking building."

"I don't want four stories staring down at our backyard," she said.

A neighbor, Katie LaLonde, wrote a detailed, two-page letter to the panel, asking about the fate of 50-year-old trees on her property, the effect on property values of the project and how the building fits with the "Village aethestic." She asked the authority to consider re-opening the request for proposal process that led to the selection of Ardor, put forward by Phelan Development and WiRED Properties, or to reduce the building to three stories and a lower density.

"While it's my understanding that the design is still preliminary, the nature of a four-story complex at such a proposed scale would seem to dwarf the surrounding existing buildings. Can you please offer your position on this?" LaLonde wrote.

LaLonde attached six pages of building renderings and pictures in styles - some of them townhome style - that she said addressed her concerns.

Pulz and other residents have praised the fire station, built to replace an old one on the site in question, as modern but still in keeping with the buildings around it.

Alderman Craig Wilson, who chairs the CDA, and other members of the panel have stressed that the Ardor plan is only preliminary, has not been adopted, and likely will undergo revision as it is considered. They have met a number of times in closed session as they work through the proposal.

In response to citizens' concerns, the architect, Engberg Anderson of Milwaukee, commissioned a "solar study," presented last week, that showed shadows as they would be cast by the building on Jan. 1, April 1, June 1, and Sept. 1. Only early morning shadows in January covered signification portions of Church Street properties, according to the study. Mornings in the other months would present slight coverage. At other times of day, the project would not block residents' sunlight, the study indicates.

The architect also supplied a footprint of the building showing its closest distance to a private property line would be 11 feet. The closest house was 66 feet from the building.

Linda Craite, owner of Cody & Company, supplied a letter supporting the Ardor plan. Her business would have a place in the retail development to be built on the site. She said her dealings with Phelan and WiRED have given her a comfort level with them and that she entered into a letter of intent to sell her property to them. Wauwatosa property tax records put an assessment of her property at $136,900, with a fair market value of $124,100, although that is not necessarily indicative of a sale price to a developer.

The Village Business Improvement District supports development of the site, said Jim Plaisted, executive director of the BID.

"The Village BID is excited that a group of talented development professionals submitted for the project," he wrote in an email. "We look forward to working with the CDA's selected team and making sure the new project meets the goals of the Village plan and the commercial neighborhood in general. We know this will be a collaborative effort with the city, Village BID, and residential neighbors toward a successful project."

Richard Conley, president of Metropolitan Development of Brookfield, whose response to the RFP was not selected, attended last week's meeting. He said if the Ardor development is radically changed - for example, cut to three stories - the city should re-open the RFP to give other developers a chance at the new scale.

Wilson said the panel hadn't considered re-opening the RFP.

The Community Development Authority's next meeting will be at noon Thursday at the site, 1463 Underwood Ave.

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