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2013 brought road work, trial and more

Benjamin Sebena is wheeled into Judge Borowski's courtroom for his sentencing hearing in August.

Benjamin Sebena is wheeled into Judge Borowski's courtroom for his sentencing hearing in August. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Dec. 30, 2013

If 2013 was a year dominated by barricades and torn-up roads related to the Zoo Interchange project, it was memorable as well for the human drama of the trial of Ben Sebena for the murder of his wife, Wauwatosa police officer Jennifer Sebena, and for significant advances in community development, from the arrival of small businesses such as the Bel Air Cantina, Qdoba and a new Alterra, to large-scale projects such as a huge addition to Froedtert Hospital, a planned Meijer store, the completion of the Mayfair Collections shopping center, and major steps forward at Innovation Campus.

Just as important to residents' quality of life may be the new beer garden at Hoyt Park, the passage of an ordinance allowing chicken coops, the rebuilding of the baseball diamonds at Breitlow Field, the planned preservation of the butterfly habitat in Innovation Campus and the promised preservation of at least the largest of the historic Eschweiler buildings.

And this, of course, is just a partial list.

Setbacks and delays

For city officials, there were setbacks as well. Despite months of work, a proposed commercial and residential development next to the fire station in the Village failed to materialize when the city balked at providing financial help and the developer walked away. Just as frustrating to the administration was a route chosen by the Public Service Commission for a high-tension power line that the city had worked against for months. In a no-win situation, residents of Walnut Road, which the city had promoted as a route, were relieved when the route avoided them. But those on Underwood Parkway were not happy that the PSC chose saving money over saving their views.

A change in state law in 2011 largely ended collective bargaining for public employees, and both the city and the Wauwatosa School District spent much of the year creating new compensation plans. The discussions in each case were strikingly similar, involving pay-for-performance elements at the same time as creating a career arc that allowed employees to plan and strive. Both the city and the district found it a challenge to balance spending against giving employees a reason to stay. Both have been trying to minimize turnover in recent years.

Lots to do

There is no shortage of work yet to be accomplished. Just to choose one item, a city committee worked for most of the year on a new bicycle and pedestrian plan, and it was sent back to be reworked after it met harsh criticism at a hearing in October. In another case, finding the right formula for the fire station parcel remains a city goal.

In an ongoing development, the old industrial character of State Street east of 68th Street is likely to change rapidly over the next year or two as a UW Credit Union branch replaces the vacant Eckert Door complex, and Wangard Partners, a developer, continues its work toward building an apartment complex on the old Western Metals site, immediately east of Walgreen's.

For the school district, one piece of what seems to be unfinished business is reaching an agreement with University Lab School, a charter school of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The district objected to the presence of an independent charter school inside the district, fearing it might draw students away, and the city has demanded that the two work out an agreement that satisfies the School Board before the construction of an apartment complex by the Mandel Group that will curve around the Eschweiler site.

Parking and assessing

The Public Works Department, at the request of Ravenswood residents, will be imposing limitations on parking on side streets there, and on the north side of the street, next to the campus itself, designed to discourage students from parking there. This may not solve the larger question of parking around the college, and the college has proposed a shuttle to off-site parking at its athletic complex, and has offered students parking at State Fair Park, to which the medical complex operates a shuttle.

A citywide reassessment is another achievement of 2013. It was the first since 2006, and saw residential values overall bump down by more than 9 percent, while commercial values moved up about 8 percent, a change that shifted some of the burden of property tax collections from the housing sector to business property owners. Many property owners were confused by this cross-current of changes, and City Assessor Steven Miner said that he will pursue more frequent reassessments — every three years or so — in the future, to make changes in value more gradual.

Bike-sharing stations, a rebuilt Menomonee Parkway, new Village signage, more roadwork and continued development are likely features of the coming year. Stay tuned.

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