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Mo's zoning request wins panel's backing

Schism among residents makes committee's decision a difficult one

Sept. 30, 2009

Mo's Irish Pub is another step closer to razing two homes and building a controversial parking lot after the city's development committee supported rezoning the properties in a 5-3 vote Tuesday.

That decision came after more than 90 minutes of discussion, during which close to 60 residents, Mo's employees and aldermen wrestled with the issue in a packed committee room. In the end, the committee recommended that the Common Council rezone the residential properties at 431 and 443 N. 108th Place for off-street parking.

Six residents spoke in favor of the rezoning, and four against.

Investment in community

The houses have been purchased by an investment company that would lease the land to Mo's Irish Pub for use as off-street parking. The new lot would give the restaurant a total of 179 off-street parking stalls, which is hoped will alleviate traffic concerns and bar-time disturbances some neighbors say they experience due to Mo's patrons parking on the street.

The restaurant's owner, Johnny Vassallo, has agreed to pay the same amount in taxes on the two properties as was paid in 2008, about $6,600, for the next 10 years. Vassallo said he also will pay for additional landscaping on neighbors' properties to help screen the parking lot.

This offer, Vassallo said, shows his willingness to invest in Wauwatosa for the long-term.

"I am putting my money behind my promises and investing in Wauwatosa," he said.

Opinions vary widely

Jeff Roznowski said Vassallo's offer shows balance between making money and listening to neighbors' complaints about parking. The resident called the committee's decision a referendum on how the city treats economic development.

"Voting in favor of these zoning changes says to me that you are in favor of supporting a successful developer," he said.

But Catherine Pinto said the parking lot will hurt the values of nearby homes while solving a problem that isn't really that bad. The city's zoning laws, she said, are in place for a reason.

"I don't think that we need to change zoning in residential areas to accommodate any businessman, successful or unsuccessful," Pinto said. "Yes, it's a successful business, but I am a successful Wauwatosa occupant. I live here. I thrive here. My family is growing here."

Difficult decision

Committee members said they received dozens of e-mails, including form-letters, voicing opinions on both sides of the issue. In addition, 93 residents signed a petition in favor of the parking lot.

Vassallo said he was touched by the support, and said he and his employees had reached out to residents during the past month.

The flurry of conflicting opinions made the decision difficult for the eight-member Committee on Community Development. Members of the committee repeatedly expressed how much they struggled with making a choice.

Aldermen Donald Birschel, Dennis McBride and Eric Meaux voted against the rezoning, saying the move would be short-sighted and would set a bad precedent that would welcome businesses to replace homes.

Aldermen Linda Nikcevich, Tim Hanson, Jerry Stepaniak, Robert Dennik and Thomas Herzog supported the zoning change. The five said the parking lot will be of long-term value to the neighborhood.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: Wauwatosa's Common Council will discuss whether to rezone two residential properties so the houses can be razed and a parking lot can be built to serve Mo's Irish Pub.

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

MORE INFO: wauwatosa.net

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