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Divided council backs plan for senior apartments

Despite concerns, developer gets OK to convert condos

April 7, 2010

While still not entirely the condominium development they had wanted, enough aldermen said Tuesday that a subsidized senior housing development proposed for 62nd and State streets was better than the existing vacant lot on that site.

The Common Council voted, 9-4, to approve changing plans for an 82-unit building from ownership condos to rental apartments for low-income seniors. The apartments would serve as the first phase of what's envisioned as a three-building development called Stone Pointe by developer David Israel. The other two buildings are supposed to go up as condos, but it is uncertain when they would be built.

The development had been a topic of debate among the council and its committees for several weeks, and the debate continued for more than an hour leading up to the final vote.

Backers: Project fills a need

Those in support of the project change said the apartments would serve a demographic that is looking for affordable housing. The apartments also would be conveniently located near in Israel's development of grocery and retail stores and restaurants along State Street.

Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan said taking her mother to the site and getting her opinion that it would make a good setting for senior apartments helped convince her to support the project.

In addition, she wanted to see housing for people in a variety of tax brackets and said the state tax credits the developer intends on applying for to help fund the project could help further the financial diversity in the city.

Alderman Thomas Herzog said he wanted to give seniors a place in Wauwatosa to live comfortably. In addition, the $650 to $925 per month rent that would be charged was still a significant amount for people on Social Security, he said.

Concerns about location

But aldermen opposed to allowing senior apartments as part of Stone Pointe said they weren't sold that people would want to live behind the Grede Foundries plant, located just south of the site.

Alderman Michael Walsh said he served lunch at Hart Park Senior Center in the past week and did an informal poll of members. They all wanted to stay in their houses as long as possible and if they had to leave, they wanted to remain in Wauwatosa. But when he asked if they would consider living on that site, the answer was a definite "no."

Scope of project has changed

Walsh also was troubled by "how much the project has deviated from its original concept."

Initially, Israel said the first building would require an investment of $20 million, but the city assessor has said tax credits will bring that number down to about $5 million and will significantly reduce the amount of tax revenue the city will receive.

Alderman Peter Donegan said he was not willing to give up that much tax revenue at a time when expanding the city's tax base is one of few ways to bring in revenue.

He also said putting up low-income housing would deter developers from investing in nearby properties.

"That may be an ugly thing about our marketplace, but it's true," Donegan said. "We may be condemning the entire site to underutilization."

Herzog disputed Donegan's statement, saying that while the apartments will serve low-income seniors, they will have a high-quality appearance. Having a developer who is familiar to the city and has already made significant investments in the neighborhood should help ensure the success of the project, he said.

Alderman Robert Dennik cautioned residents watching the meeting that the council's approval of the plan amendment was not the last hurdle developers will face. Applications for state housing tax credits are due Friday, and the amount of money to be dispersed is unknown.

If the project does receive the subsidies, the building materials have to receive Design Review Board approval and the council must sign off on a developer's agreement.

AT A GLANCE

How the Wauwatosa Common Council voted on whether to approve the Stone Pointe development proposal:

In favor: Cheryl Berdan, Robert Dennik, Brian Ewerdt, Thomas Herzog, Dennis McBride, Eric Meaux, Linda Nikcevich, Jerry Stepaniak and Jason Wilke

In opposition: Don Birschel, Peter Donegan, James Krol and Michael Walsh

Absent: Tim Hanson, Jacqueline Jay and Linda Organ

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