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City panel delays decision on Wisconsin Lutheran

School can produce new '30-year plan'

Sept. 12, 2012

Plan Commission members put off making a final decision on Wisconsin Lutheran College's controversial rezoning request, asking the college to return when its campus master plan is done, and when it can answer questions about the fate of homes that it owns, project student population growth, and address parking problems.

The vote - coming after a lengthy presentation by the college and speeches by 10 of the more than two dozen people present to show opposition - was divided, 4-2. John Albert, Jody Lowe, Gloria Stearns and Mayor Kathy Ehley voted for the delay, while Michael Goetz and Alderwoman Kathleen Causier voted against it.

New plan in works

The debate centers on 11 college-owned houses in Wauwatosa that the college wants rezoned to an institutional zoning to allow it to house more than four unrelated students in each dwelling. The new zoning would allow the college to apply to build dormitories on the sites, a request that Mayor Kathy Ehley has said would be difficult for the city to refuse because the zoning would be appropriate.

"Our desire is to maximize the properties we own," WLC President Daniel Johnson said. "There are no plans to go east beyond Pleasant View (Avenue)," a perimeter agreed to by the college in 2002. He said the college's regents had authorized the staff to pledge to "not go east" for a period of 15 years, "pending rezoning."

Responding to the Plan Commission's July request for more information about the college's plans for growth, Jason Van Acker, WLC executive director of marketing and communication, showed a slide for a 30-year plan for growth, as projected in 2007. It showed a chapel on the site of some of the homes, and other planned campus buildings, but Van Acker said that none of the buildings were realizable because of a lack of funding. Therefore, the college is creating a new master plan that is to be ready in 2013.

"How can you change something that you don't know what it's a part of?" asked resident Butch Harper.

Assurances aren't promises

Ravi Misra, an 18-year resident of Pleasant View, expressed the frustration of residents who feel they have been betrayed by the school and the city in the past.

"You can't isolate this request from historical requests," he said.

The college and the city have engaged in a pattern of "opportunistic spot zoning" that has destabilized the neighborhood and, over recent decades, resulted in the loss of 25 to 30 homes, he said.

In a decision made a decade ago, Misra said, "We were assured at a Common Council meeting ... that the integrity of a residential neighborhood was to be found ... in the city plan."

He characterized the college's use of the words that it had "no plan" and "no intention" as leaving wiggle room, and derided the pledge to "not go east" for 15 years, saying 15 years was a short period in the life of a neighborhood.

Commissioner Jody Lowe asked if a varience to the current zoning could be created to allow the school to expand the number of students who can live in a home without changing the zoning, but city planner Tammy Szudy said it would violate the terms of the city's code.

The mayor and other commissioners acknowledged the lack of transparency and the weakened trust felt by the residents.

While the college is a benefit to the city, "I would not support a zoning code change or a variance," Commissioner John Albert said. Just the prospect of students moving cars to let others out, parking on the street and then moving them back into the driveway was, for him, not in keeping with neighborhood life.

In contemplating a motion, a college attorney urged the city to allow the college to return to the Plan Commission on a month-to-month basis, an idea that was greeted by loud objection by the residents.

Under the motion passed, the college can return only when its 30-year plan is ready.

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