The Wauwatosa Woman's Club lost its bid to expand its parking lot into the vacant lot next door on a divided Common Council vote Tuesday night.
After weeks of debate and a last-minute attempt at a compromise, the council rebuffed the arguments of many Woman's Club supporters that its elderly members, its many events and its new status as a polling place require more parking, and sided with a handful of neighbors of the club, who objected to a parking lot in their midst.
The vote was a 7-7 tie, with Alderman John Dubinski abstaining (his wife is an active member), and Alderman Don Birschel absent. A protest petition submitted by neighbors would have required a 75 percent super majority to approve the rezoning that would have allowed the Woman's Club to proceed.
Council members Brian Ewerdt, Tim Hanson, Jill Organ, Bobby Pantuso, Joel Tilleson, Craig Wilson and Kathleen Causier voted against the rezoning. Jason Wilke, Cheryl Berdan, Jeff Roznowski, Dennis McBride, Greg Walz-Chojancki, Peter Donegan and James Moldenhauer voted in favor.
Causier argued that the issue was not just about rezoning, but about the integrity of the neighborhood, and said approval of the expansion may set a precedent, a theme that continued throughout the extended discussion.
Wilson said city leaders "need certainty in planning," and noted that the zoning was for neighborhood preservation, "our most precious category of neighborhoods in the city."
Razing house at issue
The Woman's Club's razing of the house that stood on the lot — immediately after the Plan Commission had voted against the rezoning — was legal, but did not play well with many council members, even some who supported the club's request.
Wilke, who sided with the club, noted that some saw "a presumptuous attitude" on the part of the club in demolishing the structure, and said that this should "never happen again in this way."
Responding to this concern, City Attorney Alan Kesner said the zoning code could be modified to require notice, beyond mere permitting, before a structure was razed, an idea that many on the council said they supported.
Dubinski, despite abstaining, made an impassioned argument for the rezoning, citing the club's origins in 1894, and its long history of service and responsible stewardship of its building and club assets. He said club leaders had visited neighbors before purchasing the building, and heard only one objection. He said the club was unprepared for the opposition it faced as the debate wore on.
Attempt at compromise
In the week before the meeting, neighbor Richard Smith, one of the most vocal opponents of theexpansion, said he would support it if the club would agree to rent the facility to outside groups no more than twice a month. The club's attorney said the club would agree to limit outside rentals to 24 nights per year in exchange for withdrawal of the protest petition, but that left the matter unresolved.
Kesner said a challenge to the protest petition, requiring the 75 percent vote, was filed by an attorney for the club just hours before the meeting, and he upheld the validity of the petition.
Club responds to vote
Club President Sue McTavish issued a statement after the meeting:
"Obviously, all of the members of the Wauwatosa Woman's Club, including myself, are disappointed in the outcome of tonight's Common Council meeting. However, I would like to thank all of the WWC members, especially the steering committee, and public for their support and effort. We are grateful for the time, consideration, and hours that they and the alderpersons of Wauwatosa put into this issue.
"The Club will be looking into what is possible for the future of the lot, and regret that we could not do more to add to the safety of club members and others who use our parking lot and building, especially those who will be voting in District 1. In the meantime, we will continue to be good neighbors and are dedicated to the betterment of the city and all its people."
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