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Discussion of Innovation Park deal in Wauwatosa turns on butterfly preserve

Jan. 16, 2013

A fairly dry document outlining the financial relationship between the city and the UWM Real Estate Foundation on the Innovation Park development drew a surprisingly large crowd and inspired lively debate at the Tuesday's Common Council meeting.

The development agreement between the parties spells out the city's and the foundation's responsibilities related to the construction of the Innovation Accelerator building, which is largely funded by a federal grant, the tax incremental financing mechanism that will reimburse the city for infrastructure costs, and other protections and obligations that the parties have related to the park.

But it didn't say anything about butterflies.

The council approved the agreement on a 14-2 vote, with Aldermen Tim Hanson and Don Birschel voting "no." The butterfly habitat was included in the final version.

A mass email to Friends of the Monarch Trail sent earlier in the week suggested that the agreement would limit public input and potentially jeopardize the 11-acre butterfly preserve that occupies the northern side of the park. A couple of dozen people showed up to make their concerns known.

No public comment was taken. In response to critical questions by Hanson, City Attorney Alan Kesner said, "this is really intended to be a clarification of the financial arrangements between the city and the Real Estate Foundation. It doesn't have any effect on the prior approvals or the approval processes for current or future developments. It doesn't shortcut anything and it doesn't permit any of those plans, development plans, project plans or anything to be modified in and of itself," he said.

He also said the Common Council didn't give up any approval power of specific projects in the park.

"We are simply proceeding with a plan that we have already agreed to," said Alderman Peter Donegan, adding that he saw nothing to object to. "In fact we should be positive and excited about what is happening."

Alderman Jason Wilke raised the issue of the butterflies. Kesner said the habitat was protected in the sale agreement of the property and that protection didn't need to be restated in the development agreement.

Wilke kept pressing for a specific mention of the butterfly habitat, and finally made motion to modify the agreement right away in its first paragraph: the "Developer shall diligently pursue and exercise all reasonable efforts to carry out development of the Development Property consistent with the goals of the Campus and the approved Development Plan, including the habitat restoration landscape plan."

Kesner said the addition was legally unnecessary, but added, "I know it has a comforting effect." He said it did not diminish or alter anything significant in the document.

Donegan felt the addition might set a precedent that, in the end, might clutter up what is a fairly clean general statement of principles with a lot of unnecessary specificity, but that didn't happen. In the end, the amendment easily passed, followed by the approval of the entire agreement. And, with the habitat protected, the room emptied out.

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