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Five-story Mayfair apartment complex gains ground in Wauwatosa

Plan Commission approves plan over residents' objections

Feb. 12, 2014

A five-story, 134-unit apartment proposal at 2100 N. Mayfair Road was approved over the vehement objections of neighborhood residents who crowded the room at this week's Plan Commission meeting.

Revisions made after the project's first appearance at a December meeting did not appease homeowners and residents who will share an alley with the building. Nor did the revisions satisfy others on 106th and 107th streets south of North Avenue who fear increased traffic, blocked sunlight, and a changed character to the neighborhood.

The project was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Alderwoman Kathleen Causier voting "no."

The discussion had themes in common with debates over earlier projects that have placed large-scale housing complexes near or amid quiet neighborhoods as the city pursues high-density redevelopment in an effort to expand its tax base.

More than half the site is a cement slab, with the north portion of it occupied by a square, brown office building. Developer John Czarnecki said he planned to spend $20 million on the project, and that the value of the site would increase from about $1 million today to $17 million, with a commensurate boost in property taxes.

A tough site

The site lies just north of U.S. Highway 45, tucked beside the northbound off-ramp onto Mayfair Road. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, as part of the Zoo Interchange Project, removed a driveway into the property, leaving the alley to the east of it, off Garfield, as the sole method of access.

That alone was enough to astonish some neighbors.

"This is unbelievable that you're even considering this," said Roger Peterson, who lives on 106th Street. "I mean, you can't run that traffic through that subdivision, not with all these kids."

"My biggest concern is the safety of our alley," said Adam Hammelman, of 107th Street. "All the traffic that they have coming out is going to be funneled directly at my garage, where I'm going to have children, trying to get get them safely in and out of my garage, and it still scares me to death."

Also, the mass of five, and in some places six, stories looming over the neighborhood; the narrow alley, nominally 20 feet wide, but, according to neighbors, narrower than that; the problem of snow removal; and the coming and going of as many as 200 cars were the persistent concerns of neighbors.

After the reaction at December's meeting, Czarnecki and Gene Guszkowski, of AG Architecture, proposed expanding the alley by four feet from its entrance point on the north to the entrances to the building's parking lot; moving a wing of the building from a point flush with the alley to the west side of the site, along Mayfair Road; placing a stop sign for cars leaving the parking lot; putting a service bay and entrance at the south end of the site; and covering much of the building walls with vines.

A traffic study commissioned by the developer said that the intersection of Garfield and the "backage road," presumably the alley, "is expected to continue to operate similar to existing conditions under uncontrolled conditions" in the presence of the apartment complex.

Shaded yards

The shadow the building would cast isn't consistent with the city's character, one resident suggested.

"Wauwatosa is known as a city of homes, trees, gardens," said Sonja Cox, a resident of 107th Street. "Our lots are narrow and long. We have no green space between our houses. Our only green space that we can enjoy is our backyards. We have used that area for play, for barbecues, for our gardens, and I'm concerned about the height of this building and blocking out the sun."

Guszkowski put up a slide that showed trees providing heavy shade to a backyard, and said the building would have little effect on a yard shaded by trees.

Resident Rose Moylan said it was insulting to compare trees to the "monstrosity" planned.

Opposing views on growth

Hammelman said the quality of the city wasn't dependent on development.

While economic growth was significant, he said, "all growth is not necessary or needed. A city is not made great by the amount of taxes we can take in; it's not made great by heavily dense, overpopulated areas; it's not made great by ignoring responsibilities to our heritage and origins founded by close-knit, caring and established neighborhoods."

Plan Commissioner Michael Goetz said he sympathized with the neighbors, but "if we deny this use, I think we're going to watch that parcel flounder for years."

"Tosa's changing," Goetz said, noting that Mayfair Road is dense, commercial, and the site is close to the mall, which is growing with the addition of Nordstrom. "Traffic is going to keep getting more intense in that area. It's a good thing."

Reluctant support

Commission members Jody Lowe, Angela Mullooly, and Mayor Kathy Ehley all expressed reservations but finally voted in favor of the plan.

Ehely said she had spent hours studying the alley and the neighborhood and was "very conflicted." She expressed a need for a larger look at transportation and solutions to the growing traffic the city is generating, at some point in the future.

Causier, who represents the district, said she couldn't vote against her constituents.

The Plan Commission's vote granted a change of zoning and recommended approval of the preliminary plan for the project. Conditions attached to the approval included a speed limit in the alley of 15 mph, the installation of the stop sign, resolving stormwater concerns, painted lane lines in the alley, and a plan for snow removal, among other things.

The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing March 18.

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