Trees mowed down at Wauwatosa's Innovation Park

Cut down and stacked trees are seen on the front lawn of the Milwaukee County Parks Administration Building, located on Watertown Plank Road on Jan. 22.

Cut down and stacked trees are seen on the front lawn of the Milwaukee County Parks Administration Building, located on Watertown Plank Road on Jan. 22. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Jan. 23, 2013

If you live near Watertown Plank Road and thought you heard the sound of a buzz saw Monday morning, you weren't dreaming. Dozens if not hundreds of trees at the nascent Innovation Park were cut down or pulled up by the roots by big mechanical tractors that crawled over the land. The sight of the felled trees from the road - piled in loose stacks - was itself a spectacle.

The trees were removed to make way for Discovery Parkway, said David Gilbert, president of the University of Milwaukee Real Estate Foundation, which owns the land.

An early plan for Innovation Park was to have the road cut in west of the County Parks Building, Gilbert said. But state plans to create a looping, high-speed interchange at Watertown Plank and Highway 45 forced Discovery Parkway to the east end of the parcel, almost as far as it can go.

"The unfortunate thing about doing that is that the grade there, if you recall, is quite steep," he said. Grading was necessary, which meant removing trees.

Gilbert said a mayor's task force on the issue met four times, and the plan went before several Common Council committees, and the council itself, before it was approved.

He said some of the trees were diseased, and pledged, in a statement, that "every tree will be replaced with a new tree. None of the affected trees were located near the wildlife habitat preservation area."

Eddee Daniel, a blogger at Urban Wilderness, was angry. He titled his post on the event "Slaughter on the Milwaukee Grounds: Innovation What?

"It takes a hundred years to grow a hundred-year-old tree. Some of them should have been preserved and incorporated into the development design. This has become a fairly common practice in enlightened communities when siting development in natural settings like this. Unfortunately, this event suggests that Wauwatosa is behind the curve on enlightenment," he wrote in an email to council members.

Common Council President Dennis McBride said he understands.

"I'm not surprised the trees came down, because that's been well known - the plans have been public for quite a while now, many months," he said. "It's always very emotional for anybody, including me, to see trees coming down anywhere."

McBride said the county was determined to sell the land that is now Innovation Park.

"If it had gone to Ikea, which was an earlier proposal, or to a generic office park developer, there would be no butterfly habitat preserved."

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