Wauwatosa Community Development Authority learns from Whitefish Bay
Visitor shares lessons from his community's experience
The Wauwatosa Community Development Authority reconvened last week after a three-month hibernation to take in a master class from Ray Krueger, chairman of the Whitefish Bay Community Development Authority.
Krueger, an attorney at Michael Best & Friedrich, sketched the history of the village's efforts to rejuvenate what he said was a tired business district punctuated by eyesores.
Beginning with a corner gas station at a "statement" site, the Whitefish Bay CDA has spent a dozen years chipping away at a master plan for the stretch of Silver Spring Drive roughly from the eastern edge of Bayshore mall to North Lake Drive, a stretch of eight city blocks.
The lessons learned in Whitefish Bay seemed to resonate with the members of the Tosa CDA, which, in its first project, spent a year trying to fit a mixed-use development onto a city-owned vacant lot at 1463 Underwood Avenue, next to Fire Station No. 1.
A development proposed for the Tosa site enraged neighbors on Church Street, and the developer's need for city financing assistance was, as one alderman said, scoffed at by the Common Council. When substantial revision of the plan failed to close the financing gap, the developer suspended his proposal, and told the CDA that the city needed clearer funding guidelines.
The concentration of the projects in Whitefish Bay — all of them located within a single, rectangular, tax-incremental financing district — may have made development there an easier task, but in other ways, Krueger described a process that sounded broader and more open than the one followed in Wauwatosa.
Krueger emphasized several times the importance of constantly reporting the work of the CDA to the Village Board — whether they wanted to hear it or not, he said — and did design work in public at joint meetings of the CDA and the Architectural Review Commission. It also enlisted the help of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture.
Building designs that included setbacks to reduce the mass of a structure facing residents was one of the techniques the village used temper resistance. This became a design element in the proposed Tosa project, as well.
The Whitefish Bay CDA strives to "do as much work with developers in public as we can," Krueger said.
The village sends postcards to residents and uses "all other means" to notify them of public of meetings.
"The sooner you're connected with residents, the better," Krueger said.
In Wauwatosa, Church Street residents began attending meetings already disposed against a project, the top floors of which would have overlooked their backyards. And a joint meeting of the CDA and the Common Council was held relatively late in the process, to take a temperature reading on financing, when many council members had little or no understanding of the many factors the CDA had considered, including the vehemence of neighborhood reaction.
Achieving "buy-in" of the council, neighboring businesses and residents is important, Krueger said. Equally important was buy-in by a committee formed of representatives of all the other taxing districts — the school district, the county, the technical college, the state and the sewerage district. They rightly want to know when they can expect income from the development, after the city's expenses are paid back, he said.
"Don't surprise anybody," Krueger said.
He added: "What you try to do is anticipate who's going to misunderstand what we're doing."
TIF funding is key
While, as Alderman Joel Tilleson noted, the Underwood proposal was in keeping with the master plan for Tosa's Village area, there was no tax-incremental financing district previously established for the site — unlike in Whitefish Bay, where a TIF district had been formed in advance.
"If a TIF is not formed, it changes the whole deal," Krueger said.
If a council charges a CDA with developing a site, it has to give it all the tools available, he said.
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