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Wauwatosa pursues height reduction of Village project

Some Church Street residents remain doubtful of process

Jan. 15, 2013

Under pressure from residents, the Community Development Authority last week asked city planning staff to negotiate a reduction of height and the city's role in financing a proposed mixed-use development at 1463 Underwood Ave., on the north side of the Village.

"We definitely took to heart everything that we heard in those meetings," said Alderman Craig Wilson, acting chair of the CDA on this issue.

He referred to two meetings involving residents last week.

"A lot of those things that they had raised to our attention were things that we had already thought about when we compared the (project) to the other couple proposals we had."

At the same time, he said, people who live in the direct area of this proposal "had a better day-to-day understanding of how everything fits than we do."

The original plan and residents' objections

The plan, known as Ardor in the Village, called for a four-story building with 36 residential units on upper floors, 71 below-ground parking spaces, and 6,628 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

Proposed by Phelan Development and Wired Properties, the project called for a city contribution of $1.4 million toward land acquisition and public parking spaces. The land to be purchased included property and a building housing the Cody and Company salon owned by Linda Craite. Documents from the developer put the purchase price of the Craite property at $830,000.

The city has yet to consider its financial role.

In a meeting last week with the developers, and in a formal meeting of the Community Development Authority, residents reiterated their objections to the height of the structure, its proximity to residential properties, traffic and parking complications, the density of the housing portion - at 56 units per acre, it would be the highest in Wauwatosa - and the design, which many saw as not in keeping with the character of the village or the Historic Church Street neighborhood. Neighbors have also objected to the possibility that occupants of the building would be able to look down into residents' backyards.

Negotiating issues

Wilson said that the authority had not yet had a chance to negotiate salient issues with the developer before neighborhood opposition arose.

"We hadn't really engaged the developer on much of it directly," he said. "In my mind, that's always the process we were going to follow."

In the CDA meeting last week, residents stated support for development of the parcel, but called for new proposals.

In the world of sports, said Kevin Pulz, "one of the most valuable lessons we learn is the 'do-over.'"

"When something is not running the way it's supposed to run," Pulz said, "we stop and we correct it."

He said the community's message is "this didn't work out."

Though the CDA's resolution calls for negotiations on the project's size, Church Street residents have continued to be critical of the process.

"I am tenuously distrustful of the CDA, the alderpersons, the council and the mayor," said Traci Phillips, a sentiment others have expressed.

Developer Blair Williams, who said in a meeting with residents last week that the project as proposed was not financially feasible at less than four stories, said in an email to residents that a modified project of three stories could work, and even "be more consistent with the fabric of the neighborhood."

"Be assured that we have listened to you, will continue to listen and be responsive to your concerns," he wrote. "Our development plan will change significantly."

Williams said that while community objections and input were common in development, a reaction from residents so early in the process was unusual.

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