The future of the County Grounds is on the minds of Wauwatosa city officials and residents.
In the wake of information that emanated from a study conducted by the city and an ensuing article in a local magazine, citizens showed up in large numbers at city hall to show support for what they saw as a threat to the forest and parkland on the grounds.
Alderman Dennis McBride said the intent of the study was misunderstood and he would like to assure residents that the city is mindful of the preservation of the area.
"What we are trying to do is figure out where to draw the lines and how to preserve the land," McBride said. "We wish to create something more lasting and powerful than what is currently in place."
The County Grounds carves out a large part of Wauwatosa from 84th Street to Mayfair Road and from the Menomonee River Parkway to Wisconsin Avenue.
Members of the public will have a chance to make their voices heard regarding the study at an open house that will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at city hall, 7725 W North Ave.
Residents' awareness of the study grew after the release of a Milwaukee Magazine article by Eddee Daniel. Daniel believes that the scenic beauty of the grounds is in jeopardy if the city acts on the proposal that is outlined in what has been called the "Wauwatosa Life Sciences District 2016 Master Plan."
"The bottom line for many of the people who packed city hall last week is summed up by the phrase “no new roads,” Daniel said. "The term “Sanctuary Woods” has now been used both to argue against the Master Plan and to argue for it.
"A distinction must be made between the ravine and the surrounding meadows, wetland and extended woodlands, which together comprise critical species habitats and should not be fragmented by roads or diminished with new development," Daniel said.
Group planning effort
The study is the result of a planning effort by the city of Wauwatosa, Milwaukee County and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, who say they "recognized the need for a collaboratively-planned approach for the area."
McBride said the County Grounds or Life Sciences District is mostly owned by the MRMC and Milwaukee County. The city of Wauwatosa has zoning control over all land within the city boundaries, including the County Grounds.
"The plan calls for preservation," McBride said. "I don't know anyone who is opposed to preserving the forest and parks."
McBride said the three entities involved need to understand where the lines will be drawn between development, parks and forests, and that is a key point of the continuing discussion. In addition, he wishes to ensure that everyone has access to enjoy the property and will fight for accessible green spaces. He feels the land has previously been neglected and that there is room for development without destroying the wooded areas.
Proposal, not plan
"To me it is a consultant's proposal," McBride said of the master plan. "It will only become a plan if the council votes to approve it. We are all looking for a lot more clarity."
Alderman John Dubinski said he is also mindful of preserving as much of the area as possible.
"My intent is to move this project in a direction that will ensure my grandchildren will be able to enjoy the beauty of nature," Dubinski said. "There's room for development without destroying the pristine wooded area."
Daniel said his original column in Milwaukee Magazine has been unfairly characterized as misinformation.
"The only things that are now inaccurate in that column were things that changed from one draft of the master plan to the next, such as the name 'Emerald Parkway,' which became 'Scenic Parkway,'" Daniel said. "The main point I made then and want to make now is that there should be no new development on the remaining 60 acres of the County Grounds."
The study was conducted by Graef, a full service engineering, planning, and design firm that has a Milwaukee office. In the introduction to the results of their study they say that exponential growth over the last 20 years on the grounds has created opportunities for growth, but also has produced challenges.
"Most notably, disjointed development and traffic congestion," the study said. "The rationale for the plan recognizes that economic, physical and social growth will not stop."
Bob Simi of the MRMC said his organization brings 1.5 million patients to the grounds each year for medical care and is supportive of the city's efforts to establish a plan.
"The result of this collaborative, thoughtful plan will be an academic medical campus with improved accessibility and refreshing green spaces which promote healing that will enhance the vibrancy of the entire region," Simi said.
The plan introduction also lays out the three key principles of the proposal. The first is environment, and the proposal calls for enhanced protections for approximately 40 acres of green space that currently could be developed under existing zoning laws.
The second is economics and the introduction says the plan maximizes potential for jobs and property values by identifying the land that could most efficiently deliver both to the public.
The third principle is social equity and Graef says that they strive to achieve balance between environmental features and further development.