Protect the woods on the County Grounds was the message sent to public officials at Wauwatosa City Hall Tuesday evening.
The city of Wauwatosa held a public forum Feb. 7 to allow people to give feedback about a plan for the future of the County Grounds. Those in attendance were not going to allow their voices to be dampened as they filled the room to capacity and shouted at presenters.
"They are saying the plan is going to protect more land," Milwaukee County resident Dennis Hughes said. "The woods is 60 acres and the plan calls for 40 to be protected. All 60 acres should be protected."
Wauwatosa Fire Chief Robert Ugaste estimated that 400 people showed up at city hall for the meeting but the room capacity only allowed for a little over 200. Ugaste and his staff manned the doors to ensure that the room did not become over capacity. This meant that many people were left in the halls wondering if they were going to be able to participate.
"They have got to hold a meeting like this in a bigger space," Wauwatosa resident Ron Miller said.
Alderwoman Nancy Welch was in the hallway talking to the public. She said she supports the feelings of many of the people and pointed to when the medical center was built it was stated that green space was an important part of the healing process for patients.
"I am opposed to the plan," Welch said. "(City officials) need to adopt the plan to build apartments. A lot of questions need to be answered about who formulated the plan and who paid for the plan."
The meeting began with Mayor Kathy Ehley addressing the crowd about the format of the meeting. She said attendees would be able to give feedback through workshop tables that people could draw on, surveys and comment cards or online at wauwatosa.net/planningsurvey. The online option will be available through Feb. 17.
County Supervisor Luigi Schmitt said the meeting gave him déjà vu.
"This is 1998 all over again," Schmitt said. "Back then we passed a county resolution to do a compromise and create more county parks."
Schmitt said the past legislation created the area that became the retention ponds built and operated by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District but also the county park that rests to the south of the flood control area.
Hughes said that politics of the past could gravely affect the future of the land. He said current County Executive Chris Abele was given the power in the 2015 budget to sell any land not zoned as parkland in Milwaukee County.
"County Executive Abele promised not to use his land sale power to sell county parkland that was not zoned as a park,” Hughes said. “He promised to lobby the city council to zone this land as a park, but instead he seems willing to use his power to sell this land overnight."
Tosa For Good is an organization that emerged from the aftermath of the release of the plan in January. Group spokesperson Jonathan Gundlach said that there has been a lot of "spin" from city officials regarding the plan.
"No one I've talked to is in favor of developing this area," Gundlach said. "They are going to take this information and modify the plan and after that there will be no public input. We should have a say on this plan."
Gundlach said Tosa For Good's goals are to define the protected areas, zone the protected areas properly, limit the roads through the grounds and create a separate body made up of citizens to assist in the decision making.
"We are not against development," Gundlach said. "But what we want is a plan that is measured and responsible."
Wauwatosa resident Sandy Krause was one of the attendees who had to wait in the hallway to access the meeting. She said she has concerns about the way this plan was created.
"The presentation would not be the same if they were thinking about the environmental impact of major development," Krause said. "We know the difference between parkland and woods. Nature manages woods. In the balance the city is looking for they need to account for what has happened before."
Jim Tarantino, Milwaukee County director of economic development, said a significant portion of the land in question could not be developed due to the topography. Other residents are concerned that any further development in the area is going to affect specific habitats.
"My concern is that some of the areas house animals of a very specific nature," Russ Jerome said. "On a recent walk I saw owls that rely on this land as their habitat. Further development could affect the owls."