Residents of East Wauwatosa gathered in the public library Nov. 1 to discuss a proposal to build a 66-unit apartment building in the unused parking lot east of St. Pius X Church at 2506 N. Wauwatosa Ave. If approved, it would allow Cardinal Capital Management to construct the residence building on a stretch of land near the corner of West Wright Street and North 74th Street.
Cardinal is calling the development Gridley at East Towne and is also the developer that previously constructed the Pasadena apartments at 8420 W. North Ave. If approved, Cardinal will purchase the 4.69 acre lot from St. Pius and create the 3-story building consisting of 46 one-bedroom and 20 two-bedroom units.
The development, which would require rezoning of the property by the plan commission, would sit across the street from Roosevelt Elementary School and be nestled in a mostly residential neighborhood. The matter was initially set to be discussed at the Nov. 7 plan commission meeting but according to Mayor Kathy Ehley they have delayed the discussion for now.
The meeting was led by David Ondracek and Paul Fuchs, a pair of residents who live in the area close to the proposed development. They say that since the project was made public, they have witnessed a heightened concern from local residents. Ondracek said that he has spoken to nearly 200 people and the vast majority of them understand that the parking lot needs to be developed, but would like to be a part of the process and make sure it is done properly.
"I haven't spoken to one person who wants that parking lot to stay there," Fuchs said. "Especially since we know that it will get Pius out of a bind ... it is going to be developed at some point, so let's try to reset and get it done properly."
Attendees of the gathering expressed that they would like to keep the conversation going regarding the project and discussed strategies to further the dissemination of information about their position. One person said that they were developing a perception that their concerns were not being addressed by the St. Pius Church. The Church has been exploring options for the parcel of land due to a degrading wall and financial considerations.
“The parking lot itself is old and there is a retaining wall years past its life expectancy,” Dean Weyer, director of administrative services for St. Pius said. “As we look forward, we either invest a substantial amount of money or we turn our asset into a liquid asset and invest wisely.”
The local residents have developed a website dedicated to voicing their position and on it they state that they are not anti-development but expressed the following reasons why they want to pursue a better plan:
- If zoning exceptions are made for a 90,000 square-foot building inside a residential area it paves the way for the same to occur in any neighborhood and next to any school throughout Wauwatosa.
- This is “spot zoning” where a small area is rezoned for use not allowed within the originally zoned larger area. Spot zoning, by Wisconsin state law, is allowable only if it promotes health, safety or morals. This proposal does not meet those legal standards.
- In a public meeting, the developer stated no traffic safety study was completed and that the city dismissed the need without documentation. The proposal consists of 90 parking stalls for renters (not including delivery trucks, service vehicles, visitors, etc.) to a traffic zone that has 872 middle school and 400 elementary students biking, walking or being driven to school.
- Most traffic concerns focus on school drop-off and pick-up times, ignoring many off-hour activities (concerts, carnivals, Rec Dept sports). Those who work, live and play at Roosevelt know the two playgrounds and field are a hub for family activities at all times.
- Developing church property will create tax revenue, however, many options allowed by current residential zoning (single-family homes, townhouses, senior housing, etc.) would also create tax revenue without risking the character and safety of the neighborhood.
- The city’s own Housing Needs Study sets a year 2030 goal for apartment units (technically referred to as “multi-family”) at 1,644. The very same study (from March 2016) cites completed or in-process projects totaling 2,375 apartment units. Overbuilding does not address needs and threatens local housing market stability.
- The city’s land debt stands at $107 million which is 10 percent of the entire budget. This project would create excess apartments competing with other city-funded apartments, compromising their ability to pay back taxpayers and risking default.
The apartments are slated by Cardinal to be rented at market rate to make them affordable and qualify for government incentives. The development would include 90 parking spots, with 66 of them enclosed under the building and the remaining 24 constructed as surface spaces located on the west side of the building.