An updated County Grounds proposal that calls for the creation of a larger park and less development was met with polite skepticism by the public during a meeting Thursday night, April 6 at the Muellner Building in Hart Park.
It was the third installment in a series of public meetings on what is being called the "Life Sciences District Plan." Previous meetings were held at city hall but an oversize crowd forced the need for a larger venue.
The new version of the plan would reconfigure an existing 55-acre county park on the grounds and incorporate parts of a wooded area commonly called “Asylum Woods” or “Sanctuary Woods” to create an 88-acre park. This would leave about 27 acres for potential development.
The previous version of the proposal called for a total of 22 acres to be developed but it would have taken a bigger chunk out of Sanctuary Woods.
At the meeting, which drew about 300 people, architects presented adjustments they say were made based on citizen feedback, but nearly all who spoke continued to be skeptical.
"After we shelve this misbegotten plan we will sit down with all of the other citizen groups and the city and figure out how to steward whatever remains of the grounds for ourselves and our posterity," county grounds preservation group organizer Peter Abbott said.
"There have been compromises in the past. Every few years we give a little, preserve some and then they come back and try to take more," Abbott said.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele took a different tone.
"The county has been working collaboratively and transparently with Wauwatosa officials for months in support of the city’s efforts to do thoughtful planning as it attempts to balance development interest, environmental protection, and build a sense of community on the County Grounds," Abele said in a news release. "Mayor Kathy Ehley and the city of Wauwatosa have done a great job balancing smart development opportunities with protecting our natural spaces."
Attendees of the April 6 meeting were able to view the plan, fill out comment cards and were called on to speak their minds about the proposal.
One citizen who addressed the crowd was Paul Fuchs, a 10-year resident of Wauwatosa.
"None of (the public comments) got ugly, loud or egregiously accusatory," Fuchs said. "Almost every person had a new position to voice."
The final decision on the LSDP will be made by the Wauwatosa Common Council. As of now it is not known when a vote will be taken but it does appear there will be varying opinions on the subject that will come from council members.
"(The creators of the LSDP) have no interest in what the people think," Alderwoman Nancy Welch said. "I would like to think the council is going to listen to their constituency. I fear there is such a pro-development stance coming from my fellow aldermen. I don't think they are listening. I don't think they want to listen."
Alderman Jason Kofroth offered a different perspective.
"I am in support of some type of development (on the County Grounds). I am unsure where that balance is at this point," Kofroth said. "It would be a disservice to the residents if we didn't look at places to develop and places to preserve."
The plan was put together by a consortium of Graef, an engineering, planning and design firm, and officials from the city of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee County. The city of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee County paid for the study to be conducted. Minutes from the Nov. 24, 2015 Wauwatosa Financial Affairs Committee meeting show the total cost of the contract with Graef was $200,000 which includes $50,000 from the county.