Jeramey Jannene

UWM Dorm Site Faces Little Opposition

By - Sep 11th, 2008 03:43 pm
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This was the third and final of the three initial meetings regarding the UWM dorm proposals. We already have published a Prospect Mall site meeting review and a Hometown Gas Station site meeting review.

Last Thursday night, residents of Milwaukee’s lower east side gathered at Holy Rosary Church to discuss the final of three proposals selected by the UWM Real Estate Foundation. The meeting began much like the two previous had, with the developer (Phelan Development) making a presentation on the plan, followed by a short bit by the architect (Jim Shields in this case), and representatives from UWM talking over some basic logistics and facts. After which Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Communications Tom Luljak straps on his bullet proof vest, and questions from the audience are allowed.

The presentation went smoothly and the developer and architect had clearly thought a lot about making the building fit in with the neighborhood. Shields explained that it was two separate buildings connected by a glass lobby on each floor that mimic the height and size of nearby buildings. There was discussion of how underground parking would be used for the move-in days, so that the streets would not be clogged (unlike what happens on a lot of the east side at the end of August). Also, the fact was pointed out that the location for this dorm is far denser (in terms of population) than the rest of the east side by several orders of magnitude. This is a good indicator that this site would be able to absorb the 690 proposed students with much greater ease than a lower density neighborhood. After the initial presentations, questions began.

Unlike the meeting regarding the Prospect Mall parking lot site, there clearly wasn’t coordinated neighborhood opposition. There wasn’t any radical feedback to start the meeting, and an extremely civil tone was used for almost every question. A strong number of the same faces were in the crowd from previous nights, but they were quieter. Were they quieter because they were simply burned out from three meetings in three nights or did they simply have less objections to this design and location? That question never really was answered.

Concerns were raised over parking. Unlike previous nights which revolved around student parking, concerns from the Brady/Farwell site meeting were about displaced resident parking. The site is being built on a combination of lots, to which no one seemed totally sure who exactly parked in them and how full the lots are. It was clear that area apartment dwellers park there, but no one knew how many or what buildings utilized the lots. A quick drive-by on a weekday reveals decently full lots, but not ones that are packed to the brim.

The developer had no clear plan on how to deal with the issue. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a solution, just that the market, because of the low cost of parking in Milwaukee, doesn’t bear one out immediately. Replacement parking would almost certainly be built at a loss, unless homes were demolished for a surface lot (a terrible idea).

Other concerns involved the use of the alley on the east side of the site off of Royall and that it may be congested. Access to the student parking garage along with any deliveries would be through the alley (allowing traffic to flow on Farwell without interruption). Residents weren’t concerned about sound because of that, but aired concerned that it may get congested. Neither the developer or area residents seemed to understand how much this alley is currently used. My perception of the issue is that something could easily be worked out for a semi-trailer not to be blocking the alley, and that it might actually be a non-issue if a lot of the traffic was coming from the parking lot that is the site for the proposed dorm. At the end of the day, this appeared to be an issue that could be overcome with simple planning and good design.

The final large concern of the night centered around crime. The tone wasn’t as much that the students were the criminals (although a few individuals when pressed on the issue, declined to comment further on if they were or not), but that they were the victims. The crowd appeared to hold a general belief that Pizza Shuttle is a rather crime-ridden establishment past midnight, as is the Fedex/Kinkos parking lot. There were a considerable number of comments that the students would fall victim to this. No one suggested that filling in the corridor (replacing surface parking with a building full of residents) might actually deter crime and the loitering that appears to plague the area late at night.

There was also a few comments that the first floor retail in the proposal would not be occupied because the nearby Sterling Condominiums retail space is still vacant. I was pleased to see Alderman Nik Kovac step forward and say that placing the mixed-use dorm on Farwell may actually encourage both stalls to be filled. The obvious principle that on-top of adding potential customers in the form of students, you’re also building the corridor and making the entire area more attractive.

If this meeting had to be compared to one of the previous ones, I would say it was similar to the Hometown site meeting. The only large difference was that Sean Phelan and Jim Shields didn’t have the coordinated team support that the Mandel Group had. Sean Phelan seemed as if he was a one-man army, while characterizing Barry Mandel as such would be akin to saying Bill Gates is the only person that works at Microsoft. The group approach seems to work, at least in terms of making people not ask questions at the meeting.

If you put a gun to my head and made me build a dorm based on the reaction from the meetings, I would go with the Hometown site first, this site second, and the Prospect Mall site last.


2 thoughts on “UWM Dorm Site Faces Little Opposition”

  1. David B. says:

    Great and accurate review of the meeting

    As a resident of Cambridge Avenue accross from the Kinko’s lot I was surprised to hear all of the talk about the crime there and surrounding Pizza Shuttle. I haven’t ever seen any serious problems in either location– sure Pizza Shuttle has a late night, boistous crowd, but I haven’t seen the dangerous climate, portrayed by a few people at the meeting, over the eight or nine years I’ve lived in the neighborhood. I’m sure the noise is a pain for the Sterling residents, but I don’t think its a real crime center. If you build a a condo next to two of the neighborhoods most renowned drunk food establishments (Pizza Shuttle and George Webb) you shouldn’t be too surprised by bar time noise.

    I have no problem with the dorm being built at the Brady/Farewell location, but if I were UWM I think the Hometown site would be more attractive, creating a mini campus feel with the Riverview dorm already nearby (plus allowing the shuttle between the campus to make a single loop past both dorms and back to Campus).

    Slightly off-topic, but I was glad to hear Ald. Kovac putting some pressure on the UWM officials to put any engineering school expansions downtown (which might be a lost cause at this point?). Could the city use this dorm request as leverage on the University to build any expansions downtown instead of creating a UW-Wauwatosa? I think the dorm (and more in the future?) will be great for the neighborhood, but why give them such a sweet deal on taxes (my understanding is they don’t pay regular property taxes– but instead a negotiated flat tax at a much lower level) if they keep up the plans to put the expansion in the suburbs? Why not play a little hardball with them and threaten to up that flat fee much higher then what they pay for the Riverview dorm if they insist on expanding in Wauwatosa?

  2. Sean Phelan gave a presentation that seemed to be designed for a Business Improvement District or Business Association. It answered questions related to improved business climate. It seemed misdirected to the audience which was mostly concerned residents.
    Mandel Group of course had the edge here and isolated themselves to a certain degree on the Hometown site by making the point that they were the developers that were trying to answer the call from UWM. Mandel also had met with and presented a plan that met the guidelines set by the Milwaukee River Work Group(MRWG). That earlier meeting focused on set back and building height and environmental intrusion and met the guidelines as presented by MRWG. That has blunted most but clearly not all concerns expressed by residents with environmental concerns.
    Phelan and Shields handled the questions well enough on the Farwell site.
    Some thought the economic impact of students would not really help the area and expressed concern that young residents may make crime worse with students becoming targets.
    One interesting argument by a condo owner is that the dorms may lower the desirability of the area for housing and thus lower values for owners of condos. This brings up the city stated criteria that the site chosen was the highest and best use for market rate development. It was noted that the market for condos was depressed at this time but that may change. Would condos be a better use if this site was not built as a dorm?
    As you say, after attending the meeting, if someone put a gun to your head the Hometown and this site seem most likely to be chosen. I agree.
    The Mandel Hometown site brings up another best use question. If Mandel or any other developer on this site is required to meet set back and height restrictions, can market rate development take place? Mandel says no. If height restrictions are the boon for the environment and a goal for the city as well, then dorms are the best development possible for Hometown. Catch 22. Make a choice as to what is most important. Don’t want a dorm, then be ready to accept a taller building.
    I think they need to build a dorm for students. It seems best for young students to be in a dorm.
    It will most likely be at one of these sites. I don’t know if I believe Kovac when he says a choice could be dumped after this process. I believe Kovac believes it could happen but it is hard to imagine the scenario where that would play out. Kovac may best serve our interests and his own by backing UWM’s choice when it is revealed. If he does not like their choice, including any one of these 3 sites, he should have told them and us before now.

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