Dave Reid

Combined Committee Approves 26-story Tower

By - Sep 16th, 2008 10:23 am
1550 N. Prospect Avenue

1550 N. Prospect Avenue

This meeting was the much anticipated combined City Plan Commission (“CPC”) and Historic Preservation Commission (“HPC”) meeting regarding New Land Enterprises’ development proposal for the Goll Mansion site.  New Land Enterprises was looking for two separate approvals at this meeting to move the project forward.  First a Certificate of Appropriateness (“COA”) from the Historic Preservation Commission and a change in zoning from RM-7 to Detailed Planned Development (“DPD”) from the City Plan Commission.

Scott Kindness, of Kindess Architecture, explained that the existing zoning would allow unlimited height, up to 186 units and a volume of approximately 112,000 square feet.  He showed a variety of renderings and examples that pointed out that the change in zoning request is “basically just a re-allocation of that volume” because under current zoning it would require a building with wedding cake style setbacks so instead they’ve proposed a taller thinner building that would be about 60 feet wide.  He also noted that they have reduced the design by a story and a half since the neighborhood meeting.  The design now calls for a 26-story building with a maximum of 35-units and five levels of parking.  The parking garage would include windows looking into the parking area to lesson the impact on the eastern side.  He also explained that they didn’t design it with underground parking because it would be impractical without access to the site from the east and that underpinning the mansion would likely be unworkable.  Further he pointed out that “if we go down below one level we undermine the structure to the north”.

H. Russell Zimmerman spoke about the historic preservation efforts that will be undertaken in this project.  He pointed out that at one time the site that 1522 On the Lake sits on was home to Governor George Peck‘s Mansion, so this development proposal saves the Goll Mansion unlike previous high-rise developments.  As he did at the July 17th community meeting he pointed out that there are similar examples of this style of preservation throughout the world, most notably the Villard Houses in New York City.  Specifically the rehabilitation of the mansion would restore the first floor essentially to its original design with the addition of access to the new tower.  The second floor of the mansion will contain two guest suites and possibly a care-taker suite.  The third floor will restore a large meeting room and convert it into a club house or community room.  He also pointed out that they have most of the original barge boards which had been removed by a previous owner and that they were literally saved out of the dumpster.  He made a strong case for the project by stating that the “bottom line, I think this is the greatest possible solution for one of the few remaining mansions on Prospect Avenue”.

Martha Brown, of the Department of City Development (“DCD”), laid out the three parameters specified by the city attorney that HPC should consider as part of the COA’s approval.

  1. If the work on the structure will have a negative impact on exterior features.
  2. If the connecting structure fits the guidelines and has no negative impacts.
  3. If the tower constructed in the “back yard” will have a negative impact on the exterior features.

The city staff made the recommendation to approve the COA if the developer were to meet these requirements.

  1. The tuck-pointing is limited to only those areas that need work, that the mortar matches, and that staff reviews the mortar work before it begins.
  2. The front porch is rebuilt to its original design.
  3. The developer will provide shop drawings of additional features.

Many residents and interested parties spoke out regarding this project, both for and against it.  Randy Bryant, from Preserve our Parks, indicated that New Land Enterprises had met with Preserve our Parks and he in spoke in favor of the project saying that “everything we have requested has been incorporated into the project”.  Kevin Donahue, one of two architects on the City Hall project and a board member of Milwaukee Preservation Alliance (“MPA”), spoke in favor of the project and reminded the audience that “once these buildings are gone, they’re gone”.  Todd Farris, an attorney representing the 1522 On the Lake Condo Association pointed to the historic preservation guideline study report and claimed that regardless of designation of site that HPC has jurisdiction.  He went on to say that “this would violate the constitutional rights of his clients” and that the commission should “rise above the politics because it is inconsistent with their guidelines”.  There were residents who spoke to their concerns regarding the impact to their views, property values, and preservation of the Goll Mansion as well as a long list of people who put their names in as opposed but didn’t wish to speak.  Part of this opposition included Dawn McCarthy, Peter Kovac and Thea Kovac all of which are still involved with a lawsuit between them, the City of Milwaukee and New Land Enterprises.

After hearing hours of public testimony HPC took the issue into the commission for discussion.  Sandra A. McSweeney, an HPC member, spoke in opposition because the parking structure would be higher than the ridge line of the Goll House.  She also didn’t approve of the proposed AC locations on the new tower, thought the connector was to small and “too shed like”, and she didn’t understand how the access from the Mansion would work.  Other HPC members saw value in the project and added their support and comments.  Ann Pieper Eisenbrown, an HPC member, added that “we could continue to let the building to sit” or approve the COA and allow for its preservation to occur.  Sandy Ackerman, an HPC member, added that “I want to save the mansion” and went on to say that “I do believe that the next step would be demolition”.  Indicating her belief that the way to save the Goll Mansion was to support this development because otherwise it would likely be lost.  Alderman Bauman, an HPC member, explained that if they didn’t approve the project, the property owner could apply to demolish the property, and that even the lawyer for 1522 On the Lake admits that “it would be better for 1522 if he just demolished the building”.

Although much of the discussion revolved around historic preservation, New Land Enterprises had worked out a memorandum of agreement between itself and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance regarding the project so these concerns should of been alleviated and this called into question the true reasons for opposition.  Alderman Robert Bauman went on to say that “all this talk about historic preservation, not by everybody, but by many people this is all phony”, that “most of the argument are smokescreens” and “I’m not sure we heard honest testimony as to why people really oppose this project”.  This line of discussion upset the residents, as audible groan could be heard, but the point he was making was that much of opposition and the discussion around historic preservation was possibly a cover for other motives.

Alderman Nik Kovac spoke neither in opposition or support but mainly wanted a guarantee that if this project was to go forward that the Goll Mansion truly would be preserved.  Boris Gokhman, of New Land Enterprises, explained that the Goll Mansion would be restored as it was “one of the major reason people will buy it”.  Indicating that people buying condos in the development will expect the entrance-way to their condos to be completed and see it as part of their reason to buy.  Further New Land Enterprises agreed to have the memorandum of agreement added as the fourth criteria to the COA.  Ann Pieper Eisenbrown made a motion to approve the COA with the additional condition that the restoration work is consistent with the memorandum of agreement.  The COA was approved with the additional condition with only HPC Member Sandra A. McSweeney voting in opposition.

After the Historic Preservation Commission approved the COA the City Plan Commission took up the DPD.  Whitney Gould started off CPC’s brief discussion saying “I think it is an usually creative solution to a preservation problem” and then she gave a great discussion on how similar preservation projects have happened in many cities around the world.  She made a motion to approve the DPD with two conditions.  First, the architect will work with planning staff to tweak the garage, to hopefully lesson its impact.  Secondly that any significant changes that effect the Goll Mansion itself will go back to HPC.  The DPD was approved and will now go before the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

Categories: Real Estate

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