Dave Reid

City Commission Approves UWM Dorm Design

By - Dec 9th, 2008 02:05 pm


Bob Monnat, the chief operating officer of Mandel Group, gave a short presentation covering the history behind the development of this site.  He explained that Mandel Group had originally planned to take advantage of the stunning views from the site and create a commercial use development.  When UWM put out the RFP for a new dormitory Mandel Group responded after determining this could be a better fit for the site.  Throughout the efforts the building was set back 50 feet and limited in its height.  He explained that as the project evolved through working with the Milwaukee River Work Group and other community members that “we actually ended up with a better project.”

Jim Shields, the project architect, reminded the commission and residents that “one of the big stories here is, I think an environmental or green story.”  He was referring to the numerous green features that this project utilizes to create a sustainable development.  These features include the project being a high-density development, that has good transit access, green roofs and rain gardens.  He also pointed out that project is very likely to receive LEED Silver certification.

A group of residents spoke in opposition to the project for a variety of reason including, parking, protecting the river, and concerns over too high a “student density.”  Teresa Kinis, the Chair of the Riverside Park Neighborhood Association, spoke in opposition of the project because of her concerns over the impact of the new students on the river saying it is “the problem of student density” that she is concerned about.  Pam Frautschi, spoke in opposition with her concerns revolving around the potential impact of the increase in population density on the neighborhoods.  Else Ankel was opposed to density as well arguing that it would hurt the river and then directed her comments to Alderman Kovac saying, “I urge you to listen to the people who elected.”  Joe Klein, who was representing a new coalition of neighborhood association’s called 3DNA, argued that “this is the wrong building, in the wrong place.”  He explained that the group felt this would be precedent setting and that the dorm would be too dense.  He also remarked on the process saying “we don’t feel that we’re fully engaged with the university.”

Sura Faraj appeared to insult commission members saying “I’m not sure why each of you are on the commission, perhaps it’s because you truly want to see better development in this city, and give a voice to the citizen perspective, or maybe it’s just to put another notch in you resume belt.”  Although she has been a member of the Milwaukee River Work Group, she questioned the group’s efforts saying they held “closed door meetings” with the developer regarding the project.  She went on to say that “high density development should never abut a primary environmental corridor” but didn’t give any reason as to why this would negatively impact the river.  She ended with a long rant about the need to protect water because it is the new oil but again didn’t explain how this project would negatively water quality.

On the other side there were a variety of residents, local business owners and contractors that spoke in favor of the project.  A number of local contractors explained that the recession has had dramatically negative impacts on their business and employment levels in the city.  Tony Arteaga, the Owner of Artega Construction, spoke in favor of the project explaining that his company has gone from 150 to 30 full time employees and as he said “a project like this is desperately needed in the City of Milwaukee.”  Two other contractors indicated that the are experiencing the same issues and added that as EBE certified contractors these job would help central city residents.  Sheldon Opppermann, a resident of Cambridge Woods, lent his support to the project explained that “the university is what attracted me to the neighborhood” and that “this is the best answer to absentee landlords.”  Ann Brummitt, Coordinator of the Milwaukee River Work Group, expressed some concerns but did express that “yes it [the project] does indeed respect the guidelines.”

Jim Plaisted, the East Side BID Executive Director, explained that the BID board of directors voted unanimously to support this project and they are working to negotiate a voluntary donation from UWM to the East Side BID.  He also presented a letter from the owners of Ma Fischer’s Family Restaurant explaining how their business has increase significantly since the opening of the Kenilworth dormitory.  He argued that this increase in business wasn’t about more students but was about more population density in the general.  He summed up the importance of this project to the retail business on North Avenue saying “retail, follows residential its not the other way around.”

This change in zoning was approved by the commission.

Categories: Real Estate

9 thoughts on “City Commission Approves UWM Dorm Design”

  1. Cindy says:

    Bob Monnat is a very clever man. He knows that a sure thing in quasi-government money is much better than trying to make a project stand on its own.

    Don’t get me wrong. Monnat is a pretty nice guy. Just be warned that green and better fit has little to do with it. It’s all about the money in the bank during a tight market. It’s this kind of planning that keeps Mandel afloat while others are sinking.

  2. Marcus says:

    Although she has been a member of the Milwaukee River Work Group, she questioned the group’s efforts saying they held “closed door meetings” with the developer regarding the project.

    Isn’t that her normal MO? She is now seeking to pull the Riverwest Neighborhood Association out of the Work Group.

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Cindy A “better fit” meaning to work with the overlay district. Of course developers do develop to make money. But remember they’ve been working on developing the site for at least a year now and have owned the property longer than that. The key thing is that without the overlay concerns this site would of been built as something other than a dorm, possibly a larger mixed-use project with more retail and more possible uses. Once the overlay limited the site, a better fit, became this design.

  4. Joe Klein says:

    I read a statement drafted by the 3rd District Neighborhood Associations’ representative comitee. As follows:

    Presentation to CPC with regard to the location of a Public / Private Proposal for a Prospective Dormitory

    After a number of meetings with University Officials and Officers from UWM and the UWM Real Estate Foundation, the members of the 3rd District Neighborhood Association sadly have to appear before you today to object to this project.

    We are objecting to this building not because we are opposed to the growth of the University, but we have to object to this particular building for the following reasons.

    This is the wrong building in the wrong place.

    Let me postulate that instead of a prospective dormitory, you were considering a condominium project. You would likely deny this application because the building would be encroaching on the doorstep of one of the most pristine pieces of riverside properties within the city limits. You would deny it because of the precedent it would set for future applications for development along the river corridor. You would deny it because of the public outcry it would create.

    Yet in some ways, condos would be better for the neighborhood. The private development would be taxed at the normal full rate. The dorm building will not. The residents would become full members of the community, who would be interested in the future of our community. The students are here for a short time and have no commitment to the area. The developer of a private project could be held responsible for infrastructure (traffic controls, sidewalks, curbing, signage etc….). It seems that the taxpayers of an already overstressed tax base will pick up the bill for this project.

    A building of this size that would be offered as condominiums would hold less than half the people than are proposed as a dormitory (Over 700). The density of the Dorm will double the population of the neighborhood in which it is located.
    But, you are not considering the application of a developer who wants to build a private condominium project. You are looking at a dormitory for seven hundred students.

    Seven hundred students will be joining the several hundred students from the dorm across the river on North Ave and the residents in the Kenilworth Building. Not only this, the University and the Foundation have refused to assure us that they will not pursue future projects in this area.

    This will create a new dynamic in the law enforcement coverage, traffic patterns and retail pressure. We feel that all of dorm issues have not been considered in enough detail and that the unintended consequences of this oversight could be avoided with more thought and planning.

    In short, there needs to be more attention paid to the needs and desires of the neighborhood.

    End Statement.

    I added my own comments speaking as a neighborhood representative that “we don’t feel that we’re fully engaged with the university.” That is using the definition of engaged as establishing a meaningful contact or connection with UWM. Simply said, UWM should take responsibility for economic effects that increased enrollment has had on the east side, primarily in reduced owner occupancy.

    Hey Wauwatosa … UWM is a bad neighbor to have, especially if you value your housing stock!

    Building dorms in the East Side neighborhoods is a half ass solution. Moving students out of duplexes and into dorms without a plan to deal with the dilapidated remains of the absentee owner exploited once good east side housing stock … is just plain stupid. UWM needs to work at increasing the number of owner occupied housing units buy financially supporting walk to work initiatives for faculty and staff, and perhaps purchasing and fixing up units for graduate and dissertation students.

    Like many of the other residents on the East Side, I believe UWM has an obligation to improve the stability of its host neighborhoods and the economic vitality of its host city. I share the belief with many of my neighbors that expansion should be downtown and downtown should include the school of engineering.

    I am generally of the opinion that UWM feels it can “stick it” to its neighbors. Give the neighbors the freshmen and sophomores, send the “nice” graduate students to Wauwatosa. If that ain’t stickin’ I don’t know what is. If throwing monkey wrenches into their plans gets them to negotiate in good faith, then I’ll be throwing them.

    IMHO the bottom line is … dorms downtown, engineering downtown, money for walk to work, UWM needs to make a real and measurable commitment to increase owner occupied homes in the neighborhood around it. Somebody needs to put a banana peel under the 800 lbs gorilla. The Alderman and City Hall, and you, should be working with us, because we are looking out for the best interest of Milwaukee.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Joe I know we agree that the Engineering school should go downtown not in Tosa, and I believe downtown dorms are a decent idea as well. In fact I’d love to see MSOE’s parking lot across from JVT built out as dorms for MSOE and UWM. My guess is the empty retail slots on Jackson would all fill in, and maybe I’d finally get a pizza by the slice joint!

    But that is a separate issue, as to if this is a good or bad project we disagree. Density, yes even college student density, helps to create a vibrant city, supports local business (note Ma Fischer’s, La Piazza’s support, and the BID’s support), grows our talent base, and grows our city.

    I believe to look out for the best interests of Milwaukee is to encourage density because that supports retail, creates vibrancy, encourages innovation, is acting environmentally friendly, puts more eyes on the street, helps to rebuild the urban fabric and in the end creates a stronger city.

    PS Thanks for posting the entire letter… It is good to have all the information available.

  6. Matthew says:

    Joe, I would just like to address a few points from the objection statement.
    1. The dorms are being funded 100% by the students, not the taxpayers, and any inference that the taxpayers would end up paying for the dorms is blatantly misleading.
    2. UWM has its own police force which already helps patrol the neighborhood. The police force is also fully funded by the students, yet all the residents on the eastside benefit from the coordination between UWMPD and MPD.

  7. Milwaukee H. says:

    Klein and Faraj as co-candidates for alder in 2012! Only they can save Milwaukee from its main menaces: college students and high-density development. Move UWM to Metcalfe Park! I for one am fed up with these students all over the streets, shopping at stores and tying up the lines. They listen to vulgar music, drink alcohol, and smoke dope. It is like 90s Riverwest but now on the East Side.

  8. MilwaukeeD says:

    Joe, I think instead of the Aldermen and City Hall, you should be directing your concerns at the County Supervisors and County Executive who have been letting the UW-Tosa concept move forward. They are the ones that are negotiating a sale of County Ground land to UWM.

    I think you would find that most, if not all, Milwaukee aldermen want UWM to expand downtown. They even passed a resolution saying that last spring: http://milwaukee.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=165984&GUID=C3287523-3090-4AD2-BE37-252B245FF95D&Search=UWM&Options=ID|Text|

  9. Jeramey Jannene says:

    I think what you want (a good faith negotiation) and what you say (reject the proposal) might be detrimental to actually getting what you want.

    You mention the tax issue. Those discussions are underway and Kovac and the Real Estate Foundation have been indicating as much from the start. The River Overlay District makes the land almost worthless to develop (especially in a down market), so I think what we (as Milwaukee) are going to get a dorm deal PILOT payment that is a good deal, and will pay off before any condos will. Also remember this isn’t a great spot for condos with Wisconsin Paperboard next door.

    The density of the dorm is good for the neighborhood. Density is good, overcrowding is bad. Putting these students on a major transit corridor (and one frankly that could use more density) is a great thing for businesses. It also allows the rest of the neighborhood south of North Ave to have more owner occupancies by putting students in university housing.

    There has been numerous discussions about safety and traffic issues. All of which seem to be well managed by the university and Mandel. As Riverview (and Kenilworth) proved, UWM can handle security on non-main campus housing. There was discussion of having a traffic light at in the intersection as well, something that I think would be great for both residents and businesses.

    I think the market forces of falling home prices as absentee landlords sell, should offer a good started to get faculty and staff in the neighborhood. I would be all for asking the university to put some more force behind that. But I don’t think you’re going to get that by outright rejecting the dorm proposal.

    I think if you want to get a good faith negotiation (which you claim hasn’t happened), you should come to the table not rejecting every dorm proposal and then following that up by saying you support UWM.

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