Milwaukee River Greenway Overlay Zone Approved by City Plan Commission
At the May 3rd, 2010 City Plan Commission meeting the proposed Milwaukee River Greenway Overlay District was brought for the commission for approval. This overlay district would impact 370 properties, these are properties that property lines are within approximately 50 feet of the river bluff, of which 70 to 80% is existing parkland.
The proposed district would establish rules for new development within this corridor. Specifically, it would restrict development within 50 feet of the top of the bluff, so as to protect tree roots and bluff stability. Though, there are measures that would allow buildings to encroach into this area, but additional requirements such as enhanced storm water management practices, and additional landscape screening would need to be met. The proposed legislation also includes height limitations to protect the scenic quality of the river corridor. For example, in areas where the corridor crosses commercial districts building height limitations would force a step back configuration to hide the buildings from being viewed from within the river corridor. Additionally, it includes, new green building requirements, the restriction of some building materials and designs, which would exclude blank walls or vinyl siding along the river. Surface parking lots would have additional landscape requirements, and any signage along the corridor would have to be of the city’s Type A style. Existing single family homes and duplexes are exempted from the new requirements as it is particularly targeted at new multi-family developments along the corridor.
It was apparent that some compromises had been made in regards to property south of North Ave. which made this legislation palatable to property owners and developers in this area, as there was minimal opposition to the legislation. It was also pointed out that an Planned Development would trump the overlay district so Mandel Group’s property on the west side of the river south of North Ave. could still be developed according to its existing plan.
A large group appeared to support the project, with only some minor opposition. During the presentation the topic of the height limitations came up as an issue that the Department of City Development had a philosophical issue with, so some members of the audience spoke in support of the “viewshed” restrictions. Ann Brummitt, of the Milwaukee River Work Group, argued that the “urban hardscape” had crept up the river and that is was infringing on the scenic beauty of the corridor. In fact she argued that the “public trust doctrine” supported the “viewshed.” Linda Keen, Architect from Studio 1032, argued that even Frederick Olmsted would recognize the “viewshed” as vital to the corridor, though this seems contrary to the evidence as one of his most famous works, Central Park in New York City, is surrounded by high-rise development. Alderman Nik Kovac wrapped up explain that “there have been several compromises,” and that he felt “that makes this a win win for everyone.” This was approved at the City Plan Commission and will now go before the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.