Dave Reid

Milwaukee River Greenway Overlay Zone Approved by City Plan Commission

By - May 4th, 2010 11:58 am

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.


8 thoughts on “Milwaukee River Greenway Overlay Zone Approved by City Plan Commission”

  1. Ian says:

    Ahhh, this makes sense. I’ll have to pick your brain on the logistics behind this and what the overall goal is. At first I had pictured a jungle gym by the river and was a bit confused.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Ian Well generally the group pushing it is trying to protect the river, in its fairly green (I wouldn’t say natural as it was once developed before) state. That said I think it goes a touch too far with the height limitations to protect the view, and it seems to be slanted towards single family homes. Both of these reduce or limit density which is a concern of mine. That said most of the land is already parkland so primarily the height limitation is my concern.

  3. Brent says:

    Do the supporters realize that the Greenway is in a city? A city tends to not be entirely natural — that is, if you go for a walk, expect to see something other than trees. And who would mind seeing tall, shiny skyscrapers as they waltzed through the nice break in the city? Height limitations do not make very much sense…

    If you want unbroken greenery, go to a rural area.

  4. cait says:

    I think the height limitation is a decent idea.. Walking around by that river is on the very small list that keeps me from moving away from Milwaukee.

    I love Chicago and NYC and other big shiny cities and agree that cities should be cities with business and everything that follows. But without fail, every time I come home from those big skyscraper places feeling that Milwaukee is empty and uninteresting, I end up in those woods and am actually thrilled to be back.

    And just maybe if we could trust this city to get some architecture worth looking at (besides just throwing some expensive lights on square blocks of cement), then I might be okay with letting that feeling go. I’m sure there are still enough empty lots in the 5th ward or park east that we could work on overlaying into.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @cait The height limitation isn’t really about skyscrapers. In commercial corridors (more restrictive in non-commercial corridors) no less, up to 100 feet from the bluff buildings are limited to 45 feet. What’s that 4 stories, hardly skyscrapers. Now it’s probably not that big of a deal, but that has the potential to limit density which is always concerning to me in the city.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @cait I should add that this overlay has gotten better than it was, for example it appears the setback requirements have been lessened. So primarily my concerns at this point are around the “viewshed” (the height limits I posted), especially in commercial districts, the precedence this could set, and its impacts on density.

  7. cait says:

    I know 4 stories hardly makes a dent, but it’s hard to imagine where these buildings would go. Unless some houses were torn down, there really isn’t too much area to squeeze them in unless they’d be moving closer to the river itself.

    I do strongly believe that Milwaukee could use some more density, but not at the expense of that river or that gorgeous park around it. There are plenty more lots to move in on. Like, hey, how about pretty much alll of Capital drive? We can’t even keep a grocery store open there. And Downer Ave could still use some work. Or Holton. Or Brewers Hill. And what’s going on with that huge space across from Trocadaro?

    We will never even get the illusion of density if we’re just trading out an empty lot for an empty lot.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @cait I’d just point out that Milwaukee actually has better density numbers than a lot of American cities. That said the ‘viewshed’ really only impacts a few spots, because much of the land is already park land, or single family homes anyhow. But for example the area around North Ave could be impacted by this. Further, the concept of a ‘viewshed’ set a bad precedent, potentially codifying a new tool to block development in other areas of the city (I’m thinking Transerra here).

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