Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Neighbors Boiling Over Boylston Plan

Too much congestion, they complain. Ald. Kovac is feeling the heat.

By - Jan 23rd, 2013 04:22 pm
Cambridge - Boylston Residential Development Rendering Option 1

Cambridge – Boylston Residential Development Rendering Option 1

Alderman Nik Kovac has been getting an earful from constituents about a proposed 40-unit, 41-parking space apartment building planned for a site at 1400 – 1430 E. Boylston St.  [map] that currently allows only 22 units with 15 parking spaces. The developers will need to go before the Milwaukee City Plan Commission for a zoning change.

“There is a palpable level of discomfort with this plan,” wrote neighbor Jessica St. John. “While parking is of primary concern, there are also many, many questions about why the existing zoning in the neighborhood allows for even the current [22 units].”

Chicago developer Yiannis Konstantinou, operating with partner Michael Kleber as Nikon Boylston LLC, bought the four vacant lots totaling 18,188 square feet from a distressed owner for $245,000 on September 14th, 2012. The properties are assessed at $384,000.

The low price surprised Julilly Kohler, the developer who once owned the property and sold it along with some lots to the east in 2005. Those properties, along N. Cambridge Ave., have since been developed at a below-zoned density. Kohler said she is reviewing deed restrictions that she attached to the Boylston property when sold. She suggests the developer’s plans to offer 40 parking spots for residents and neighbors might be an attempt to gain leverage for approval in the parking-strapped neighborhood.

Neighbor Shirley Ferguson, who lives in a N. Warren Avenue home in which her husband Carl was born, also wrote Kovac about a late November neighborhood meeting at which the proposal was unveiled.

“I understand a meeting was held at Holy Rosary [Catholic Church] recently regarding a proposed 44 [sic] unit building on Boylston St.  Carl and I were not notified about this meeting. As longtime members of the East Village we feel… such a development is grossly oversized for this mainly residential area.  I have checked with other neighbors to see how they feel about such a large development…..they were unaware of this proposal……..matter of fact the neighbors across the street on Boylston were not notified…….that seems like a large error.  Such a development would be inappropriate for our neighborhood and we strongly request that you vote against this.”

The meeting referred to was held by the East Bank Neighborhood Association.

1851 N. Cambridge Ave. Rendering

1851 N. Cambridge Ave. Rendering

Its president, Andrea Rowe Richards, a former Department of City Development spokesperson and wife of legislator Rep. Jon Richards, said her group has since voted on the proposal.

“The East Bank Neighborhood Association Board, based on the input of our general membership, has voted to oppose the project as presented to us by the developer at our November meeting.” (However, the group does support a plan to develop housing for the mentally ill at 1851 N. Cambridge Ave.)

A petition to stop the development has been circulated by Mary Smith, a neighbor who says, “This development is out of sync with our neighborhood in size, density, aesthetic, and intention. For over 100 years we have proudly been one of Milwaukee’s only downtown adjacent neighborhoods that features single-family, duplex, and low-density apartment buildings. This has allowed us to enjoy a wonderful quality of life and property values that have withstood more than one economic downturn.”

Ald. Kovac, who is out of town for the rest of this week, told Urban Milwaukee in December that he is paying attention to the neighborhood objections to the project. There are as yet no public hearings scheduled on the project.

Cambridge – Boylston Development Options

Fun Fact

Even longtime residents of the Lower East side may be unfamiliar with E. Boylston St., which runs for only a block and has no intersections. It occupies an east-west gap between north-south N. Warren Avenue and N. Cambridge Street. The street lies just east of Caesar’s Park, which provides direct access to trails on both sides of the Milwaukee River. A streetcar line connecting Brady Street with the upper east side once ran along Warren and Boylston, bringing many people to the neighborhood’s attractions, which included swimming schools and ice skating in the late 19th century.

On The Move

The Blackthorn Bar, 750 N. Jefferson St., probably the city’s least authentic of its many inauthentic Irish taverns, closed without notice last week. … Fitzgibbons Pub, of 1127 N. Water Street, one of the city’s most authentic Irish taverns, will reopen as Pourman’s. Jacquelyn Barret has applied for a license at the closed O’Brady’s, 1634 N Water Street, located in one of Milwaukee’s oldest standing buildings (if it still is standing, that is. Gotta check daily.) … Thor Antonio Stolen plans to open Arepa, 635 E. Wright St. In response to the license application question as to whether he had been convicted of any municipal offenses, Stolen, 32, answered in the affirmative: “noise, underage drinking (throwing a party in college.)” … Kendall Breunig, whose brother owns 4 per cent of the 1870’s-era Pritzlaff Building, has applied for a license to operate a full service restaurant there at 143 E. St. Paul Avenue, at last bringing us a place to drink near the train station. … The Fifth Ward Pub and Grill hopes to open at 814 S. 2nd Street in a space once known by that name, which was succeeded briefly by the late Zim’s… Prasith Nanthasane, 54, a native of Laos, plans to open the Elephant Cafe in a building he owns at 1505 N Farwell Ave. just north of the Pasta Tree. … Rocketship Charter Schools, based in California, is taking bids for a facility here in Milwaukee…Sachen A Shah of Waukesha is in the process of securing licenses for Koppa’s Farwell Foods, 1940 N. Farwell Avenue, a longtime independent grocery famed for its quirky signs and its Fulbeli Deli. The store is currently owned by a corporation controlled by the founding, namesake family.


The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is holding its annual Winter Carnival February 1st 2013 at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park, 8365 N. 76th St. … Judge John DiMotto writes: “The Milwaukee Bar Association Judicial Forum Committee will be hosting two pre-primary forums at its offices at 424 E. Wells Street. On February 6th at noon, they will conduct the forum for the race in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Branch 45. Professor Daniel Blinka of the Marquette University Law School will be the moderator. On February 7th at 12:15 pm, they will conduct the forum for the Supreme Court race. Steve Walters from WisconsinEye will be the moderator. On behalf of the MBA, I will welcome those in attendance and do the opening introductions. After the primary, the MBA hopes to conduct a second forum for the finalists in both races. If you want to hear directly from the candidates, you should plan on attending. Written questions can be submitted for the moderator to ask of the candidates.”

Thanks, your honor. Anything that brings dignity to a Wisconsin Supreme Court race is a welcome development.

18 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Neighbors Boiling Over Boylston Plan”

  1. Frank says:

    A lot of trees would have to be torn down for the Boylston building. “Trees”… something developers from Chicago aren’t familiar with.

  2. Mr. Michael Horne says:

    Frank, you are absolutely incorrect. The property is entirely deforested. In fact, frequent mowing has destroyed the few desultory daylillys that once graced this desolate plot. Those were the only plants on the site taller than the grass.

  3. Frank says:

    Mr. Horne, you are correct. I looked at google maps and realized that. I initially thought the property was just west of that lot.

  4. Annie says:

    They’ll need to come up with some better arguments than that a high density apartment building doesn’t fit with the neighborhood as it already is. According to city records, within a block or two already exist the following apartment buildings: 180 units (1300 E Kane), 91 units (1831 N Cambridge), 81 units (2201 N Cambridge), 28 units (1919 N Cambridge), 20 units (2069 N Cambridge), 56 units (1869 N Cambridge), 41 units (1819 N Cambridge), 49 units (2047 N Cambridge), 16 units (1843 N Cambridge), 15 units (1766 N Warren), 12 units (2027 N Cambridge), and there are more if I keep going down the block..

  5. Mary Smith says:

    Annie – Your point is an interesting one. In that the properties you’ve provided as examples really serve to make the case for the need for future developments that provide lower density rather than higher density buildings in the neighborhood. For with almost all of the properties you’ve mentioned, the number of parking spots available for the number of units is very low. Many of these buildings were built before current code was enacted – code that now requires ample parking spaces be built for each new unit built. Which is precisely the code this developer is trying to get overturned. The real challenge in the neighborhood is that even if current property owners wanted to attempt to alleviate the parking situation by building their own parking slabs or garages on their properties, they cannot. Because lot size and layout won’t allow for it. (Trust me, we’ve tried.) So there really, honestly is no way to solve the parking problem at all other than by requiring that all new developments provide a minimum of two spaces per unit. There is also the need to provide at least some healthy level of single family homes and low-density housing so that we can keep and encourage families in the neighborhood. Every healthy residential neighborhood has this element. The creation of these new units would further encourage transient, short-term residents that will not serve to enhance this really very special neighborhood. Milwaukee has woefully few neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the downtown area that would allow for families and single family residences like this. And all healthy cities have them. This is really the only one. And a building of this nature would kill the chance for the City of Milwaukee to provide such a neighborhood for future growth.

  6. Regardless of how you feel about the building, I want to point out one thing. There are a number of neighborhoods with single family homes an equal distance from downtown.

    Assuming that the center of downtown is Milwaukee City Hall, this site is approximately 1.5 miles away. The single family homes of Walker’s Point are 1.4 miles away (I went to the corner of 3rd and Bruce). The single family homes of King Park are 1.3 miles away. Brewers Hill is 1.1 miles away. There appears to be a significant supply of single family homes near downtown.

  7. Chris says:

    You are absolutely right Jeramey. Something that separates Milwaukee from so many midwest cities like Cleveland, St Louis, KC, Detroit, etc is the high amount of fairly low density residential areas that knit directly into downtown — Lower East Side, Brewer’s Hill, Walker’s Point, etc. So many cities around the country demolished this fabric in the interest of “urban renewal”, only to segregate their downtowns and tear apart neighborhoods. Of course MKE did this too, but not nearly to the extent other places did.

    Two issues that I see here:
    1. A mix of density is almost always healthy, and the area we’re talking about has a long history of fairly high density. And relative to many other cities, our high density is pretty low. Mary Smith makes a good point about encouraging housing that supports family retention. But I’m not sure this apartment somehow obliterates that or sets an unhealthy precedent.

    2. Milwaukee really needs to grow up and learn how to live with a mix of transportation modes. The city is over-parked and people have a ridiculous perception about the ease of which they should be able to park a car (for free no less). I would absolutely oppose any suggestion that parking count requirements should be increased for apartments. That’s the wrong direction to go for so many reasons. And most progressive cities are actually finding ways to reduce parking requirements by rewarding development adjacent to transit. This issue needs to be resolved by building a comprehensive, multi-modal transit system.

  8. Shelby says:

    I live on Warren Ave and support this project. The lot in question is a blighted vacant piece of land that would be greatly improved by developing it. There is concern about protecting this neighboorhood – my neighboorhood, and I just don’t how this develop will endanger it. I think it will add to the diverse vitality that I love about where I live.

  9. Albe says:

    Why would Fifth Ward Pub and Grill open in the same building when it obviously didn’t work for them there before? I liked the bar, but they weren’t making money.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Albe Good question…. Don’t have an answer…

  11. Mr. Michael Horne says:

    Albe — This is a new operator who decided to keep an established name.

  12. Mary Smith says:

    Chris, You are absolutely right about Milwaukee needing to do something about the terrible lack of mass transit. But I would reiterate that people in this very particular neighborhood where they want to build this building really have no other choice in terms of parking. There simply is no available space to create alternate parking options. That is why this particular project is being opposed. I would add that residents already pay $55 a year to park on the street overnight (it’s not free). The option of rewarding development to transit adjacent locations is a great one – but with no realistic transit option available in the foreseeable future, this kind of development ends up being punitive to current residents. The only thing that really could result from a development such as this one is that current property owners would see an already brutal parking situation get even worse, resulting in lower property values and the ability to collect lower rents. We have all already lost prospective tenants due to this issue and it is getting worse year by year.
    And I should point out that the residents who are opposed to the project (which constitute an overwhelming majority of residents) are simply opposed to THIS project, not any project. We too want to see that lot developed, but not in a way that punishes current residents and decreases the livability of the neighborhood. Just because this was the first thing to come along in a long time, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. We’d love to work with the developer to create something that works for everyone, not just him. Unfortunately at this point, he has pretty much assured the residents that it’s his way or no way. That being the case, we prefer to go back to the drawing board. There are other developers in town interested in the space and willing to engage the neighbors to create something we can all agree on. They just don’t own the land.

  13. stacy moss says:

    Wow, I am flabbergasted. This modest building is on an ideal site for higher density housing than a single family home or duplex.

    Parking….. well that is a problem in bigger more prosperous and creative cities than Milwaukee. Speaking of transit … good transit system in America is a consequence of density not the other way around (New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago.) Get a few more larger buildings in the neighborhood and residents will have more destinations they don’t need a car for. The site is a great place to live if you want to ride your bike to work.

    Finally, how does this building “punish” the neighbors? Duh. Lots of good comments and dumb neighbors.

  14. Annie says:

    I think asking developers to provide a minimum of two parking spaces per unit seems excessive for an area near a downtown. Scattered single families and duplexes aside, this is really a dense area of the city. One of the things I love about Milwaukee is that we have a lot of neighborhoods like this which have a great mix of different types of housing options and styles mixed in together plus many things available in walking distance which both depend on that density and reduce the need for driving and finding parking spaces in the first place. Reducing, instead of adding, density in this neighborhood will probably not be good in the long-term for nearby businesses, for the future of our transit infrastructure, or for the city’s tax base. There are a number of long-term reasons that adding to density in a well-mixed area like this will add to its future stability, success and attractiveness as a walkable, mixed urban neighborhood. That is desirable to a lot of people. If prospective tenants need more parking they have plenty of options in the area already to choose from. I think the notion that lack of that much parking will would doom its attraction, rents, etc. actually does the neighborhood a disservice, ignoring the other aspects that make it unique and attractive. There are plenty of cookie cutter suburbs in the area with plenty of parking, but not too many places that offer what living in one of Milwaukee’s near-downtown neighborhoods does!

  15. Jeff Jordan says:

    Let me put an oar in the water that is way upstream from my home near Downer.
    Density is influenced by a lot of factors, but a huge issue is the cost of the land. Developers will rightly point out that you have to justify the use of the property with the return on investment. I am also aware the value of the property will be effected by the zoning.
    Nik Kovac has always maintained that he listens to complaints, but also insists on solutions. What do neighbors want to see built on this property? This neighborhood is a series of small lot homes that are for the most part well maintained, but like old European cities the plotting never anticipated the arrival of the auto centric society we live in.
    Now if you want to create a massive controversy propose a parking lot like we have on the corner of Bellview and Downer. Like a civil war flag flying from the village flag pole, neighbors are still divided on this issue. And by the way we live on the highest used bus route in the city.

  16. Adam Goshen says:

    There are NO available parking options in the area. Nor is there any ability to add any. Current density already exceeds capacity and there is already a tremendous crush. Mary’s right. Many property owners in the area have already lost prospective and current tenants because of the parking problem and are seeing a decrease in property values because of it. Mass transit in New York and Boston (arguably two of the best systems in the world) were not built to accommodate density, they anticipated it. Just as Milwaukee should have long ago. Most of Chicago’s residential areas have alleyways and garages. A wise city planner would, in this case, hold density requirements to a reasonable level (and deny this variance) until adequate parking options were created or a meaningful mass transit system was in place first. Not burden owners with this kind of a development.

  17. Matthew says:

    Am I missing something in this debate? I thought the developer was proposing 1 parking space per bedroom(since each apartment only has a single bedroom). That seems reasonable to me. Especially since right now with current zoning he could build 22 double bedroom apartments on the site with only 1 parking space per apartment.

  18. Jesse Hagen says:

    I just don’t see the rationale for adding excessive parking to this development. Sure, there is pent up demand for parking nearby, but adding more supply will just lead to neighbors getting a 2nd car, then back to square one.

    No one moves to this neighborhood because of its great parking options, they come because it’s walkable, interesting & vibrant… and some of the neighbors want to put up a parking lot? Talk about inviting crime, parking lots are known to attract vandalism, theft & robbery… that’s not something i would invite to my neighborhood.

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