Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Council Kills Prospect Ave High Rise

Impressive 27-story, $55 million project is dead, due to opposition of neighbors.

By - Jul 26th, 2016 12:56 pm
1550 N. Prospect Ave. Renderings

1550 N. Prospect Ave. Renderings

The Milwaukee Common Council effectively killed a $55 million, 27 story tower proposed for 1550 N. Prospect Ave. today. The proposed apartment building required a zoning change to allow it to move forward. The council voted 10-5 to approve that change, but didn’t meet the super majority requirement for the vote. Alderman Robert Bauman led the opposition to the project on the basis that the proposed tower is “just too much building for the site.”

Joining Bauman is voting against the project were aldermen Cavalier Johnson, Jose G. Perez, Mark Borkowski and Tony Zielinski.

Chris Houden and his Madison-based firm DCH Properties, whose firm proposed the project, released this statement: “We are incredibly disappointed that while the majority of the council supported the development, a small minority blocked what would have been a $55 million investment in the city. Like a majority of the council, we believe that the development would have been a win-win-win for our community – bringing a $55 million project to the city, creating new jobs for city residents and ensuring the restoration and revitalization of the historic Goll House.”

Houden’s proposal called for a 27-floor tower with 192 units and an additional eight units in the Goll House, a historically-designated home originally built on the lot in 1898. As part of the tower’s construction the home would be moved forward on the lot and renovated. Extensive details on the project and the site’s background are available in an article published last week, A New Tower for Prospect Ave. Additional details about opposition to the project and committee approval are available in an article published last Tuesday, City Committee Approves Prospect Tower.

Residents of 1522 on the Lake, an 18-floor condominium tower immediately to the south, formed the majority of the opposition to the tower. In advance of today’s meeting, the project opponents filed a petition requiring the proposed zoning change to be approved by a super-majority of the council. Opposition was led by 1522 resident Patrick Dunphy, who is a partner at law firm Cannon and Dunphy.

Bauman, whose district includes the land, stated during the meeting that “I’m a strong proponent of density, I’m maybe the strongest proponent of density on this council. But being a proponent of urban density doesn’t mean that every project gets rubber stamped without scrutiny and without input of residents.” The downtown alderman has adamantly objected to the project, proclaiming he would say no “even if the neighbors were for it because I believe this project is of inappropriate scale for the location.”

1522 Opposition

At a zoning committee hearing last week, residents of 1522 on the Lake contended they do support development of the site. As Dunphy put it: “Am I opposed to development? Absolutely not.” Yet Dunphy and residents of the building have now led the opposition to two proposals for the site.

Speaking before the council today, Ald. Jim Bohl, chair of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development committee, suggested the opposition was all about some 1522 on the Lake residents losing their lake views, saying “they have indicated that it isn’t a matter of site views. I will largely beg to differ.”

1550 Renderings

Revert the Zoning

Bauman is proposing to rezone the land to RM-7, the highest density level in the city’s zoning code. The site, which is currently subject to a 2008 spot zoning change that allows only a narrow tower, would be reverted to base zoning that requires 33 percent less parking than is being proposed. The base zoning level would also set the maximum size of the building at just under 112,000 square-feet, far less than the roughly 360,000 square-foot development being proposed by DCH.

Is reverting the zoning the silver bullet? Not quite. While Bauman joked at committee that his proposal would save everyone from having to endure two hours of testimony, Ald. Nik Kovac noted that going back to RM-7 would increase the incentive for a developer to demolish the mansion. Bohl made a similar argument on the council floor at today’s meeting.

Goll House – Interior

Goll House – Exterior

34 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Kills Prospect Ave High Rise”

  1. Chris says:

    I’m more curious to hear the reasons the other council members that voted against it. I’d like to know what they’d ahve to say. Bauman’s reasons, stated or not, aren’t too difficult to figure out.

  2. AG says:

    “without approval of residents.” Seriously Bauman?? So every NIMBY just gets to pick and choose which projects get built? Because then we’ll see zero projects.

  3. James says:

    Clearly the opposition’s main concern was losing their lake views.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    So people living in one tower didn’t want their views blocked by a new tower? When the 18 story tower was built I wonder if anyone living in that area voiced similar concerns.

  5. Jeff says:

    1522 is set so far back from the lake bluff, anything built next door will block residents’ views. All other towers are built up to the bluff. Poor planning by 1522’s developer, I’d say.

  6. Ryan N says:

    NIMBYism at its finest, disgusting this didn’t pass. Should have told them to go suck rocks and say how miserable the Kilbourn Tower and University Club Tower residents are at being “so close and having no views!”. -_-

  7. Sam says:

    @ Ryan N I still don’t understand how the University Club Tower and Kilbourn Tower got built. Something real fishy went on there and it makes me think about it everytime I see those two towers hugging each other.

  8. M says:

    I have no opinion on whether this high-rise should get built (and I’m not a neighbor). However, one reason offered for why it should be built is “density.” That’s a new holy grail of urban planning but the issue is much more complex.

    For those who want productive cities and look to higher density as a formulaic solution, Charles Marohn of Strong Towns offers much more to ponder. Again, I’m not referring specifically to this high-rise but the fact that even urbanists can reduce big issues to small metrics.

  9. Ryan N says:

    @Sam no matter how it happened both are very successful and beautiful downtown towers. 1522’s NIMBYism should easily have been tossed aside by pointing out how these two towers succeeded almost touching and their impact will be negligible with likely increasing property value in the long run with the new tower.

  10. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @AG – That was a mistake of mine in quoting Bauman. Input, not approval.

  11. Steve Schreiner says:

    I’m glad this was shot down. As a representative of the labor community I had no interest seeing a non/anti-union construction firm being brought to Milwaukee to union jobs from Milwaukee residents. The Scott Walker folks can pack their bags and head home. Don’t worry though, something will be built here!

  12. AG says:

    Jeramey, I think the sentiment was understood either way. NIMBY’s reign.

    @Steve Schreiner, are you going or the labor community going to pay the millions of dollars in taxes we’re going to miss out on now?

  13. Frank Galvan says:

    Dunphy Kills Prospect Ave High Rise.

  14. Erik Wanta says:

    In the modern era of google forms why are we letting these goofy alderman make decisions that seem to go against the wishes of the residents and the city planning commission? Why doesn’t the city create a form to get input from the community for things like 1550 Prospect and the Estabrook Dam repair or removal? Any more information of how the $35k from 1522 was spent?

  15. Jf says:

    follow the money..

  16. Scott T says:

    Look at the buildings around Central Park. Look at the buildings along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. There are huge buildings next to huge buildings…. it’s called a CITY. This is so typical Milwaukee. Sad politics, the needs of the few are greater than the needs of the many. Enjoy your little victory and your wonderful exclusive views.

  17. John says:

    Of all those who holler NIMBY, I wonder how they would feel if some building project came to their neighborhood and they didn’t approve. Seems to me this is about more than a lake view. This is a very busy and densely populated part of town. More people, more cars, more congestion.

  18. Erik Wanta says:

    I live in a condo building that is a little larger than what was proposed at 1550 and have lived in larger buildings in Chicago. It is not like everyone in the building leaves at once so the impact on congestion is almost negligible. The buildings have their own parking. Even if parking was a huge problem parking at Veteran’s Park or McKinley Marina could be opened up to support the overflow but I honestly don’t think this development would have a big impact on parking. Ideally more density would reduce the need to have a car and reduce the congestion as there would be enough density to support stores in walking distance. The development is right on the Oak Leaf Trail so biking is an option and it is easy to get downtown by city bus or to Chicago by train. Seems to me that the biggest issue is the loss of the $55M investment in the city and the approximately $1.5M in lost tax revenue every year. The mechanism to get feedback from the community is totally broken. Only the people opposed are going to to to the zoning committee meeting…

  19. AG says:

    John, the impact that 200 apartments would have on traffic and parking in this spot would be ridiculously small. And That is part of living in a city, you know when you buy that other buildings can go up. Views are not a guaranteed amenity forever.

  20. Vincent Hanna says:

    Does Dunphy have that much influence? Are there other bigshots in the 1522 building?

    I was also intrigued by something Hamilton said in the JS’s story about this: “The zoning change needed 12 votes because a protest petition was signed by enough adjacent property owners.” How many is enough property owners? Does the council really have to abide by that?

  21. joh says:

    With 1522 units getting a guaranteed lake view, won’t there assessed value now increase?

    Is there a way for citizens to file complaints about under-assessed property?

  22. Erik Wanta says:

    If you are looking to complain about under-assessed property you might want to complain about the luxury condo tower at St. Johns on the Lake. The don’t pay any taxes. The e-mail for the assessor is

  23. Sam says:

    Absurd. To quote everyone’s mom: “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

  24. Jason says:

    My wife and I are blessed to live in Oahu and are stunned at the pace of development. I root so hard for MKE and constantly praise it but this is sobering. How can so many stunning buildings continue to go up one after another in Honolulu and MKE couldn’t get this one building done? Every week I see the photos of the 2-3 story condo complexes but where are the 30-40 story buildings? I love my hometown but I’ve always said that if cities were like people, MKE would be a putz- a person that talks a big game but everyone else sees them as a mid-level manager at best.

  25. David says:

    @Jason….. how does Milwaukee talk a big game?

  26. David says:

    Erik……. yeah, that’s why it’s important that this building get built. The city needs revenue. We all know that St. John’s is developed by a religious, non-profit.

  27. Vincent Hanna says:

    Northwestern Mutual is constructing two tall buildings. The Couture is going to be very tall. How many 30-story buildings should Milwaukee have to get out of putz status?

  28. Erik Wanta says:

    David, the urban milwaukee article about St. Johns alluded to the law in the 2010-2011 state budget that said that the unit should be assessable if it is 130% over the county average value even if it has non-profit benevolent status.

    See Option 2c at
    The most valuable, St. John’s Communities in Milwaukee, recently completed a $47 million
    expansion with 88 units, which average $3,440 in monthly fees plus $417,500 entrance fees.15 Taxes on the
    addition alone would be over $1 million.

    In 2008 that value was $240k, in 2015 it looks like the 130% average value for Milwaukee is $194k The St. John’s on the Lake tower is very fancy with their own art gallery. I suspect the units would be assessed similar to 1522 North Prospect in the $400k/unit range or higher so I don’t see how it is possible that they would be under the 130% limit. Did the law change or is the city assessor not pursuing St. John’s under the 2011 law? I think it is really unfair that St. John’s doesn’t pay any property taxes and everyone else needs to come up with the difference.

  29. Erik Wanta says:

    The article about St. John’s alluded to a law in 2011 that the properties couldn’t be over 130% of average property value for the county and still retain tax exempt status even if they are a non-profit benevolent retirement home.

    See Option 2c at

    The 130% limit is $194k for Milwaukee, see There is no way that the units in the St. John’s tower would assess for less than that.

  30. Gary Rebholz says:

    M wrote: “… one reason offered for why it should be built is “density.” That’s a new holy grail of urban planning but the issue is much more complex. …”

    A dislike of density is just one of the cultural memories of Milwaukee’s working-class history.
    There’s still a really strong cultural memory in Milwaukee that “density” is something to escape; it’s old world, dirty, smelly, and it’s bad. And there’s a further culture of competition between those who “made it out” of the old dense neighborhoods to the suburbs, versus someone who stayed. Milwaukee’s culture of automobile ownership (and a single car garage to protect it) as something to achieve, versus mass transit as something to use, is another part of that old anti-density culture.

    The Uihlein families may have had an enclave of substantial homes built in the neighborhood within walking distance of Schlitz Brewery, and Valentin Blatz may have been able to walk from his home in the Metro Market parking lot to his brewery office down the street, but they got out of these neighborhoods and so did their workers!

  31. David says:

    Erik…… I completely agree. Also, increasing density in Milwaukee’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods is what will save this city. Energy and connectedness.

  32. Dave Reid says:

    @David No doubt. Density is vital to the urban environment. I’d add that in my in my opinion anti-density is pro-sprawl.

  33. M says:

    To clarify, I am NOT making anti-density comment nor opposing 1550. But perhaps issues surrounding this proposed high-rise are too hot to even raise a subtle point about “density as a by-product of productive cities, not a goal by itself.”

    Yes, downtown and the East Side are returning to higher density. That’s been mostly good. But if higher density is always the goal (and achieved through preferred types of development) it diminishes or trumps discussions about other factors that make a city or neighborhood livable–or even design concerns. Preserving traditional urban fabric, neighborhood cohesion and a high-functioning urban realm also contribute to resilient urbanism. But they seem to be mentioned far less often if “higher density” is involved.

    Gary, interesting comments about Milwaukee’s cultural memory. I would add that another big part of our civic DNA that’s been devalued is 50 years of Socialist leaders who pushed for things like sewers and good parks to make this once-dense city livable. Fortunately, some/much of that infrastructure remains, which has helped Milwaukee to repopulate, including in areas beyond greater downtown.

  34. sjsresh says:

    It would be interesting to know the views of the other alderman. Now, from an architectural standpoint the proposed building was nice, but it is rather big and hefty for the lot they want to put it on. It would be better on a larger lot or somewhere downtown where it will fit in better with the larger buildings. Yet, 1522 On The Lake is positioned in a way that no matter what is proposed next door, there is going to be a problem with views to the north. 1522 was deliberately positioned on its lot closer to the street to force limited development to the north. Anyone who tries to develop that lot to the north will either have to move the Goll Mansion off the property or demolish the house. And we all know thats not going to go over well. Either DCH Properties will have to come up with something much more creative, or sell the property to someone who can. I will say, it’s not all that difficult to design something that will fit on the lot and accommodate the Goll Mansion, and I have to believe that Mr. Bauman is pushing that envelope. There is nothing wrong with expecting great architectural design, and Milwaukee is a city worthy of it. Heck, if Mandel can do it with the University Club Tower, and their new Apartment Tower on Prospect, why can’t other developers?

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