Op Ed

Save the County Grounds. Again.

Tosa master plan will destroy rare 60-acre nature preserve.

By - Feb 6th, 2017 12:34 pm
Master Plan for Milwaukee County Grounds.

Master Plan for Milwaukee County Grounds.

“Save the County Grounds!” was the rallying cry twenty years ago that eventually led to a compromise on development that many thought had settled the matter. Today, however, the last unprotected part of the County Grounds is threatened with new development in a proposed City of Wauwatosa Master Plan and that cry is being raised again.

As evidenced by the overwhelming public turnout at a recent Wauwatosa meeting about the Master Plan, the community still wants to save the County Grounds. The 60-acre parcel in question was once the County Asylum Grounds. The land, owned by Milwaukee County, has been a de-facto nature preserve for nearly 40 years, but has never been protected. The tract provides fragile habitat within an environmental corridor that supports rare owls, red fox, bobolink, Eastern whip-poor-will, and northern shrike as well as species of reptiles that have been the focus of publicly funded long-term population recovery efforts.

The proposed Master Plan would slice off a third of this extraordinary natural area for roads and high-rise developments, saving some woods but sacrificing meadows and wetland. However, environmental scientists, conservationists and other county residents agree that doing so will effectively destroy the complex ecosystem that supports many critical species. This natural oasis dates back over a hundred years when it was set aside as a peaceful retreat for asylum residents. In recent decades the tucked-away gem has attracted dog walkers, workers on their lunch breaks, hikers, birders from throughout the state, and photographers from all over who come to witness the rare wildlife.

The proposed Master Plan would create a small oasis of woodland surrounded on all sides by roads and high-rise developments overlooking the road. This would effectively destroy it as a peaceful refuge for people as well as for wildlife habitat, according to experts. While economic development is important, it is our responsibility to steward significant natural areas for the benefit of all. We should look at alternative plans to retain the venerable woods for human enjoyment but also taking a holistic approach that fully serves the needs of wildlife.

A sustainable compromise would be to create a biking and walking trail within the southern part of the 60-acre former Asylum Grounds–instead of a road. That would add opportunities for healthy recreational activity and increase connectivity within Wauwatosa while preserving irreplaceable ecosystems.

The density that the proposed Master Plan envisions could be higher elsewhere, thus helping to achieve the healthy balance the plan promotes. This 60-acre parcel is the only part of the proposed Master Plan that comes at a high environmental cost. The “Environmental District” that the plan identifies would be far more robust and sustainable if this area is protected.

“Placing development so close to the edge of the woods will effectively reduce the amount of habitat that the woods provides for many sensitive species,” according to Bryan Lenz, executive Director of Bird City Milwaukee. “The size of the forest may remain the same but its value will not.” The preservation of the County Grounds has been an important issue for Milwaukee county residents scientists, and environmentalists and other citizens for at least two decades. Now the City of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee County have an opportunity to protect this land once and for all.

Instead of building roads through the Asylum Grounds, Wauwatosa could work with Milwaukee County to conserve the entire 60-acre parcel to protect it as parkland. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele could play a key role in brokering a win-win solution that includes preserving the Asylum Grounds. By doing so, he would plant a flag for conservation within Milwaukee County at a time when Wisconsin’s heritage as an environmental trailblazer has been eroded. Mr. Abele would also be honoring his family’s long-standing support of conservation and environmental efforts. I urge him and Mayor Kathleen Ehley to protect all of the County Asylum Grounds, to create a green and growing legacy for the benefit of generations to come.

A public meeting is scheduled for February 7, 2017 from 5:30-7:30 at Wauwatosa City Hall.

LuAnne Washburn is a resident of Wauwatosa.

More about the Sanctuary Woods

Read more about Sanctuary Woods here

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics, Real Estate

17 thoughts on “Op Ed: Save the County Grounds. Again.”

  1. Karl says:

    Who knew the Roger Rabbit movie would be so prescient:

    JUDGE DOOM: You lack vision, but I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.

  2. bonnie norwood says:

    Hope Tosa residents get involved! Write your Supervisors and Mayor, and attend the meeting Feb 7.

  3. Roger says:

    They could run the trolley to it

  4. M says:

    I hope Tosa leaders and Chris Abele act with a vision for the future and not just get blinded by pie-in-the-sky lust for “new tax base.” Decimating this fragile 60-acre habitat would play a role in killing the goose that’s laying a golden egg–as in quality of life and quality of place.

    High-functioning habitat, like sincerity, can’t be faked. The alternate plan seems very workable. The County Grounds have already gotten way too carved up. Cutting down all those mature trees makes the Innovation Campus feel very desolate. Leave some of the only thriving nature intact.

  5. “They could run the trolley to it” I hope that was sarcasm…the city street car is prohibited from running beyond the city limits…otherwise it would be the perfect addition to transit to the nearby Medical Complex.

  6. MKE0 says:

    This article is an example of hyperbole masking NIMBYism.

    Any bit of simple research using Google Maps shows that the proposed road goes near along the edge of already developed or partially developed land. Existing roads already cut through the middle of this green space and any new roads will not encroach on the most heavily wooded areas.

    The existence of affordable housing within walking distance to one of the economic hubs of the area seems like a huge social benefit to me – explain to me how these benefits are outweighed by minor development of public land that overwhelming preserves (and will likely activate) a huge part of said land that is currently only utilized by the few people with the means to access it?

  7. Jim H. says:

    There is no mention in the entire plan about “affordable housing”. In fact, the plan mentions the high value of the property
    proposed for development. I think only high cost housing would be built which already is being built all over Tosa. Leave the land alone.

  8. mbradleyc says:

    That map looks optimum to me. Lots of green space being preserved, still capitalizing on the tremendous economic and scientific value to the entire state.

    This looks great!

  9. blurondo says:

    Not very long ago the trolley did run to it. The route 10 street car ran from downtown Milwaukee to the village of Wauwatosa.
    Mass transit had an entirely different status in Milwaukee then. But along came the oil barons and the car makers who showered the federal, state and local politicians with their largess and managed to change the landscape forever.

  10. Stewart says:

    All that green space that would be “preserved” is detention basins and golf course.

  11. Bob Dries says:

    To MKEO’s point’s about road development, go visit the actual site and see the new proposed road cutting through undeveloped wood land from just north of Bright Horizons over to Harwood Place. That is just the start. Consider the influx of traffic and parking issues, the likely transient “neighborhood” development related to the assumption of the medical complex workers,medical residents, people doing fellowships, consultants, or other reasons that lead to stays of 3 years or so before they move on eksewhere. This is not an ideal Wauwatosa community neighborhood but instead a long term Residence Inn. We do not need more density or apartments in addition to everything else that has been built up over the last few years.

  12. Ryan N says:

    The streetcar would be something that would add a great benefit running to Tosa. Especially since the streetcar chosen can run over 40+ mph. Sadly it’s a pipe dream, can’t have regional public transit authorities since that threatens some for some reason.

  13. K8 says:

    Most of the “green Space” protected are in the forms of a golf course, football field, swimming pool and retention ponds for MMSD. The true green space that houses tree frog, long eared owls, flying squirrels and remnants of historical past is what is being threatened. All because the trees can’t pay taxes or vote. This is area is part of what makes Wauwatosa the great place it is, and honestly once its gone there’s nothing tho separate this city from any other.
    When will we learn and act?

  14. Dave says:

    How about a new mayor and possibly aldermen? Find some who care about all that resides in the community, not just those that pay taxes.

  15. M says:

    The wisdom of Wisconsin “favorite sons” John Muir and Aldo Leopold are currently falling on deaf ears. This is a perfect example. Some only want to preserve stands of trees–and not the whole ecosystem that supports a wide array of wildlife. Talk about “silo” thinking. By that narrow view, nature’s only purpose is to “serve” human desires, like a shaded place to walk.

    And I understand that all those nonprofit medical facilities, which depend on very expensive infrastructure, are not charged any “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTS). So that adds to the pressure on the residential and commercial tax bases. Another way of not viewing the city as an ecosystem.

  16. Milwaukee Native says:

    An op-ed in JS explains how UWM’s “Innovation Campus” at the County Grounds is on life support. The new Master Plan just doubles down on excessive new road building–including through a 60-acre thriving nature preserve on the former Asylum Grounds. County officials are now talking about conserving only 30-35 acres, which will be ecological folly.


  17. Virginia says:

    All I can say is that if I can find any businesses that support this plan I will be sure to boycott them any way I can! I will inform all friends, family members to take their business out of Tosa! For all you government people that I may have voted for that support this plan, I want my vote back!

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