Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Commission Approves 27-Story Tower

Madison developer revives 27-story proposal on Prospect next to Goll House.

By - Aug 14th, 2017 06:55 pm
1550 N. Prospect Ave. Rendering. Rendering by Kahler Slater

1550 N. Prospect Ave. Rendering by Kahler Slater

A proposal for a 27-story, 192-unit apartment building at 1550 N. Prospect Ave. is back, and so are the opponents of the project. Opposition to the project proposed by developer Chris Houden and his firm DCH Properties comes primarily from residents of the nearby 1522 on the Lake condominium tower. As part of developing the tower, Houden would also relocate and restore the historic Goll House closer to N. Prospect Ave.

Restarting the approval process for the second time in as many years, Houden and Kahler Slater principal Thomas Miller presented the project to the City Plan Commission Monday afternoon. They’ve made slight adjustments to the proposed tower, most of which are more policy related than actual design changes to the building. Clearly designed to curry favor with the council, the developer is now proposing to utilize union labor and is pledging to voluntary comply with city programs designed to provide jobs for un- or under-employed city residents and minority-owned firms.

In presenting the small tweaks to the project to the commission, Houden noted “we took a great project and with your feedback l made it better through improvements to vehicle access and articulation on the bluff side.” Miller noted that the project, which includes 212 parking spaces, would now include two interior parking spaces for box trucks to park, reducing the number of moving trucks and other delivery that would have to park along N. Prospect Ave. The building would also now be built without the need to drive piles, a process that is loud and disruptive to area residents.

Those modifications appear to have helped assuage any concerns of the City Plan Commission. The commissioners voted four to one to recommend approval of the project. The commission, which is an advisory body, had previously deadlocked on a 2 to 2 vote on the project when it considered the proposal in 2016. Commissioners Whitney Gould, Patricia Najera, Joaquin Altoro and Stephanie Bloomingdale voted for the project, with only J. Allen Stokes in opposition.

The project will next go before the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee in September before going before the full council.

The project, estimated to cost $55 million, requires a zoning change because it roughly doubles the allowable building size for the site.

The proposal failed before the Common Council in July 2016 on a 10 to 5 vote. Because of a certified petition submitted to the City Clerk by nearby property owners, the proposed zoning change for the site required a 12-vote super majority. That super majority is likely to be required again, as nearby residents of 1522 on the Lake are organized in their opposition and likely to submit a petition again.

At least one resident of 1522 on the Lake thinks the project, even if the council approves it, will take years to move forward. Attorney David Bourne, who resides in the adjacent 1522 tower, stated “[the project] simply starts litigation, it’s not a threat, it’s a statement of virtual certainty.” Bourne noted that potential lawsuits could involve a number of issues, including potential damage to the foundation of 1522 and other area buildings.

Bourne isn’t the only high-powered attorney in the building, Patrick Dunphy of local firm Cannon & Dunphy also resides in the building and has previously led opposition to development proposals for the site.

Joining Bourne in testifying at the public hearing were 11 other community members. More than two-thirds of them testified in opposition. Nearly all of those testifying in opposition self-identified as residents of the 1522 tower, with all of those testifying in favor having some stake in the project’s construction.

Revised Renderings

Area Alderman Strongly Opposed

Before any lawsuits around the project can start, the council will have to approve the project. The alderman that represents the site is continuing to be steadfastly opposed to the project.

Alderman Robert Bauman, who has previously opposed the project, reinforced that position at today’s meeting. The alderman, wearing a “Protect Prospect” sticker distributed by project opponents, noted that the only design change he can see is that the project has been moved 10 feet further from the bluff.

Bauman also noted that the developer is currently not proposing any method that would legally require them to meet the resident and minority contracting hiring standards. This has been an issue for the city even for projects that are legally required to do this because of city financial assistance. For more on that, see a recent column by my colleague Graham Kilmer.

But the bulk of Bauman’s opposition to the project stemmed from his determination that it doesn’t comply with the Northeast Side Comprehensive Area Plan. The plan, approved in 2009, includes guidelines for future development in the area based on feedback compiled from area stakeholders and city officials.

Bauman cited a number of provisions in the plan he doesn’t believe the proposed tower complies with, contradicting an earlier presentation from Department of City Development planning manager Vanessa Koster that outlined how it does. The alderman noted “there was concern expressed with exactly this type of project coming along.”

Referencing items the developer used as reasons to approve the plan, Bauman said: “I don’t see the word tax base under the criteria for amending the zoning code;” in short, the increased tax base from the development doesn’t justify a zoning exception. He noted the same with the construction jobs to be created and compliance with the city’s residents preference (hiring) program, arguing neither are reasons for an exception to be made.

Bauman added that he believes “you will see significant double parking occurring on Prospect.” This contradicted a statement by Koster earlier in the meeting that the Department of Public Works is not requesting a traffic study for the project on the basis that the configuration and amount of parking proposed is “acceptable.”

Bauman isn’t opposed to all aspects of the project, noting “I think the architecture here is pretty decent.” He noted other sites in the heart of Downtown that he thinks would be good sites for the project — none, however, along the lake.

The alderman will need to find at least three other allies to prevent the zoning change from going through. Voting against the project with Bauman last year were aldermen Cavalier JohnsonJose G. PerezMark Borkowski and Tony Zielinski.

Borkowski, however, moved to change his vote in November 2016, which still wasn’t enough to gain approval for the project. Borkowski and Johnson voted for the change on the second vote, but alderwoman Milele A. Coggs abstained and Russell W. Stamper, II switched to voting against the change. It again failed on a 10-4 vote.

Houden Invested

Developer Chris Houden isn’t likely to back away from developing the site. Even after being denied the zoning variance last year, he went ahead and acquired the site and mansion from an affiliate of Dominion Properties for $1.6 million in October 2016.

1550 Prior Renderings

Goll House – Interior

Goll House – Exterior

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26 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Commission Approves 27-Story Tower”

  1. Tim says:

    This looks like a great project. I can understand the next door neighbors are concerned but it’s Prospect Ave. Their own building wouldn’t be there except the area allows high rises. Construction next door is inconvenient but it’ll be short.

    Welcome new neighbors!

  2. Danny says:

    People living in a dense urban area and/or in a downtown need to realize that development and density is a positive thing for the city, it’s tax base and it’s growth. So, because several rich people are going to lose some views we home up city development?! You want privacy move to River Hills and sit on 5 acres! It’s absurd and the Bauman neeeds to exit the scene! He’s a terrible representative for a growing urban core! Need fresh new leadership not afraid to stand up for the better of Milwaukee.

  3. Danny says:

    Oye for the spelling above! I wasn’t paying attention…. oops!

  4. Tee says:

    Danny, opponents noted that their views aren’t affected by the project, but that the project is more than three times the density allowed in the densest high-density zoning.

    No one objected based on “privacy,” either, but these are good straw-man arguments — easy to knock down — when you don’t want to bother with the actual objections. The comprehensive plan, which this project is said to violate, is designed “for the better of Milwaukee,” as you put it. The city followed it in regard to the other tall buildings along Prospect.

  5. Donna Weiss says:

    I worked on an earlier iteration on this site with a different developer. I am amazed that there is no stronger opposition to “moving” the Goll mansion forward on the site. This is not a small undertaking. The Goll Mansion is in fantastic condition currently, moving the building presents huge risks to this City of Milwaukee Landmark. A prior design presented itself with a coach house entry to the apartment tower and parking structure with the main tower behind. That approach made much more sense given the prominence Landmarked buildings should have in our City.

  6. Tee says:

    There is huge opposition to moving the mansion. It is not in fantastic condition currently, by most reasonable standards; take a look at it. It’s fragile and has not been well cared for in the past year or so. Houden plans to move it not once, but twice — once farther back and across the property, then past where it is now and up nearly to the sidewalk. The out-of-town developer threatened again, only Monday, that his moving it twice was “the last chance” to save the Goll Mansion.

    Opposition to these TWO moves been stated in many letters and in testimony. Oddly, the Historic Preservation Commission is not among those speaking up on the house’s behalf. I agree, Donna: the previous (non-Houden) idea was much safer for the house.

    It’s likely the mansion will be destroyed by moving it twice; a happy accident for any developer.

  7. Mike says:

    It is not clear from the article… Has the building been moved back to be in alignment with all of the other buildings (excluding the far setback 1522) on Prospect? It seems like a no brainer that new buildings shouldn’t extend east past existing buildings along the bluff.

  8. Tee says:

    Holden’s apartment project extends substantially beyond all the other tall buildings along the bluff. The proposed heavy-density building begins close to wear the neighbors end. I.e., its western edge is near the others’ eastern edge.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    @Tee I’m pretty sure the difference is something like 20 feet (it was around 30 feet but the building design changed slightly and moved 10 feet away from the bluff in this design) now when compared to other tall buildings along the bluff. You can see this in the rendering gallery below (which is actually prior to it moving 10 feet further from the bluff).

  10. Tee says:

    A rendering architect Thomas Miller presented at the hearing showed the new building substantially beyond 1522. He suggested it was along the same line as the others, which was true if you counted the others’ low-level parking or terraces instead of their buildings. He also showed a slide that showed a restaurant going into the Goll Mansion, but in his verbal presentation, said no restaurant would be there. So it might be difficult to determine which of the competing visions is what’s really intended.

  11. David says:

    Can you imagine a more powerful group of NIMBY’s than a tower full of lawyers? Good grief.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @Tee It’s true the building is further back than the tower portion of 1522, though it appears the bases are pretty close. The rest of the towers on Prospect seem to lineup fairly closely with this proposal (which can be seen in the rendering below). Can I ask, what difference does it make if it is set closer to the bluff than 1522?

  13. Old Man Yells at Cloud says:

    Although I hate to admit it, I think 1 parking stall per unit is going to be an issue. I assume at the price point these units will be there won’t be many car-less residents. I’m not super thrilled about moving a historic structure multiple times either.

    I do love the drama though! You have the 1522 building where the residents have a legal fund to prevent this sort of thing. (sounds like they would sue anyone who proposed ANY project at this site)

  14. leah says:

    @Tee, your argument would hold more water if the residents at 1522 didn’t also vehemently oppose the previous iteration of this building that was half the mass, fully restored the mansion in place and had only 50 condos of a million or more. Be careful what you wish for. The opposition to a new high rise by the residents of a new high rise is the NIMBY equivalent to a new immigrant demanding that a wall be built immediately after he gets in. Considering the saavy people who live at 1522 and their high priced lobbyist Carl Mueller, they should have known that something was eventually going to be built there. interestingly, the zoning for that smaller, more elegant building is still in place. The smart play for the people at 1522 now is to approach the former developer, invest in his already approved project and buy the site (I understand that the new developer is looking to get out anyway). That’s a win-win for everyone. The developer gets his money back for a site he doesn’t want to develop and the people at 1522 inoculate themselves from another attempt at a building that is too massive and too dense. Best of all, the city gets a better building that provides more tax base.

  15. Ryan says:

    It’s perfectly clear that “Tee” is a resident of 1522, clear beyond words. Sickening how a group of rich elite pricks can try and derail a great, dense building. From the wail they’re letting out you’d think they’re proposing this on 76th and Blumound and not the east side surrounded by other tall buildings. You can also guarantee the residents of 1522 didn’t care at all about how their building blocked the views of the ones behind them. There were also traffic studies proved traffic wouldn’t be impacted in any meaningful way, plus the entire committee shot down Bauman’s complaints (clearly bought off by Dunphy and others). Build it, tell 1522 to pound sand and move on.

  16. Ryan says:

    Tee is clearly a resident of 1522, there’s no real reason to stop this building, it’s all about the few rich people trying to control their space. Tell 1522 to pound sand, forcibly build it if needed and move on, it’s for the best.

  17. Jerad says:

    Literally no one besides residents of 1522 would oppose this. If a few pricks with law degrees stop a project of this magnitde, it’s sets an AWFUL precident.

    I still have not heard ONE single legitimate arguement opposing this projects, included all the ones that “Tee” just tried to argue. Absolutely baseless.

  18. Tim says:

    I can’t believe how petty the residents of 1522 are… they are beyond unreasonable.

    They should approve a building plan where the entire south facade is a mixture of HVAC equipment, blank walls & habitat for seagulls.

  19. Tom says:

    1522 residents should be careful what they wish for. Just look at University Club Tower and Kilbourn Tower. I’m not the biggest fan of the actual design of the building, but there is no denying this is a solid development for an area that deserves this type of density and would preserve a historic structure in the process.

  20. Charles says:

    This article is incorrect. ALL the opposition at that meeting was from 1522 residents, same as last year, except for Bauman. One has to wonder why he’s so vehemently opposed to this building in his district? Does he not want $2M+ annually of new tax revenue and several hundreds of new jobs? Dennis Klein was there in favor and has no economic interest. In fact he built the 1522 building and is in support of this development. Also although Bauman asserts this project is in violation of the City’s Comprehensive Area Plan, the Commission members disagreed with him. Patricia Najera openly stated this. That was not mentioned in the article. What also wan’t mentioned was the Commission stated they received 124 letters of support for the project. I’m not a math major, but that seems like a lot. The lens of this article is obvious.

    The developer has a support website if any of you wish to voice your support for this project.

  21. @Charles – Houden confirmed in an interview with me after the project that Klein’s firm, CD Smith, is likely to build the 1550 building. I would argue that’s significant economic interest.

    I noted that nearly all of the opposition “self-identified” as being a resident of 1522. At least one individual did not identify where they resided.

    I’m pretty sure plenty of project opponents would claim the article has the opposite “lens” that you insinuate it does. Short of providing a transcript of the lengthy hearing, it’s not possible to quote every individual who spoke.

    The project will be covered again at length when it is before the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

    Anyone wishing to read all of the letters of support and opposition can read them in the city’s file for the project

  22. Tee says:

    Hi, Dave, thank you for your civility. The difference in the location would be as to the stress on the bluff, and mostly the difference between varying presentations. An engineer for the developer indicated Monday that the bluff would be able to tolerate the strain of such a dense project; previously, they’d said they would have studies done after getting approval. So that’s a positive change.

    To some others: I am not sure what race has to do with this, but what color and economic status do you think the out-of-town developer and his minions are? If that’s pertinent, then it is a wash: You’ve got a bunch of what you declare to be rich white guys battling it out.

    But yes; “white prick” and “pound sand” are real effective arguments.

    I did not object in any form to either of the previous two (pre-Houden) proposals, so I can say without the slightest twinge that, on its own merits, for the size, not location, of this lot, I think this, specifically, is a bad project. And you know what? It’s OK for me to believe that after looking at all the details on this project, just as I did the previous two.

    I hope I am wrong, especially about the fate of the Goll House, which I fear is doomed.

    Thanks to those who are discussing the issues. On both sides — whether they will be making money on the project, or whether they will be losing money or quality of life because of it — people with strong opinions on this and everything else have strong personal interests. That’s how life is.

  23. Dave Reid says:

    @Tee I’m confused. “The difference in the location would be as to the stress on the bluff, and mostly the difference between varying presentations. An engineer for the developer indicated Monday that the bluff would be able to tolerate the strain of such a dense project…”

    I think you just addressed the concern about the bluff, i.e. engineer indicates it will work. But I don’t understand the second part?

    As far as the Goll Mansion is concerned it seems to me the longer this site isn’t redeveloped the more likely it will be demolished, not unlike the historic mansion that was demolished to build 1522 (and most of the highrises on Prospect).

  24. Cindy Belanger says:

    It would be a shame to lose the Goll Mansion, we have lost so many mansions on Prospect already.Maybe I missed it in the above article, but I don’t understand why it has to be moved twice.I know I’m in the minority here, but do we really need another high rise? People are packed in like sardines already. The new high rise doesn’t meet the zoning requirements, so zoning has to be changed. Why do we have zoning in the first place? I’m getting a little tired of the same non-descript boxes going up all over the East Side.

  25. MilwaukeeMax says:

    @Tee “whether they will be making money on the project, or whether they will be losing money or quality of life because of it”

    Clearly you’re one of the high power attorneys living in 1522. I’m sorry, but NOBODY’S quality of life will be diminished by this tower going up. Prospect is lined with high rise condo and apartment towers. I’m sure some people didn’t love it when the tower you live in was built, but that’s life in a developing, healthy city. You don’t have a monopoly on lake views and its irresponsible to try to prohibit the value of an increased tax-base for the city by blocking this tower development.
    I think that if this tower doesn’t go up because of this ridiculous NIMBYism, the residents in opposition in 1522 and others opponents nearby should have their tax rates doubled to compensate the city (the rest of us) for their short-sighted selfishness.

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