It’s Bay View vs. City Hall!
So says Ald. Zielinski, as he seeks supporters for a Bay View Park.
A proposal for new parkland in Bay View is turning into a battle as the area’s alderman enlists residents and a county supervisor to fight for a land rezoning that was denied in August by the City Plan Commission.
At a public meeting Wednesday night, nearly everyone in a crowd of Bay View residents supported Ald. Tony Zielinski’s resolution to rezone a vacant parcel for parkland.
The land in question is a city-owned, six-acre parcel in northern Bay View bounded by E. Lincoln Ave. to the north, E. Bay St.t to the East, E. Conway Ave. to the south, and S. Logan Ave. to the west. It was rejected by the City Plan Commission because it would involve changing the local comprehensive plan and there was not sufficient public input on the rezoning at the time of the plan commission hearing.
The land is also just across the street from a current park with about the same acreage, the Beulah Brinton Playfields.
But a show of hands at the public meeting had only two votes in favor of maintaining the current zoning with dozens in favor of changing it to parkland, so that two parks would be located next to each other.
Zielinski has also added a notably ally: Marina Dimitrijevic, who serves as county supervisor for the area and executive director of the Wisconsin Working Families Party. Dimitrijevic has contacted the Milwaukee County Parks department about the land, and said she would like to see a partnership between the city and the county to make the land a park.
But Zielinski warned park supporters they faced an uphill task: “If the city gets a very attractive proposal for housing then we’re gonna be stuck. We got a tough fight on our hands.”
The land was previously home to an Army Reserve barracks. In 2009, residents at a public meeting expressed displeasure with a proposal for a low-income senior living facility at the site, according to a story by the Daily Reporter. They admonished the city to pursue something that would generate more tax revenue
But now nearby residents want it to be parkland because they already use it like it’s a park. Yet many comments at the meeting were about broader, familiar Bay View concerns about disappearing green space, development and parking. In fact, some attendees at the meeting booed Zielinski for supporting Kinnickinnic Ave. developments.
Zielinski said turning this parcel into parkland falls in line with his governing philosophy for Bay View, “to preserve green space and the integrity of the residential areas,” and direct development to Kinnickinnic Avenue. He argued that recent large developments have given him the necessary clout at City Hall to fight for this parkland.
“You notice this was right on the heels of the Hamburger Mary’s development,” he said, referring to a large mixed-use development planned for the former Hamburger Mary’s location.
The Department of City Development does not support a rezoning effort for a number of reasons. The site is zoned for single family and duplex style development. And it’s still an attractive site for potential development, said Sam Leichtling, a long range planner for DCD.
“I don’t know if I ever thought I’d find myself in front of a crowd, advocating against the preservation of parks,” Leichtling said. Planners usually favor more green space, he said, but added that it is important to consider the context of this land.
State law requires that changes in zoning be consistent with the comprehensive plan, so changing the zoning would mean also changing the comprehensive plan, Leichtling said.
It’s rare the for city to develop parks; that is typically handled by the county. And Bay View leads city neighborhoods in access to parkland. So, with limited resources, both city and county officials would be more likely to direct them to underserved areas.
“We’re all challenged right now, across all levels of government for funding for parks,” Leichtling said.
In the south east side comprehensive plan, the site in question is also discussed as a potential location for a passenger station for the shuttered Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail extension.
At the plan commission meeting, Leichtling said, “That plan has kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit, but there’s been discussions recently now with Foxconn and everything that’s happening. It’s looking maybe more feasible in the last month or so, than it has in the last few years.”
Asked about those discussions, DCD spokesperson Jeff Fleming wrote in an email, “At this point, it would be premature for us to speculate about KRM. The City has had some productive discussions about connecting Milwaukee workers to future job opportunities – but we don’t have specifics to share.” He declined to provide more details.
There is currently no proposal for developing the land. The last time proposals were submitted was in 2008, directly after the comprehensive plan which called for the site to be developed was completed. And the current zoning for the land, RT4, does not prohibit park use. Across the street, Beulah Brinton Playfields is zoned RT4.
But some attendees said they don’t trust the city not to put a huge development on the land. “Absolutely don’t trust it,” Vera Pawlak said of the city. “Because what they’re gonna do is rezone it and they’re gonna put what they want in there. It happens all the time.”
Pawlak came to the meeting Wednesday with home-made signs that read “Developers Go Home!” Another of her signs said “Overdevelopment” leads to higher crime rates and traffic deaths, like on “the East Side.”
The East Side was used as a code word by several residents during the meeting as something they don’t want Bay View to become. Others expressed fears Bay View will turn into a neighborhood like Brady Street on the city’s Lower East Side.
Pawlak, and another attendee, Doug Mintline, said they thought development of this land would drive families out of the neighborhood and cause the fabric of the community to deteriorate.
Several residents asked Zielinski how they could become more involved and pledged to do whatever they could to rezone the land. The alderman framed it as a fight between Bay View and City Hall: “The people in the hierarchy, the mayor, the commissioner of city development, they want to expand the tax base,” he said, adding that this was his opinion. “They want to expand the tax base as much as they can.”
Dimitrievic called the area “a hot spot; it’s where development wants to be.” She added, that, “I’ve heard from people, and Ald. Zielinski knows this, that it’s getting really expensive to live in Bay View right now.”
Dimitrijevic also criticized planners defaulting to the comprehensive plan, saying that Bay View has changed since it was created in 2008.
One of the lone supporters of maintaining that zoning was Nate Reik. He said, “Everybody is talking about family, family life, family living here, and I’m like, well, if we had more single family and two family housing to me that seems like the easy win.”
He argued that the rising rents and cost of living in Bay View, which has Marina Dimitrijevic calling for less development, is precisely why more single family homes and duplexes are needed. “To me that says there’s a demand for more housing.”
To those who criticized Zielinski for supporting developments on Kinnickinnic, he said that was all done so he could generate “momentum” at City Hall to shield the residential areas from development.
He cited the former Hamburger Mary’s site as a key example. Zielinski said the owner of the property originally wanted a fast food restaurant. “I told the owner I’m not gonna support a food dealers license for a fast food restaurant,” he said.
“I want a mixed use development on that location,” he said. “Because I want to show what we’re doing to add to the tax base so I can defend and protect our residential areas.”