Committee Approves East Side Tower
Real test will come at the Common Council next week.
A city committee has given a thumbs up to a zoning change for a 192-unit, 27-story apartment tower for N. Prospect Ave. They also rejected a proposal by area alderman and project opponent Robert Bauman to place funds into escrow. But the project’s real test will come next week before the full Common Council, when a three-fourth’s super majority of the Common Council will be required to approve the plan.
Similar to a hearing held last month before the City Plan Commission, the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee heard extensive testimony from area residents. Also, similar to the City Plan Commission, a substantial amount of opposition came from residents of the adjacent 1522 on the Lake condominium tower. But unlike past hearings, they were joined by a number of other nearby residents and businesses, including a representative Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.
The whole process might sound eerily familiar because the Common Council went through it last year and ultimately rejected the zoning change necessary for the project. That came after substantial opposition to the project by Bauman and an unusual lobbyist on the matter, Milwaukee Fire Fighters Association president Dave Seager. Seager later changed sides on the matter, as noted in a column by my colleague Bruce Murphy in his recent column “The City’s Most Curious Lobbyist.”
Since last year the $55 million building has been slightly revised, including a more articulated bluff facade for the building and a divided driveway for vehicle access. The project now includes 212 parking spaces.
Houden has noted that CD Smith would serve as the project’s general contractor. The proposal last year received opposition from some council members because it would have used another general contractor that wouldn’t have used union labor.
The project would still involve moving the historic Goll Mansion forward. That move, or actually moves, has already been approved by the Historic Preservation Commission. The house would first be moved backward, to allow the construction of a new foundation and then moved forward onto a new foundation.
Bauman 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 Johnson, Jose G. Perez, Mark 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.
Both Coggs and Stamper indicated that they won’t make their final decisions until the council meeting and abstained from today’s vote. The measure passed on a 3-0-2 vote with committee members Nik Kovac, Jim Bohl and Khalif Rainey voting for the zoning change.
The project will come before the full Common Council next Tuesday.
1550 Prior Renderings
Goll House – Interior
Goll House – Exterior
Escrow and RPP at Issue
The developer is also proposing to voluntarily to allocate 20 percent of the project’s work hours to participants in the city’s Residents Preference Program designed to employ un- or under-employed city residents and 20 percent of the project’s work to certified Small Business Enterprises.
Bauman characterized the offer as “dangling the baubles” and “highly insulting.” He proposed the developer put $3.5 million into escrow to ensure compliance. The office of City Attorney Grant Langley has responded that the usage of escrow in this case would be invalid. Bauman challenged the committee to approve the measures anyway.
Bauman’s escrow measures were not voted on, but will likely be so at full council next week when Bauman himself can introduce them.
Council president Ashanti Hamilton spoke in favor of the agreement without escrow, noting that it was Barrett Lo Visionary Development’s voluntary compliance on building The Moderne that helped advance the two programs. Hamilton noted that approving this deal would create an “atmosphere” where developers would regularly comply without being legally required to.
Having previously approved a substantially similar project last year, much of the debate centered around the RPP and SBE programs and compliance efforts. A number of projects have recently fallen short of reaching a 40 percent RPP, 20 percent requirement that is required for any project receiving over $1 million in city support. The city has since amended its policy to withhold funding for failing to comply.
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.
Responding to a question by Kovac, Houden noted that they’ve invested in stabilizing the condition of the home and have eliminated the need for the drip buckets that were throughout the house to catch water.
Should the deal fail to gain approval at the full Common Council, another solution may have emerged. Bauman, going off information provided to him by other council members and city staffers, stated the developer was telling council members that they would build a smaller building if they didn’t have to pay to restore the Goll Mansion. Bauman noted he is challenging the developer on that, noting that the city should create a tax-incremental financing district to support the $1.6 million rehab and relocation of the mansion and in exchange approve a smaller building.
Ald. Coggs asked Houden about the matter, to which he originally answered “it’s economically not feasible.” Coggs asked about the TIF support, to which Houden then answered “I don’t know.”
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