Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

New Homes Planned for East Side

Sticky details delay developer's plan for three homes near Columbia St. Mary's.

By - Jul 18th, 2018 10:09 am
The proposed development site. Left image from Google Maps. Right image by Jeramey Jannene.

The proposed development site. Left image from Google Maps. Right image by Jeramey Jannene.

Opposition from neighbors of Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital caused a seemingly simple real estate transaction to build three single-family homes to be put on hold yesterday.

Developers Tim Gokhman and Ann Shuk are attempting to purchase an empty lot along the 2300 block of N. Terrace Ave. and subdivide it for the creation of three single-family homes. A proposed rezoning was before the City Plan Commission, where Gokhman and attorney Bruce Block unsuccessfully attempted to secure approval of the necessary rezoning to facilitate the development.

“This is pretty much ready to go,” Block told the commission. Gokhman and Shuk will purchase the land from hospital operator Ascension and create three lots, one for each of their families and a third that they will sell. “It’s pretty straightforward,” said Block, describing how the 2005 zoning district created for the redevelopment of the hospital envisioned this exact transaction happening in the future.

The site, located just north of E. North Ave., is immediately east of the hospital parking garage along N. Lake Dr. and north of the Cancer Center & Water Tower Medical Commons Building at 2350 N. Lake Dr. The site today is a fenced-in grass lot.

What’s unclear, and what quickly became a flashpoint for debate, was whether the new homes should be subject to standards imposed by the city-designated North Point Historic District that runs from E. Lafayette Pl. north to E. Kenwood Blvd. The development site is excluded from the district today, although the homes to the north and east of it are included. There is an application pending before the Historic Preservation Commission to expand the district to include the site.

While the city’s zoning code governs the size of the future houses, putting the site in a historic district would change city oversight from ensuring the future homes comply with the building code and pre-defined size and setback rules to granting broad oversight on design of the entirely new homes to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission staff. Area Alderman Nik Kovac told the commission, which was charged with reviewing just the zoning change, that historic districts add to the value of homes within them.

Gokhman’s remarks before the commission indicate he doesn’t think complying with the historic standards will be an issue, but it could still add significantly to the cost of his future home. “We reviewed the guidelines to make sure we were consistent with them, and we are,” said Gokhman, who also said that some materials they intend to use would have to be altered to comply with the district’s standards. Gokhman doesn’t want the delay associated with waiting for the designation though, noting that the permits for his and Shuk’s houses are intended to be pulled in 45 days.

Neighbors aren’t pleased with that timeline, citing a notice they received on July 3rd. “All we are asking is that the vote on this item be delayed,” said area resident Donna Neal. Seven area residents testified against the change, and although none of them said they object to the development of the site, nearly all of them cited a late notice on the zoning change. Kovac, in his testimony at the hearing, said “I will take some of the blame for the notice.” Kovac typically holds a neighborhood meeting regarding zoning changes in his district before any public hearings. A letter from Historic Water Tower Neighborhood Association president Gina Spang also requested the matter be held.

Commissioner Whitney Gould asked why no one nominated the site for inclusion in the historic district in 2005 when the hospital zoning package was approved. No one had a straightforward answer. “I think it has a been a misunderstanding,” said long-time area resident Barbara Elsner. She said her understanding was that any future development on the site would be subject to the district’s design standards.

Kovac told the commission, “I am supportive of this zoning moving forward eventually,” but added, “I would not want this to go through in the month of July.” He acknowledged the scheduled Common Council recess in August could prove tricky, but said: “I don’t want this delay to be any longer than it needs to be.”

Block, one of the city’s top real estate attorneys, attempted to save his clients some time by asking that the measure be advanced by the commission and then held at the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee, where it would already be subjected to another public hearing. Kovac disagreed with that plan and asked the commission to hold the matter.

Commissioner Stephanie Bloomingdale moved to hold the matter, telling Gokhman: “We have a certain responsibility to hear the neighbors and hear all parts. This would buy some goodwill with your future neighbors anyway.” The move to hold was approved on a four-to-one vote, with Joaquin Altoro voting against the hold.

New Land

Tim Gokhman and Ann Shuk are no strangers to the many layers and meetings that can be required for a zoning change. The two work at New Land Enterprises, a firm started by their fathers Boris Gokhman and Vladimir Shuk.

Both of their families lived in the City Green condominiums (1111 N. Marshall St.), a New Land project, before Gokhman moved to a house he built on N. Commerce St. Now with children approaching school age, they’re looking to become neighbors again.

Gokhman says they approached Ascension about selling the site after driving around in an attempt to find a place to build near Milwaukee Public Schools‘ Maryland Avenue Montessori School. The two, who are each married, have similarly-aged children.

Site Photos

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5 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: New Homes Planned for East Side”

  1. michael says:

    There should be a statute of limitations on zoning maps so that if a lot is vacant for decades (as this one has been) it reverts to being available for near unrestricted uses and allows a developer to go in and build as of right.

  2. Jeff says:

    This is a highly visible site within one of the city’s most desirable historic districts. Any development that doesn’t blend with the neighboring homes will diminish the area. The city is well advised to take its time with this.

  3. tom says:

    I agree with Jeff. This development should conform with design standards for the area.

  4. ddvmke says:

    I agree with Michael, but am slightly biased against trying to freeze neighborhoods in time in general and feel they should be fluid in adapting to the changes in a city, whether that be a growing population or changing tastes. I think the residents opposed to this will feel like they’ve won if the district boundary is adjusted and the additional requirements stand, until these things get built and the faux-Victorian/Georgian design of the houses is in front of them as a mocking example to their own houses’ history.

    I remember experiencing similar opposition in neighborhoods in Denver where seemingly everyone felt their entire neighborhood warranted historic preservation so they could limit development and drive up their own property values instead of doing what’s best for the city. Imagine trying to create a North or Downer Ave. commercial strip these days in this area with all of the legal and neighbor preference challenges. Not to even mention the fact that three houses are going where at least six very large houses could easily fit.

  5. K-anon says:

    I’m in support of Alderman Kovac on this issue. I support development of the site into three homes, but I think the historic district should encompass this land, if it’s going to be developed into single family homes. The new homes should be subject to the historic district standards. I live in this neighborhood, and having three modern housed plopped down on that land would not match the look and feel of the neighborhood.

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