Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Company’s Move to City Gets First Approval

Western Building Products plans to bring 200 jobs to city's far northwest side.

By - Jun 11th, 2019 12:18 pm
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Western Building Products Site Plan. Image from Biohn Building Corporation.

Western Building Products Site Plan. Image from Biohn Building Corporation.

A proposal by millwork distributor Western Building Products to relocate to the city from Wauwatosa received its first approval Monday afternoon from the City Plan Commission.

The company is seeking to have the 31-acre site at 7007 N. 115h St., known as Joy Farms, rezoned to allow a 325,000-square-foot building to be constructed. The company, which is landlocked on W. Glenview Pl. in Wauwatosa, would relocate its entire 200 employee operation to the new northwest side facility.

City officials have been working with the company since October 2018. “This is a unique proposal in that there aren’t utilities serving the site,” Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee assistant executive director David Misky told the Plan Commission. As part of the proposal the company would pay to install sewer service on 14 nearby homes that currently rely on septic systems or holding tanks.

The largely undeveloped site, currently used as storage by We Energies, is located immediately south of W. Good Hope Rd., east of the Menomonee River and west of Interstate 43 and the Metro Auto Mall. “It’s a good mix of residential and business,” said Western’s recovery operations manager Bill Zacher. “It’s a mixed-use area and has been for some time now.”

Zacher said the site was well-suited for the employee-owned company because of its proximity to the company’s existing location and employee residences, easy freeway access and setback from nearby residences.

“We sell about 1,000 doors a day,” said Zacher. To support the company’s operations up to 26 trucks a day would come and go from a facility with capacity for up to 42 loading docks.

“The property calls out for development,” said Charles Stevens, who called Western Building Products “the perfect buyer.” The Stevens family owns the site, with Charles’ 92-year-old father living in a small house on the site.

“When we first talked about selling it we talked about retail, and none of the neighbors wanted that,” said Stevens, who noted the city and then Alderman Jim Bohl also objected.

“Without this perfect deal, it’s not possible there will be an arrangement that involves water and sewer,’ said Stevens. Surrounding the site are approximately 20 homes without water and sewer service.

Neighborhood Objections

Despite the free sewer hookups, many area residents aren’t happy with the proposal. A lengthy hearing had over 10 neighbors object to various facets of the proposal.

One neighbor contended the company would drain its wastewater directly into the river, which both city officials and company representatives said was untrue. “The environmental corridor along the river will remain mostly undisturbed,” said Zacher.

Another nearby resident contended that the building would be visible from his home to the south along W. Green Tree Rd. Zacher said a driving survey didn’t reveal that, but the company would add a berm to address the concern.

That same resident won’t be getting a sewer though. Zacher said a 45-foot change in elevation makes it infeasible to install sewer service for homes along W. Green Tree Rd.

Neighbors that would get sewer service are also concerned about how it would work, with septic systems in the rear of the properties and sewer service needing to come from the front.

A Department of Public Works representative said a sewer main would be laid down the middle of the affected streets and a private contractor hired by Western would plan each connection individually. That work, estimated to cost more than $300,000 by Zacher, may include a trench through affected basement floors to reverse the sewer or a pipe wrapping the house.

The proposal does have the support of Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, who read a letter into the record supporting the project.

Financing Package

A separate financing package will also soon begin a multi-step approval process. The city would create a $2.5 million tax-incremental financing district to support sewer and water main work related to the development. The district would be developer financed, placing the risk on the developer. Under the deal the funds would be returned to the developer only after incremental property tax revenue is generated by Western Building Product’s development.

The financing package will be first heard by the board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee on June 20th.

Why leave Wauwatosa? “We just don’t have the room in our current facility to do some of the things we would like to do,” said Zacher. That includes not only expansion, but storing a number of waste streams and rejected millwork items indoors. Zacher said Wauwatosa offered the company a site on a former landfill for free, but the project wasn’t financially feasible.

The proposed building would be designed and built by Briohn Building Corporation.

The zoning proposal and financing package both will need approval from the Common Council.

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