Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Council Grabs More Design Oversight

Bauman reaches compromise with Marcoux. Council gets some say on new overlay zones.

By - Jun 19th, 2019 12:59 pm
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Bob Bauman and Rocky Marcoux.

Bob Bauman and Rocky Marcoux.

The Milwaukee Common Council has asserted more control over development proposals as part of an ordinance unanimously approved Tuesday morning.

The council, in particular Alderman Robert Bauman, found itself at odds with the Department of City Development and real estate community over the role of the City Plan Commission. DCD and Bauman have now compromised. The council will get final say going forward.

Under ordinances establishing the city’s Development Incentive Zone, Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Zone, Master Sign Overlay Zone and Site Plan Overlay Zone districts, projects within the zone boundaries must go to the City Plan Commission and the commission’s decision is final. The commission has made 39 such decisions since 2013.

The overlay zones, of which there are 43 in the city, are commonly used to establish additional design standards for things such as the various segments of the Milwaukee RiverWalk. The city’s 15 incentive zones are used to mandate enhanced design standards or additional uses within a district, such as Midtown Center or The Brewery.

Bauman had originally introduced a proposal to give the council final say over every existing district, which resulted in a contentious March committee meeting. He characterized the change as introducing consistency in the process, noting that these were the only decisions that ended at the commission.

But administration officials strongly opposed the change. They were joined in testifying against the initial proposal by Linda Gorens-Levey of General Capital Group, developer Peter MoedeTracy Johnson of CARW, Jim Villa of NAIOP Wisconsin, real estate attorney Bruce Block and developer Kalan Haywood.

“Development incentive zones, the incentive is timing,” said DCD planning manager Vanessa Koster. She said Bauman’s proposed change would turn a three-week process into a two or three month process. “There is a reason it has worked well for 20 years,” said DCD Commissioner Rocky Marcoux. “That’s because the Common Council has put together overlay districts with what it wants to see.”

The proposal was held in March, with Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs foreshadowing the eventual compromise. “I think some parameters around the timing are going to have to be included in that legislation,” said the alderwoman.

And with barely any debate, that’s what the council approved. Any new incentive zone or overlay district will be subject to final design approval of the Common Council via an appeal process. Any individual can file an appeal, even in the case of an approval being granted by the commission. Existing districts remain unchanged.

Koster was the only DCD representative to speak on the matter. In a brief statement, she said the department supports the change.

Alderwoman Coggs abstained from the vote without explanation at committee, but voted for it when it was before the full council.

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Related Legislation: File 181429

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