Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Wilson Park Garden Project Delayed

Parks still hasn't inked agreement after two months. Supervisors tell department to move quicker.

By - Apr 2nd, 2021 03:10 pm
Classic Car Garden rendering.

Classic Car Garden rendering.

In January a south-side community organization went before the Milwaukee County Board with a plan to construct a garden on a piece of empty land in Wilson Park. It’s three months later and Milwaukee County Parks still hasn’t drawn up a land use agreement for the project.

The land, just east of S. 27th Street, is at the intersection of W. Howard Avenue and W. Van Beck Avenue. It makes up the north lawn of the Wilson Park Senior Center, and other than some trees and shrubbery it’s empty.

The 27th Street Business Improvement District (BID) proposed building a “Classic Car Garden” on the 2.3 acre lot, activating it with paths, plantings, benches, picnic areas and even a planted labyrinth.

It would be called the “Classic Car Garden” because the organization plans to use the shells of classic cars and trucks to create some of the planters, benches and features in the garden. 

The business improvement district would pay for the work to build-out and landscape the new garden as well as upkeep. Executive Director Tara Cavazos said the organization believes that installing the garden will “generate some activity and experience” in a corner of the park that is often empty.

All the district needs is an agreement inked between itself and the county allowing it to commence work on the garden. But it’s been two months since the project was proposed, and the business district still doesn’t even know what kind of agreement to pursue with the parks department.

When the proposal went before the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee in January, the parks department said the project required drawing up a lease agreement between the parks and the business district.

Jeremy Lucas, director of administration and planning for parks, said the department doesn’t want the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) proposed by the district, because an MOU doesn’t provide enough contractual assurance. Parks wants a lease agreement, and that could take months to negotiate, Lucas said.

Dave Farwell, assistant corporation counsel for Milwaukee County, disagreed with the parks department, saying that an MOU or a general contract could spell out any legal obligations the department needs. In fact, Farwell said, a lease would grant the BID tenants rights, and counseled against it.

Supervisor Jason Haas, who represents the area, said he hoped parks and the business district could have an agreement hammered out by the March cycle — whether it was an MOU or a lease — as the organization hoped to break ground on the project this spring.

The response from the parks department to the project proposal led to consternation on the part of Haas and committee Chair Sup. Sheldon Wasserman, who said the BID was seeking a “sincere partnership” that was being “burdened with, until very recently, unforeseen administrative requirements.”

Nearly two months later, on Thursday March 25th, Cavazos told Urban Milwaukee that her organization still had not heard from parks whether the agreement would be an MOU or a lease.

The department wanted an environmental assessment of the site to be completed before it would negotiate an agreement with the organization. The results of this assessment will inform the type of agreement the department will pursue with the BID, according to a February 19th report written by Lucas.

At a March 16th meeting of the board’s parks committee, Lucas said the environmental assessment was completed and parks staff was working through “due diligence” and “next steps” for the project.

At that meeting Haas called the BID an “excellent partner” that has worked with other county agencies on projects in the past. Most recently, a bus shelter project with MCTS. “An MOU for a project of this scope should not be a great time commitment,” he said. “I would appreciate it if staff could elucidate why this supervisors sponsored resolution has been difficult to proceed on.”

Director Guy Smith said he was pleased the environmental assessment was done, and that he was confident an agreement was forthcoming.

While the MCTs project was less involved, Haas said the BID and the transit system managed to hammer out an agreement in a single day, whereas it has been two months and Cavazos still doesn’t know what the parks agreement will look like.

Cavazos told the committee that she has looked at some of the land-use agreements parks has inked in the past and said, “I feel that ours could be a much simpler and accelerated agreement,” given that there are no structures being built, no deep digging occurring and there isn’t even a building on the property.

Wasserman told the organizations that if they have an agreement ready for the next month’s board cycle the committee will be “ready to go.”

However, there was no agreement in place before the board’s submission deadline for the board’s next meeting cycle. So, best case scenario, the agreement will be ready in May.

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Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

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