Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Lawsuit Dropped Over East Side Apartments

Neighbors sued to stop project, only to drop the suit while still raising objections.

By - Aug 30th, 2022 05:39 pm
N. Hackett Ave. Proposal. Rendering by HGA.

N. Hackett Ave. Proposal. Rendering by HGA.

A proposal to develop a new four-story, 55-unit apartment building on N. Hackett Ave. got a boost Monday. The neighbors suing over the project voluntarily withdrew their lawsuit.

“We are withdrawing the lawsuit, for now,” says the opposition group’s website. “Realizing that the lawsuit we had filed August 18th is complicating communication with the city, developers, and others, we are filing a motion with the court today to withdraw it. At least we were able to get some of our points across. Is such a big jump in zoning really necessary? Why?”

The suit had yet to actually delay the project, but it did cause the City Plan Commission to spend approximately an hour in closed session last week. The commission later recommended approval of the new building, as did the Historic Preservation Commission in July. The Common Council is to render a final decision in the coming weeks.

The multi-faceted project, from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and developer Michael DeMichele, would replace a failing 1940s addition to the 111-year-old church at 2604-2644 N. Hackett Ave., and would be financed in part by selling vacant land and a small parking lot to DeMichele so he can develop a market-rate apartment building. Parking would be accommodated underneath the apartment building and in a nearby, underutilized structure on N. Downer Ave.

Opponents of the project, many of whom live in three-story condominium buildings across the street, have raised concerns about perceived parking and traffic impacts, the building’s size, that future residents would be renters, not owners and affordability issues at the two public hearings on the project.

The opponent’s website says “we’re for development, just not this development.” It says the church should have better engaged with neighbors and developed a shorter proposal focused on homeownership, rather than renting. “We realize that we are lucky to live in a neighborhood that has enough disposable income and time to organize and file a lawsuit so we can have a voice and not be ignored. This doesn’t make us NIMBYs — NOBODY SHOULD HAVE TO SUE THE CITY TO HAVE GOOD-FAITH INPUT INTO HOW THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPS,” says the Aug. 29 statement.

The now-dropped complaint, filed by J. Nels Bjorkquist and Luke J. Chiarelli of Mawicke & Gosman, argued that the zoning change to enable the project was “arbitrary, capricious, a violation of due process, a deprivation of equal protection” and contrary to the zoning code because the area’s Common Council seat is currently vacant.

“It seems as if the rule of law has been abandoned,” said Larraine McNamara-McGraw, one of the leading opponents of the project, an attorney and a complainant in the lawsuit, at last week’s plan commission hearing. “This has been rule by fiat.”

She accused city staff of withholding information and violating the due process rights of project opponents. In filings submitted before the hearing and a prior one she’s asked to be treated as the area alderwoman, despite last serving in 1996, and incorrectly identified the addresses of multiple project supporters in an attempt to call them the “true NIMBYs” of housing development and delegitimize their support.

City planning manager Sam Leichtling said that he had received 23 emails from McNamara-McGraw between July 5 and July 19. “I have sent her 17 different responses personally. All of them very timely, all of them from me personally.”

The development team is requesting to change the site’s zoning designation from RM-3 to RM-6, which would boost the allowed unit density to enable the project. At the planning hearing, Leichtling said that the apartment building, which would provide 69 underground parking spaces, complied with the parking requirements of the lower density RM-3 designation, which requires more parking, and the height limit of the lower density district.

Units would have a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom floor plans, but if the developer opted to instead build fewer units with more bedrooms they could advance the proposal without the zoning change. Historic commission approval would be necessary under any scenario because the proposal is in a historic district.

The new apartment building would have an H-shape and be clad entirely in brick, ideas that DeMichele said were expanded on after receiving early feedback on the project.

“We wish to build a very high-quality, infill building that fits the quality of the neighborhood,” said DeMichele last week.

The developer said he expects to charge a rate of $2.10 per square foot per month (a 1,000-square-foot apartment would cost $2,100 per month) and provide high-quality finishes and in-building amenities. That’s consistent with many new higher-end apartment buildings. Units would be marketed for empty nesters and professionals, not college students, said the developer.

HGA is leading the design of both the parish hall and apartment building. JLA Architects is supporting the housing portion. Catalyst Construction would serve as the general contractor. Three Leaf Partners is also a partner on the development.

Alderman-in-waiting Jonathan Brostoff, the only candidate on the November ballot, is supporting the proposal.

In addition to McNamara-McGraw, other plaintiffs in the lawsuit included Karen Hagen, Neil Thompson, Mark Plotkin and Debbie Bylan. Plotkin is the lone complainant who doesn’t live across the street, instead living in a home behind the proposed building. He raised concerns at the hearing about sightlines into his backyard and home.

Renderings and Site Plan


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