Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Council Unanimously Approves East Side Apartments

After heated public hearings and controversy, there was no debate before full council.

By - Sep 20th, 2022 11:45 am
Proposed apartment building for N. Hackett Ave. Rendering by HGA.

Proposed apartment building for N. Hackett Ave. Rendering by HGA.

A proposal to develop a new apartment building and a replacement for a failing parish hall on Milwaukee’s East Side is now cleared to move forward. After facing hours of public hearings and a lawsuit, the Common Council unanimously approved a zoning change Tuesday to enable the development to advance.

Developer Michael DeMichele is working on the project with St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. DeMichele would purchase a grass lot and small parking lot from the church in exchange for replacing a 1940s addition to the 111-year-old church, 2604-2644 N. Hackett Ave. In addition to a fully-accessible parish hall, DeMichele would develop a 55-unit, four-story apartment building. A zoning change was necessary to enable that number of units, but not the height or size of the market-rate building. The church is located a block east of the Downer Avenue commercial corridor.

Church officials say the project would put the church in a better financial position while making the facility accessible for the first time. DeMichele previously said he expects to rent the building not to college students, but to empty nesters and other professionals.

Project opponents, many of whom live in condominiums across the street, have repeatedly raised concerns about the perceived impacts to street parking, traffic property values and the loss of green space. DeMichele has countered that the 69 underground parking spaces are more than sufficient and he expects to have excess spaces to lease out. The church is to replace its small parking lot with leased space in the underutilizing parking structure a block to the south. The opposition group filed, then dropped a lawsuit over the project.

Larraine McNamara-McGraw, a former alderwoman and one of the leading project opponents, previously accused city staff of withholding information, claimed city officials were violating due process and said she should be recognized as the active alderwoman given the seat’s current vacancy. During the council’s Sept. 13 Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee hearing on the matter, she focused most of her comments on the project’s perceived lack of affordability and diversity. She said the zoning change would “destroy the neighborhood” and encourage other nearby organizations to sell their property.

But the opposition group did not file a protest petition, which could have delayed the process. The filing, which can be submitted by nearby property owners, increases the number of council members that must vote for a zoning change. It was last used on the proposal to redevelop the Goll Mansion.

The Historic Preservation Commission, which has oversight of the property because of its inclusion in a historic district, granted the necessary design approvals for the project in July. Architect Jim Shields of HGA, like DeMichele a resident of the neighborhood, is leading the design of the two buildings.

Alderman-in-waiting Jonathan Brostoff, the only candidate on the November ballot, said at the Sept. 13 committee hearing that the project is “truly a win, win, win, win, win situation.” He said it would improve public safety by having more people monitoring the street, increase the number of patrons for area businesses, create more accessible housing units for those with disabilities, support the long-term financial sustainability of the church and increase the city’s property tax base. “It’s something that is in a lot of ways a slam dunk.”

The City Plan Commission unanimously recommended approval of the zoning change in August, but asked that the Department of Public Works (DPW) work with a consultant to complete a traffic study for the block. DPW previously determined the project, given its size, would not have a notable impact. “Basically [the consultant’s] findings match what conclusions DPW came to originally,” said DPW civil engineer Dawn Schmidt at the zoning committee hearing.

JLA Architects is supporting the design of the housing portion. Catalyst Construction would serve as the general contractor. Three Leaf Partners, the development firm led by Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton, is also a partner on the development.

DeMichele and pastor Ian Burch were present in the council chambers gallery for the vote, but were not called on to speak.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson must still sign the zoning change into law, but the proposal was adopted with a veto-proof majority and the city’s Department of City Development is recommending adoption of the change.

Renderings and Site Plan


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