Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Bauman Defends Historic Preservation Process

Developer Tim Gokhman complains HPC 'redesigns your project.'

By - Dec 14th, 2022 01:06 pm
Alderman Robert Bauman speaks at the June 2021 groundbreaking for The Couture. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Alderman Robert Bauman speaks at the June 2021 groundbreaking for The Couture. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Is Milwaukee’s historic preservation process broken? So claimed developer Juli Kaufmann, in a column published by Urban Milwaukee yesterday.

That, in turn, provoked more comments, with Ald. Bob Bauman, in no uncertain terms, defending the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) that he has served on for 16 years. Meanwhile, developer Tim Gokhman, who went through a protracted, nearly half-year process before the design for his new home in the North Point Historic District was approved, supported Kaufmann’s view that the HPC process is problematic.

“There is a very clear problem in consistency whether a proposal meets the commission’s guidelines or not,” Gokhman says. “No one is willing to address it. I think it is time to address this.”

Bauman rejects this, contending there have been few problems with how the HPC operates. “Ninety-five percent of what we do is non-controversial,” he says.

Both Kaufmann and Gokhman were building new homes in a historic district, which is a very rare situation for the HPC, Bauman notes.

“We’ve probably had half a dozen new home in 16 years,” he says. As for Kaufmann’s complaints, “that’s a tempest in a teapot. It doesn’t deserve that much coverage.”

But the idea that the HPC’s rules or how it interprets them needs to be re-examined was also supported by Common Council president Jose Perez and HPC board member Patti Keating Kahn at a meeting last week, as Urban Milwaukee has reported.

“I don’t think it’s so much the guidelines as how the board handles them,” Gokhman says. “There is a consistent problem where one commissioner tells you to do something and you do that and the next time you come back a different commissioner is saying ‘what did you do that for?’ If I meet the guidelines I should be able to pass regardless of who is on the commission.”

But Bauman says there is no way to have hard-and-fast rules that cover every eventuality. “I think you want broad principles, not rules. Otherwise you are in a straight jacket.”

“It feels like HPC members try to redesign your project,” Gokhman says. “It’s inappropriate, it feels like overreach, it’s design by committee.”

Bauman’s reply? “Yes, that can happen in a historic district. If you don’t accept that then don’t buy property in a historic district. This is a collaboration between those representing the public interest and the private interest.”

Architect Jim Shields, who served for many years on the HPC and believes it has generally done a good job, has suggested the HPC’s guidelines should include consideration of the “integrity of materials,” something emphasized by the National Register for Historic Places. Shields has argued the HPC made a poor decision in giving historic designation to the Marcus Center building, which has been reclad and had its entire entrance rebuilt since it was first opened in 1969.

Bauman disagrees.”They replaced marble with a different kind of marble,” he notes. “Of course older buildings get altered over their life,” but that shouldn’t rule out their preservation, he adds.

Shields was working for the Marcus Center and had a “conflict of interest” on the issue, Bauman contends. “I’m not advocating for a private interest. I’m advocating for a public interest.”

To Gokhman the issue is not the rules but how the HPC board interprets them. “To me it seems like there’s a gap in organizational leadership. You can have great rules, but if you don’t have the leadership to stick to the rules it’s not going to work.”

One thing that all agree on is that the HPC has, on balance, had a positive impact on Milwaukee in saving its historic buildings.

Brady Street survived due to the Historic Preservation Commission,” Shields told Urban Milwaukee.

“We hear all the time from out-of-town developers how much character the city has and how much better a job it has done of historic preservation than other cities,” says Gokhman.

The value of the city’s historic preservation efforts “is beyond measurement,” says Bauman. “It creates a unique feel that distinguishes the city from others. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve heard from who praise the city for its historic structures and its mix of old and new buildings.”

5 thoughts on “Back in the News: Bauman Defends Historic Preservation Process”

  1. David Loken says:

    What Bauman gets wrong is that we shouldn’t be applying these concepts to new structures being built on unimproved lots. Preserving notable buildings, yes. There’s zero reason to turn the city into a museum and freeze architecture in amber when it doesn’t involve possible demolition.

  2. mkeumkenews09 says:

    The HPC is being used by NIMBY’s and by folks who are against any changes to the world as they like it.

    BTW, agree with David Loken. Why would the HPC ever be involved in new construction on unimproved lots. There are planning and zoning rules and building codes in place to address new construction projects.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    The new homes on empty lots were in the North Point Historic District and therefore must be reviewed by the HPC.As Bauman noted, these situations are rare.

  4. David Loken says:

    It’s rare, but still infuriating.

  5. mkwagner says:

    Rules and guidelines are only as good as the criteria used to define them. Unfortunately, defining criteria is considered unimportant or time consuming. Without clearly articulated criteria, Individuals rely on their own preferences and biases leading to complaints consistency. That there are developers and architects complaining about consistency means Bauman and HPC have not done the work to articulate preservation criteria.

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