Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Reverses Course, Approves Northridge Menards Self Storage

Multiple city committees balked at proposal in 2022. Why the reversal?

By - Feb 13th, 2023 05:15 pm
Menards at 8110 W. Brown Deer Rd. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Menards at 8110 W. Brown Deer Rd. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Despite being rejected last year, home improvement retailer Menards has now been given a green light to expand its self-storage complex next to its W. Brown Deer Rd. store.

The Eau Claire-based company, whose store is immediately adjacent to the now-infamous Northridge Mall, already operates an indoor self-storage facility in a former Pick ‘n Save just west of the store. But Menards found opposition or hesitation from the Department of City Development (DCD), Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA), City Plan Commission and then-alderwoman Chantia Lewis for its proposal to open an outdoor self-storage facility on the former grocery store’s parking lot.

BOZA voted against granting a special use permit and two variances to enable the proposal in July and the plan commission resisted as well, voting to hold a zoning change request in October, both with DCD support. The latter meeting involved a directive to explore ways the proposal could be improved and accommodated.

The continued decay of the mall and revisions to the retailer’s proposal caused DCD to reverse course, and BOZA has now unanimously voted for a variance to enable the facility’s construction.

Calling it “a change in circumstances” at Thursday’s BOZA meeting, DCD city planning manager Sam Leichtling cited the repeated fires at the vacant mall.

“We want to do everything we can to support the existing businesses that are in the area of Northridge, secure their property and ensure they are able to continue their operation,” said Leitchling. “One thing that has been undisputed through this process is that Menards is a significant anchor on the Northwest Side.”

He said the retailer has made a change to the landscaping, addressing an earlier “significant concern.”

“The revised plans significantly increase the amount of landscaping on the site,” said Leichtling. The earlier plan called for 12-foot-tall storage units and fencing to ring the site, creating a barrier. The revised plan shows an additional barrier of vegetation.

The variance’s approval is also now tied to the store’s existence. If the Menards store closes, the self-storage facility must also close. “If this proposal were for a standalone self-storage use we would not be in support,” Leichtling said.

The retailer opened the store, 8110 W. Brown Deer Rd., after the mall itself closed in 2003. An adjacent, 61,667-square-foot Pick ‘n Save store, that also opened after the mall’s demise, closed in 2015. Menard Inc. bought the store for its self-storage business in 2017. But the three-acre parking lot, which wraps three sides of the building, has become an issue according to company officials and would be enclosed.

The company is now approved to build 102 storage units and offer 142 long-term, mostly-oversized parking spaces at the property, 8120 W. Brown Deer Rd.

In 2022, Menards real estate representative Tyler Edwards said the company hoped to eventually use the former grocery store as part of an expanded Menards store.

“One thing I don’t think I could ever reiterate enough is Menards’ desire to continue to be in this location, that is the heart and soul of our request, where it started, we want to be there forever,” said Edwards on Thursday. “We understand the city’s desire for us to expand. That’s our goal as well, but we need to be able to attract people to the area.”

Edwards previously noted that other nearby stores, like a former Toys “R” Us, were converted to industrial uses, while other properties were left to wither or used for parking vehicles like semi-trucks, which the retailer didn’t see as desirable. But Leichtling and other city officials cautioned that granting Menards the original storage request or its subsequent request to change the zoning to industrial could lead to Menards’ storage complex also having a negative visual impact on the area. The revised proposal appears to address those concerns with a landscaping buffer.

The latest proposal found vocal support from BOZA members.

“I think it’s really admirable the work you have done with the city to try to find a way to make this work,” said BOZA member Eric Lowenberg. “I think it’s something you can be proud of.”

Chair Roy B. Evans said he has happy to see a resolution, despite unidentified elected officials privately approaching him with concerns that the Common Council district would be vacant until April. “It is my position we would be punishing the applicants if we didn’t go forward,” said Evans of halting all BOZA decisions while a council seat is vacant. Lewis was removed from office in July for felony campaign finance violations.

Meanwhile, the city’s case against Northridge’s Chinese ownership group continues to inch forward.

In late January, the city attempted to accelerate things. It asked Judge William Sosnay to give the city the mall, stripping it from U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group.

“Despite being willing to expend a large financial commitment to fighting to maintain ownership of the properties, Black Spruce has intentionally allowed its massive space to deteriorate to the point of being almost worthless,” says the city’s motion. “It is only a matter of time before someone dies or is seriously injured because of the lack of security at the properties.”

The city, in its filing, says time is of the essence because it has identified possible, time-sensitive funding sources to complete the estimated $15 million site clearance. The city says giving the city ownership is the only remedy to the contempt-of-court ruling against Black Spruce, which has left the company owing more than $300,000 in fines, none of which it has paid.

The Granville Action Plan, a land-use strategy for the area which DCD is using to guide its decisions with regard to Menards, calls for the 46.5-acre mall property to be reconfigured as several smaller light industrial properties.

The northeastern side of the Menards store is attached to the old Northridge Mall structure, but Fire Chief Aaron Lipski has said the structure isn’t at risk of being damaged by the fires at the blighted mall complex. He has characterized the fires as arson, noting there is no fire or gas service to the mall.

Photos and Site Plan

August 2022 Mall Photos

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us