Jeramey Jannene
Plats and Parcels

Settlement Reached For Contaminated Apartment Complex

And a "Do Not Acquire" list building sold. Plus: A recap of the week's real estate news.

By - Nov 26th, 2023 03:28 pm
A portion of The Community Within The Corridor development. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A portion of The Community Within The Corridor development during construction. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A class action lawsuit regarding environmental contamination in an affordable housing complex could be over before residents are allowed to move back in.

The Community Within The Corridor complex, located near N. 32nd and W. Center streets, opened in December. But by March, approximately 150 residents were ordered to evacuate the eastern half of the development by the Milwaukee Health Department after documentation submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) showed several areas had elevated levels of an airborne carcinogen known to cause heart defects and other disorders in unborn children and cancer for children and adults subject to long-term exposure.

A settlement is pending in Milwaukee County Circuit Court that would pay a group of 21 tenants $25,000 each and preserve their right to sue for exposure to the industrial chemical trichloroethylene, commonly called TCE.

“I think everyone wants to move forward from this on both sides of the aisle, and we are pleased to get it resolved in a timely manner,” said attorney Michael Cerjak to reporter Spencer Tracy in October.

The development team, led by Roers Companies, initially paid for displaced tenants’ temporary housing and other incidental costs after they were forced to leave the former factory. But in June, Roers offered a $5,000 lease termination offer and quit paying displacement costs in July. The class action lawsuit is made up of a group of tenants, led by Tiffany Bowen, who declined to sign the termination offer.

A motion hearing is scheduled for Jan. 3 before Judge Thomas J. McAdams.

TCE is a popular industrial chemical that can be successfully mitigated with proper remediation, including an exhaust system. The development team, with environmental consultant K. Singh & Associates, had been working with the DNR since 2020 on a mitigation strategy for the contamination. The oldest building in the former factory dates back to 1906. The multi-block complex was long occupied by Briggs & Stratton, but had been used for storage before the redevelopment work began.

As several public emails reveal, the DNR maintains it had provided written warnings dating back to 2021 that the development team should not move anyone into the building until the system could be fully tested. Roers, in a March statement, said it tested the system before anyone moved in. But records submitted to the DNR, the trigger for the evacuation, showed a TCE concentration of more than 190 times the acceptable level in one part of the building and elevated levels in several others.

The evacuation also revealed a breakdown between city and state oversight.

The DNR, according to city officials, never told the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) to hold off issuing an occupancy permit for the building. DNS reviews buildings for compliance with the zoning, building and fire codes when issuing an occupancy permit. DNR officials claim they weren’t aware people moved in until March, but had worked with city officials in January to develop a plan for delaying occupancy if test results showed elevated contamination levels.

A Nov. 18 report from KSingh shows that remediation work continues at the complex. “Since March, we have successfully removed about 2.8 lbs. of TCE from the site,” says the report, which details testing of the exhaust system. Excavation work has taken place within at least three first-floor units, with approximately 20 cubic yards of soil removed. Soil boring samples are being collected elsewhere in the building. Hazardous material excavation is expected to take place next week. The DNR review process, as now extensively documented online, remains open.

Issues with TCE and other environmental contamination aren’t limited to repurposed factories or affordable housing. A luxury apartment building at Bayshore in Glendale was subject to a health evacuation in July, with residents of six units forced to leave after elevated TCE levels were found. Dallas-based developer Cypress Equities allowed residents to move into the new buildings before testing was completed and against the instructions of the North Shore Health Department. Cypress then attempted to downplay the issue to residents. The chemical is present because of past uses of the site.

In October, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a ban on TCE.

The Community Within The Corridor initially opened with great fanfare, and substantial government support.

The financing package for the $68 million project, based on a 2020 report, includes a variety of public sources. The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority is providing $19.7 million in federal low-income housing tax credits. The National Park Service and state are providing $17.43 million in historic preservation tax credits, which requires much of the historic nature of the complex to be preserved. Other funding sources include a bank loan, $1 million of the city’s federal Community Development Block Grant allocation and a $3.15 million developer-financed tax incremental financing district. The district will effectively rebate increased property tax payments for a period of up to 20 years.

The use of low-income housing tax credits as the primary source ensured that the apartments were leased at federally-regulated below-market rates, intended not to exceed 30% of a qualifying household’s income. The western portion of the complex is still occupied by residents, the first of which moved in during July 2022.

In December, construction was still ongoing on commercial space in the complex, as observed by an Urban Milwaukee reporter attending a meeting at the building by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee. Design on the project is being led by Continuum Architects + Planners and general contracting by Greenfire Management Services. A partnership of Que El-AminMikal Wesley and Rayhainio Boynes led the development locally, but the three developers are minority partners in the project.


Rendering and Site Plan

Pre-Construction Photos

“Do Not Acquire” Property Sold

Final Cut Waterjet and Fabrication, a light manufacturing company, now owns the building it occupies on Milwaukee’s far Northwest Side, but only after a series of unusual transactions.

“I started my business in my garage about 15 years ago, and I grew it to the point where I needed to lease space. I ultimately landed at 5834 N. 97th Street [in 2018] and rented what I thought was going to be a great shop to build my business. Within about a year and a half, I had a difficult time getting a hold of the landlord and things kind of went downhill from there,” said owner Mark Isabell to the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee in July.

The city also hadn’t heard from Final Cut’s landlord for some time. The property owner hadn’t been paying its property taxes since 2013. The city hadn’t stepped in to seize the property because it was on its “Do Not Acquire” list, a formal collection of approximately 150 tax-delinquent brownfield properties that could subject the city to liability for environmental contamination should it take ownership. The city will use its foreclosure power if someone else wants one of the possibly-contaminated properties, but otherwise lets the unpaid bill grow.

Isabell said he quit paying rent “once the furnace went out, once the roof started leaking” approximately three years ago. The landlord, referred to as a single male by Isabell, never showed up. “It did limit my plans at the time, because it’s tough to invest in additional equipment to grow if you’re not sure you’re going to have a home in three months, six months, a year.” Isabell said he tried to talk to the mortgage holder, but was unsuccessful. He then learned about the possible city foreclosure.

The city took possession of the property in September from Glen Gorus Land Company, LLC. State records say the entity was dissolved in 2014, but Harold H. Tonn served as its registered agent.

The Common Council, in July, unanimously endorsed selling the property to Isabell for $42,000. Isabell closed on the purchase on Oct. 17. The property is assessed for $291,100.

Final Cut, using CNC equipment, cuts large pieces of metal such as steel or aluminum for other manufacturers. You can see its work in a series of bus shelters on S. 27th Street that honor the street’s role as Historic Highway 41. Artist Ryan Laessig designed the panels and Final Cut fabricated them.

The 5,500-square-foot building Final Cut occupies sits on an 11,369-square-foot lot in a small industrial area at the edge of the Silver Swan neighborhood just a few blocks north of W. Silver Spring Drive. According to city assessment records, the structure was originally constructed in 1970.

Want to know if a property near you is on the Do Not Acquire list? DCD maintains a map. You can also browse the list.


Weekly Recap

28-Year-Old Is A Rising Star Entrepreneur

At 28, Djdade Denson has already established himself as a leader.

He co-owns a successful northside coffee shop, oversees a camp for youths and is developing expertise in construction and development.

Denson is a co-owner of Coffee Makes You Black, a restaurant and gathering space that has operated at 2803 N. Teutonia Ave. since 2001. He also is the director of Jaha Workshop, which runs the annual Camp “Xhongo” Peace Father & Son Retreat.

Before taking on those roles, Denson, who goes by the nickname “DJ,”  worked in project management for a local construction company. But after three years, he felt the pull to do more for the community.

Read the full article

Green Infrastructure Improvements Coming To Becher Street Overpass

Construction is underway on an effort to make a concrete and asphalt colossus a little bit more “green.”

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, with general contractor C.W. Purpero, Inc., is adding green infrastructure components underneath Interstate 43/94 at the W. Becher Street overpass.

The project will capture stormwater runoff through natural vegetation, dry stream beds, a bio-infiltration basin and a “stormwater forest.” The water, contaminated with oil and other metals from the roadway, would otherwise end up in the nearby Kinnickinnic River or Deep Tunnel combined sewer system. A total of 18 drains from the freeway are to be connected to the site below.

The infrastructure improvements are being installed on what has long been an effectively-vacant, four-acre lot north of W. Becher Street between S. 4th and 5th streets. The freeway becomes an elevated structure at that point, creating a cavernous, largely-covered space underneath as it approaches Downtown.

Read the full article

Council Confirms New Chief Building Inspector

The City of Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) has a new leader, at least temporarily.

The Common Council unanimously confirmed Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s appointment of Jezamil Arroyo-Vega as the new Commissioner of Building Inspection. Arroyo-Vega, since 2022, has served as the manager of the building construction division in DNS.

The appointment follows an unusual series of events, where veteran commissioner Erica Roberts resigned to take a lower-profile city job and the council effectively rejected the appointment of Roberts’ deputy Kristen Reed, as a search for a permanent candidate plays out.

“I just want to thank my colleagues for making sure they were involved in getting the best candidate,” said Council President José G. Pérez before the council voted.

Read the full article

‘Inflation-Adjusted’ Deer District Concert Venue Approved

A concert venue proposed for a vacant lot immediately south of Fiserv Forum was approved Tuesday by the Common Council.

The council unanimously granted FPC Live, a partnership of Madison-based Frank Productions and national concert promoter Live Nation, zoning approval to develop a 4,500-person concert venue targeted primarily at standing crowds.

The approval follows two contested public hearings where opponents of the project, including those with connections to competing venues, contested elements of the proposal and requested delays. It also follows a lengthy 2022 approval process for a larger complex.

The council, in 2022, approved the initial $50 million proposal for attached 800- and 4,000-person venues. But FPC officials said rising construction prices caused repeated delays. The smaller project is still expected to cost $60 million to develop.

Read the full article

Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto, Adopts 2024 Milwaukee Budget

The Milwaukee Common Council didn’t waste any time Tuesday overriding Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s partial veto of the city’s 2024 budget.

Johnson’s veto attempted to save the owner of a median home $1.46 on their property tax bill by effectively spending down a federal grant instead of raising the property tax levy. The Common Council, on Nov. 3., added $269,848 in tax levy supported spending to the budget, increasing the median property tax bill an additional $1.46 beyond the $50.09 (2%) increase included in the mayor’s proposed budget.

“In a year when we have had to make tough decisions in order to stabilize our fiscal future – and many of those necessary decisions have increased what our residents will pay next year in sales taxes, fees, and property taxes, I would ask that we use our existing resources before we ask them for even more,” wrote Johnson in a veto message last Tuesday.

The tax levy expanding amendments include a $150,000 proposal from Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs to expand the Office of Equity and Inclusion’s Direct Connect MKE job connection program, a $20,000 proposal from Ald. Mark Chambers, Jr. to expand a $30,000 fund used to fund city events, a $30,000 proposal from Ald. Khalif Rainey to expand Hip Hop Week MKE and a $69,848 amendment from Council President José G. Pérez to fund an administrative services coordinator position and travel expenses for the council’s expanded two-person lobbying team, the Division of Legislative Affairs.

Read the full article

New Mural Brightens Former Tannery

A large mural adds a “pop of color” to a revitalized complex of former tannery buildings at the northern edge of Walker’s Point.

That’s how artist Dave Watkins describes his recently completed mural, an approximately 2,200-square-foot piece on the west side of the five-story Finishing House building in the River Place Lofts complex. The abstract, orange-and-blue mural adorns a stair and elevator that was added to the Cream City brick building as part of its 2018 redevelopment into 28 apartments.

Watkins said he “[drew] inspiration from flowing blue reflections of the nearby Menomonee River, combined with the prominent use of oranges, and cream tones representing the distinctive Cream City Brick of the surrounding architecture.”

Watkins, based in Bay View, was commissioned by developer Peter Moede to paint the piece. It faces the newly completed Power House building, the final building in the development. The complex also includes the Beam House (63 units, 2015), Docks Building (39 units, 2018) and Finishing House.

Read the full article

Mass Timber Building Gains Concrete Parking Structure

A mass timber office building proposed for a site just north of Downtown would gain a small parking structure under a plan unveiled Monday morning.

Husband-and-wife team Mike and Sharon Grinker are planning the seven-story office building for their company, Sid Grinker Restoration, and other tenants that want high-quality, environmentally-friendly office spaces with exposed timber interiors and balconies.

The 28,000-square-foot building, approved in July, would be built at the northwest corner of N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. and W. Walnut St. A parking structure, with 44 spaces, is now planned to be built to the west.

The original proposal called for a minimum of 14 spaces to be reserved in adjacent properties. But the committee, Department of Public Works and area Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs raised concerns about that part of the plan.

Read the full article

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