Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Hates For-Profit College, But Approves It Anyway

Threat of lawsuit a factor as Arizona College of Nursing seeks to open on West Side.

By - Jun 11th, 2024 01:03 pm
Honey Creek Corporate Center IV, 9000 W. Chester St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Honey Creek Corporate Center IV, 9000 W. Chester St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A seemingly perfunctory zoning change continues to be a very tough pill for the City of Milwaukee to swallow. But in doing so, it has avoided a likely lawsuit.

The Common Council approved a zoning change Tuesday to allow the for-profit Arizona College of Nursing to open in an office complex on the city’s Far West Side.

But for several minutes, it seemed to be moving towards rejecting the controversial college’s entry into Milwaukee. With three members already absent, other council members pledged to vote against the proposal.

Alderman Scott Spiker cautioned his colleagues against a “protest vote turning into a policy that gets us sued.”

“We get sued every day; what’s new?” responded Ald. Mark Chambers, Jr.

The zoning change would allow AZCN to operate in a space at the Honey Creek Corporate Center where two nonprofit colleges have previously operated. A Department of City Development and Department of Neighborhood Services evaluation determined that “college” needed to be added to the list of permitted uses, and a “minor modification” zoning change was introduced for approval.

The change triggered a series of public hearings, with individuals affiliated with Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Milwaukee Black Grassroots Network for Health Equity opposing the school. The City Plan Commission recommended the council reject the change, and the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee spent two meeting on the proposal before reluctantly endorsing it.

Chambers, on Tuesday, said for-profit colleges treat the city like a “cesspool.” He cited Everest College, whose parent Corinthian Colleges lost a multi-billion dollar lawsuit over student debt stemming from deceptive job placement reports.

Spiker said the city would lose a lawsuit from AZCN and its prospective landlord, Greywolf Partners, and be out taxpayer dollars while the school would still get to open. “I will take your advice and vote no,” said Chambers.

Alderwoman Andrea Pratt also objected to the proposal.

Briefly, Ald. Milele A. Coggs said she too objected, which would have triggered a roll call vote.

But after area alderwoman Sharlen P. Moore said the city needed to be “fair” in approving the change and follow the guidance of its attorney, Coggs switched to abstaining.

Coggs’ switch halted the need for a roll call vote, leaving it to pass on a 9-2 vote with Coggs abstaining and three members absent. It needed eight votes to pass.

Protest Yes Votes

At least three council members publicly expressed that they were casting yes votes under protest: Spiker, Marina Dimitrijevic and Peter Burgelis.

“I will be casting an aye vote, but it will be personal objection,” said Dimitrijevic. “This has happened before, where we have had to look at things a certain way and receive public testimony and feedback.”

Members of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee, including chair Jonathan Brostoff, said they had been instructed that legally they could only consider “extremely narrow” factors.

“This was a difficult vote for all of us on the committee,” said Ald. JoCasta Zamarripa.

Ald. Robert Bauman was the lone zoning committee member to oppose the change, but was absent from Tuesday’s full council meeting.

Following Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s expected approval of the change, the school will be free to open in a 25,000-square-foot space at 9000 W. Chester St.

AZCN chairman Nick Mansour previously told the zoning committee that the 30-year-old school would invest $1 million in building out the space and expects to create 47 jobs.

For more on the proposal, see our coverage from June 4.

In a statement submitted shortly after this article was published, Mansour thanked the city. “Arizona College of Nursing is appreciative of the Milwaukee Common Council approval of a minor zoning modification so that we can provide important educational opportunities for Milwaukee’s future nurses. We look forward to being a part of the Milwaukee community and helping to reduce Wisconsin’s nursing shortage,” said the chairman.

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