Humboldt Park glowed with Halloween fun

October 31, 2014

By Sheila Julson

Are we having fun yet? Julie Litchford pauses to admire her work at BVNA’s 2014 Pumpkin Pavilion event.  NICHOLE WILLIAMS

Are we having fun yet? Julie Litchford pauses to admire her work at BVNA’s 2014 Pumpkin Pavilion event. NICHOLE WILLIAMS

Humboldt Park was transformed into a haunted Halloween wonderland the weekend of October 17 and 18. The much-anticipated event was the eighth annual Pumpkin Pavilion, sponsored by the Bay View Neighborhood Association (BVNA).

Horse-drawn hay wagons circled the lagoon wagons with children and adults aboard, traveling along a torch-lit path. The Bay View Middle & High School Drumline performed an energetic set, steadfast, despite the Friday evening cold and drizzle. Giant woven spider webs, made by artist Jennifer Espenscheid, were draped from trees. Ghosts flapped in the breeze, occasionally unnerving little ones who passed by. Magician Tom Burgermeister wowed his spectators. Skeletons set sail across the lagoon in a boat that was handcrafted by Bay View High School students.

The St. Francis Brewery beer garden was open and sold food, beer and soda.

And then there were the jack-o-lanterns — nearly 700 — arranged around the pavilion area, sporting designs that ranged from the traditional Halloween jack-o-lantern to animals, cartoon characters, and horror movie icons, like Pinhead from the Hellraiser series, depicted with toothpicks jutting out from the top of the pumpkin. The glowing jack-o-lanterns were artfully displayed.

KATHERINE KELLER

KATHERINE KELLER

Community Effort

In preparation for the 2014 Halloween jubilee, about 20 volunteers, many BVNA members, decorated the pavilion and surrounding area in the park, and another 80 volunteers helped stage the event.

BVNA member Lorrie Cain volunteered by hanging ghosts in the trees. Some ghosts were new, “but some are old, from the very first years,” she said, as she attached little arms under the older ghosts to create the scary appearance of the ghost reaching out at viewers. The eerie apparitions were made from cheesecloth.

Other volunteers cleaned all the pumpkins before they were handed out to be carved. BVNA invites residents to carve the pumpkins, and each year, their call for carvers receives an avid response. This year BVNA provided a heated tent that protected the carvers, who sat at picnic tables and fashioned faces and designs into the bright orange gourds.

Bay View resident Bill Rouleau, who co-founded Pumpkin Pavilion in 2008, unloaded pumpkins large and small, grown by Swan’s Pumpkin Farm in Franksville. Rouleau said he got the idea for Pumpkin Pavilion when he visited a jack-o-lantern display in Whitefish Bay. He enjoyed the event on the North Shore and said he thought he’d start something similar closer to home.

The popularity of the event has grown each year since. “It’s a neat way to bring out families,” Rouleau said. “There’s stuff for all ages.”

Rouleau, who was washing pumpkins in a wheel barrow when he was interviewed by the Compass, removed the soil and detritus, and then passed them on to a well–organized assembly line of volunteers who quickly cut out the tops with a small electric saw. Next, a team of six people removed the pumpkin seeds and pulp, which were later moved to a composting site.

Pumpkin Pavilion Spider Web KELLER

Posing with the giant spider web was a popular feature of Pumpkin Pavilion. KATHERINE KELLER

The prepped pumpkins were transported via wheelbarrow to eager children and adults in the carving tent. Tools were provided, and there was a basket of stencils for those who wanted to carve characters from the Sony Pictures Animation upcoming movie Transylvania 2. The movie’s release date is 2015.

“[Pumpkin Pavilion] came up in a Google search,” said Nichole Williams, BVNA’s president. “We were noticed by Sony Pictures. They sent these movie character stencils for us to carve into the pumpkins and to take pictures for them to use in promotions. In return, they sent $100 worth of carving tools. We are now officially sponsored by Hollywood.”

Bay View residents Chad and Jenette Haug were at the event Thursday evening with Lilly and Anthony, their two youngest children. The family carved four pumpkins.

“We come every year,” Jenette said. “We really enjoy it.”

Lilly attends Humboldt Park School. “It’s fun for her because a lot of her classmates are here,” Chad said, as he helped Lilly carve hearts into a pumpkin.

Williams said the 2014 Pumpkin Pavilion attracted approximately 2,500 visitors during the two-night run. She said the cost of Pumpkin Pavilion exceeded $6,000, and that she was grateful for the local businesses whose sponsorship covered much of the cost.

Williams praised the volunteers, most of whom signed up via the website volunteerspot.com, an online tool used by volunteer organizations to recruit and organize helping hands.

Swan’s donated some of the pumpkins through a match-style donation — BVNA purchased $1,000 worth of pumpkins and Swan’s donated an equal value of pumpkins. They also donated bales of hay and cornstalks.

Friday’s rain and chill only dampened one event, an outdoor overnight campout, the first of its kind in Humboldt Park. The campout was reserved for BVNA members. Williams said about 10 people registered, but the rain and cold thwarted most campers. However, two braved the elements and camped in the rain.

Williams said they learned that a campout is weather dependent and canceling it is a game-time decision, but that they will probably consider the event again in the future.

Sunday Cleanup Pumpkin Pavilion KELLER

Sunday morning cleanup. KATHERINE KELLER

 


BAY VIEW BITES — Café India

October 31, 2014

By Monica Maniaci

Bay View is in the midst of a new restaurant boom, and you won’t hear too many residents complaining about it. After all, there really is no better proof that a neighborhood is thriving. An  open-minded community such as Bay View wants choices, and the more choices, the better.

Café India Bar & Grill is the latest addition to the new crop of restaurants, and the only Indian restaurant in the area. Located on the northwest corner of Kinnickinnic Avenue and Ward Street, it opened September 26.

Café India Bar and Grill is owned by Rakesh Rehan, who goes by the nickname Ryan. Rehan moved to Milwaukee in 2000. A few years later he acquired the former Martha’s Vineyard in Walker’s Point Plaza, 601 S. First St., and renamed it Fine Vineyard. In 2011, he opened the original Café India a few doors down in the same strip mall, a small, fast-food-like restaurant.

It didn’t take long for Rehan to decide to open a larger restaurant. “I met people who were desperate to have fine dining, a place where they could enjoy the food and bring their family and friends,” Rehan said.

Before moving to Oak Creek with his wife and children, Rehan lived in Bay View for a number of years. He knew he wanted to open a restaurant in the neighborhood.

Originally from northern India, Rehan, the chief cook at Café India, traveled the world, which he said has greatly influenced his style of cooking. “I consider myself a big time Indian food connoisseur. Wherever I go, I try Indian food. I have traveled all over India. I have enjoyed almost every side of Indian cuisine — Bombay style, Calcutta, New Delhi, even the Indian food in London and Australia. Keeping all that in mind, I understand the flavor of food, and I make food that is a mix of everything that I love,” he said.

You can taste that experience, love, and attention in every bite.

My husband and I recently dined at Café India with our two daughters. The service was efficient and attentive, and the food was out of this world.

They have a full bar and offer several Indian beers in addition to domestic, craft beer, and imports. My husband and I shared a 22-ounce Kingfisher ($9.99).

We ordered the Veggie Korma ($10.99) for the kids because, traditionally, it is a less spicy dish. It still had a slight kick and my eight year old drank two full glasses of water with it, but she loved it and ate it up eagerly. The onion sauce had just the right amount of sweetness. The broccoli, red pepper, green pepper, and mushrooms were just the right size and were neither undercooked nor overcooked.

Of course, we ordered both regular and garlic naan, one of India’s traditional flatbreads, to go with our meal. We ended up ordering more because it was so good. It was “fresh from the oven” hot. The pieces were soft and pillow-y inside, but crispy and toasty on the outside. My children couldn’t stop sopping up the Veggie Korma sauce with their pieces of naan.

We ordered the Butter Chicken ($11.99), described on the menu as shredded tandoori chicken pieces cooked in a creamy tomato sauce. It arrived hot and steamy, with a wonderful ginger-garlic aroma. My husband and I were delighted by its creaminess as we spooned the thick chunks of chicken onto our cilantro-flecked rice. With a solid punch of spice, this dish offered creamy comfort with a bang, exactly what I love about Indian food.

Lastly, we ordered the Lamb Vindaloo ($14.99), bone-in lamb pieces, cooked with potatoes in a spicy ginger and garlic sauce. With a hint of mustard and red wine vinegar, the lamb was exceptionally tender and fell right off the bone as if it had been simmering all afternoon.

“I try to cook traditionally,” Rehan said. “In every home you go in, in India, you won’t find lamb without bones. I stick to the authenticity. I keep my tradition.”

The kitchen at Café India Bar & Grill has two tandoori clay ovens, one just for cooking meat and one just for cooking bread. They are careful to consider food allergies. “We don’t use any nuts, coconut or other. That’s the thing I learned from having a small restaurant — a lot of people are allergic to nuts or coconut. We don’t use any nuts. We do use milk and cream,” Rehan said.

Café India Bar & Grill has ample indoor seating, plus a patio with capacity for almost 100 people. The patio is also a hookah bar. Rehan said they are planning to put add fireplaces soon. Rehan offers take-out and will start delivery service some time in the near future, he said.

In addition to their full dinner menu, Café India offers a lunch buffet every day; $9.99 weekdays and $11.99 on weekends. It is available from 11am to 3pm each day.

Rehan is excited by his restaurant’s success, and you can tell he is a man who is passionate about Indian food. “People come from Shorewood, Franklin, Waukesha, and of course Bay View residents are so helpful, so excited,” Rehan said. “We want to take good care of the people who come for the fine dining experience.”

Now, if we could just get a sushi place to open up in Bay View.

Café India Bar and Grill
2201 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
(414) 837-6121; (website in development)


Improvements planned for South Shore Beach

October 31, 2014

By Sheila Julson

Generations of Bay View and other South Shore residents have enjoyed the neighborhood lakefront gem that is South Shore Beach. Picturesque and conveniently located, the beach has provided a sandy slice of Cape Cod-style recreation for frolicking children, swimmers, sunbathers, and lovers out for romantic strolls.

Declining water quality in recent years has brought some of those recreational times to a halt, as swimmers are greeted not by a lifeguard, but by warning signs of poor water quality. High levels of E. coli found in water samples taken by the Milwaukee Health Department have often exceeded current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency levels, thus leading to beach advisories and closings.

But city leaders, scientists, residents, nonprofits, and partners in the private sector have been quietly working behind the scenes to enact measures to improve South Shore Beach, its waters, and the surrounding areas in the park. A series of public stakeholder meetings, held by Milwaukee County Parks, outlined the South Shore Park Site Investigation and Schematic Design Project. The meeting brought in players such as South Shore Yacht Club, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, South Shore Park Watch, Wisconsin Sea Grant, and others. The meetings provided a forum for stakeholders to express concerns and exchange ideas.

The main culprits contaminating the beach are bird excretion; surface runoff from the adjacent parking lot used by fishers, boaters, and members of the South Shore Yacht club; sewage; pet waste; and waste from wild animals.

From left: Morgan Schroeder; Research Associate Jenny C. Fisher, Ph.D.; Shuchen Feng. The researchers were conducting water quality tests at South Shore Beach that included releasing a bright green dye into the water in September 2013. KATHERINE KELLER

From left: Morgan Schroeder; Research Associate Jenny C. Fisher, Ph.D.; Shuchen Feng. The researchers were conducting water quality tests at South Shore Beach that included releasing a bright green dye into the water in September 2013. KATHERINE KELLER

The Problems

According to a June 2013 article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Water at Wisconsin’s beaches on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior ranked second worst in the country, with 14% of water samples exceeding national health standards in 2012. Milwaukee’s South Shore Beach was among 11 ocean and Great Lakes beaches that consistently had poor water quality, with 43% of water samples exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory standard.” The annual report was conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Kristina Surfus, graduate student and research assistant at UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, works with Professor Sandra McLellan, who has studied water quality in Milwaukee urban costal areas for the past decade.

Surfus said that E. coli and enterococcus levels, both fecal bacteria, are prevalent at South Shore Beach, but that doesn’t indicate that the entire lake is dirty. The main culprits contaminating the beach are bird excretion; surface runoff from the adjacent parking lot used by fishers, boaters, and members of the South Shore Yacht club; sewage; pet waste; and waste from wild animals. Sand and sediment buildup north of the boat ramp have created a roosting area for the gulls. Furthermore, the breakwater wall, while it protects docked boats from harsh waves, hinders the natural water flow. “Cleaner water cannot wash in,” she said.

Water quality levels tested better to the south, near Bay View Beach. To measure water speed and direction, two monitors were installed, and there’s better water circulation after the breakwater wall ends, Surfus said.

Taking Action

Marina Dimitrijevic, District 4 Milwaukee County Supervisor and the board’s chair, said the health of South Shore Park and the beach has been a main concern expressed by her constituents since she was elected in 2004.

There have been some improvements throughout South Shore Park, specifically in the vicinity of the Texas Avenue pumping station located just south of the beach, that included restoring and renovating the Oak Leaf Trail, restoring the breakwater, and instituting shore erosion control measures.

Now the focus is on improving water quality at the beach.

“We want to make South Shore a swimmers beach again,” Dimitrijevic said.

Recently two Milwaukee-County-funded studies were conducted to analyze the beach, waters, and adjacent land. The first, conducted from 2012 to 2013, looked at the possibility of relocating the beach.

The second study began this year. It will produce a master plan for South Shore Park, including the beach area, according to Sean Hayes, an environmental engineer with the Architectural, Engineering and Environmental Services Division of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. To develop a master plan, the county partnered with Baird Group, a consulting firm that conducts health-related studies, required before the funding search and subsequent improvements could begin.

Hayes, a Bay View resident, is the lead engineer for the South Shore restoration project. Preliminary design improvements include rain gardens and native plantings to catch and filter storm water runoff, forming dunes and berms to deter gulls from loitering, and replacing the South Shore Yacht Club parking lot with permeable pavement. “Anything is on the table at this point,” he said.

The yacht club is on land that it leases from Milwaukee County. The parking lot is also county-owned.

Both Hayes and Dimitrijevic said the cost for all planned improvements at the beach and the surrounding park area will run approximately $4 to $5 million, phased in multi-year segments. “That’s for everything on the wish list for the beach and park,” Hayes said. “But the beach and improving water quality comes first.”

To jumpstart the project, MillerCoors donated $500,000 toward the cleanup of South Shore Beach. “Water is an essential ingredient in beer, so at MillerCoors we are deeply invested in water stewardship efforts,” said Tami Garrison, MillerCoors Manager of Community Commerce and Partnerships. “Lake Michigan is in our Milwaukee brewery’s backyard, so we are proud to partner with the School of Freshwater Sciences and the Parks Department to preserve this vital community resource for years to come.”

Five years ago, the company contributed $500,000 toward the cleanup of Bradford Beach. Some may note that the snack stand at South Shore Park pavilion serves Miller products.

The cleanup and improvement plan is expected to take five years. Dimitrijevic hopes to have a shovel in the ground within a year. With a plan now in place, she’s actively seeking additional funding. “There are lots of sources out there for funding that we can tap into,” she enthused.

Dimitrijevic is on the county board budget committee, and she helped secure funding for a beach-cleaning machine for use exclusively at South Shore. Prior to 2014, South Shore shared a cleaning machine with other Milwaukee County beaches. “The machine really digs down deep to turn the sand so it can dry out. Damp sand can trap and breed bacteria,” she explained.

Privately donated dog waste stations that supply plastic bags and hold additional trash cans are instrumental, Dimitrijevic noted, to help control pet waste that can run off into the water when it is not picked up and disposed of properly.

Surfus said McLellan proposed moving the beach farther south, where the water quality has tested better. Hayes and Dimitrijevic considered McLellan’s idea, but studies found shifting the beach further south was too costly.

Cleanup measures taken at Bradford have earned that beach Blue Wave certification, granted by the Clean Beaches Council, a national nonprofit. Dimitrijevic said she is striving for Blue Wave certification for South Shore.

DRAFT south shore plan 2014-0923-loresCommunity Efforts

Jane Harrison, secretary of South Shore Park Watch, has lived in Bay View for two years. She’s an outreach specialist for Wisconsin Sea Grant, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with a Milwaukee office at the UW-Milwaukee Freshwater Science Institute. Sea Grant is designed to work with colleges to enhance the practical use and conservation of Great Lakes marine and costal resources to create a sustainable economy and environment, according to its website.

Harrison visits the beach with her family several times a week. She participates in the beach cleanups South Shore Park Watch holds throughout the summer. “There is galvanizing support among the community to make these water quality improvements, and there has been active participation among the South Shore Park Watch members at the stakeholders meetings,” she said. “People are optimistic that things are on the right track, and we’re excited about the MillerCoors grant. But more funds and continued monitoring are needed.”

Harrison, like many who have a stake in the beach renovation, stress education and public awareness, such as not feeding waterfowl. “I think for some people, that’s their way of experiencing nature, but they just don’t realize that it has a negative impact,” she said.

Flotsam and consumer waste that litters the lake eventually washes up on shore. The beach cleanups reveal the more wasteful aspects of today’s society — plastic cigarette holders, bottle caps, disposable diapers, used hypodermic needles , and plastic food containers. Harrison said a South Shore Beach cleanup in July yielded 125 pounds of trash.

Sheila Julson, sjulson@wi.rr.com, is a freelance writer and blogs at cappersfarmer.com/blogs/return-to-our-roots.


HALL MONITOR — Moving thoughts

October 31, 2014

By Jay Bullock

Jay1headshotI  wasn’t able to get a column done in time for last month’s Compass because my life has almost literally been upended. My wife and I are selling our house in our Bay View-adjacent neighborhood and moving to 53207 proper. If things go according to plan, by the time you read this, the boxes will be unpacked and my commute to work at Bay View High School will be a modest walk instead of a short drive.

The move has brought up a lot of, for lack of a better word, feelings. One is a fascination (or, in moments of honesty, guilt) at this paradox: Though I am moving closer to school, I am moving farther away from where my students live. In 53215, which I’m vacating, quite a few of my students lived within a few blocks of me; in 53207, there are almost none.

That paradox has been an occasional recurring theme of this column, not to mention the Bay View neighborhood’s angst-y internal dialogue — the way that Bay View neighborhood parents don’t see Bay View High School as an option for their own children, even though all our local K-6s and K-8s are fantastic.

I have a limited amount of space here, so I’m not going to rehash the whole tale for you. Suffice it to say that after many years and scores of outreach attempts, the neighborhood enrollment hasn’t ballooned the way we all hoped.

There’s more, of course. Buying and selling a house makes a person think long and hard about things like property values, by which I mean whether a mortgage will be crippling or merely more expensive than you hoped. The house we’re selling is worth less now than when we bought it 11 years ago. 53215 was hit hard by the Great Recession’s foreclosure crisis, though not nearly as badly as other parts of the city. There are nearly 3,000 vacant homes across Milwaukee, news reports tell us, with more than 1,000 owned by the city, which is trying to stabilize some of the worst neighborhoods in town.

It didn’t help that in between packing boxes and bins, I read the latest Public Policy Forum (PPF) report on the financial and academic state of Southeast Wisconsin’s school districts, which gave some cold, hard detail to a lot of these feelings of mine.

For example, I read that more than a third of students enrolled in the St. Francis School District come from Open Enrollment or Chapter 220, in other words, students who leave Milwaukee for the southern suburban district. The PPF report didn’t detail how many of those St. Francis students had 53207 zip codes, but I’ve talked to enough Bay View parents to know that at least some of those St. Francis High School students could be walking with me every morning to Bay View High School instead of riding or driving out of our district.

I don’t mean to pick on St. Francis, in particular. Milwaukee’s public schools are losing almost 7,500 kids a year to the suburbs, including Oak Creek, Greenfield, West Allis-West Milwaukee, and Wauwatosa, which alone enrolls more than 1,000 Milwaukee students.

PPF’s report quantifies some of the financial challenges that come from living in a property-poor city like Milwaukee. In 2013-2014, 83 percent of MPS’s students qualified for free or reduced lunch, the universal marker of poverty when looking at student enrollment. That’s up from 77 percent just a few years ago, and it’s 20 percent higher than Racine, the district with the second highest number of students enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program. It’s almost half again larger than the next-highest Milwaukee County district.

Another regular theme of this column is the strong correlation between poverty and low achievement. Milwaukee’s average ACT score is 50th out of the 50 districts that PPF examined, and its per-student property-tax rank is 47. In the bottom 10 school districts for property tax collections, the average ACT scores of nine of those schools were under the state average of 22.2. (Slinger was the exception.)

All of the districts whose ATC scores were in the top 10 were likewise in the top half for property-tax collections, including all five of the wealthiest districts in the region. Whitefish Bay’s students topped the list with an average of 26

My moving from 53215 to 53207 isn’t going to make any of this any better or any worse, as one household out of almost a million in Southeast Wisconsin just isn’t going to make much of a difference. But it has made me a little bit more conscious of what’s going on, both in my classroom and in my neighborhood(s).

Jay Bullock teaches English at Bay View Middle and High School and tweets as @folkbum. Email him at mpshallmonitor@gmail.com.


Enthusiasm curbed in St. Francis

October 31, 2014

By Kevin Meagher

When Mike and Ellen Ferentz received a letter from the city of St. Francis May 1, 2014 ordering them to tear out the perennial garden in their “terrace” — the city-owned strip of land between the sidewalk and curb — Mike was confused. (In Milwaukee that strip of land is known as the “parkway” or “curb strip.”)

The city ordered the Ferentzes to replace the terrace garden with grass by June 2, 2014 and notified them that a fine of $20 – $500 per day would accrue if they failed to abide by the order.

In 1994, Mike and Ellen moved into the home at 4430 S. New York Ave., the home that Mike grew up in. Mike, an avid gardener, planted a perennial garden in the terrace. Sown with tiger lilies, daylilies, phlox, amaryllis, irises, zebra grass, and other greenery, the couple had occasionally received notes from the city instructing them to trim back growth or to clean it up, over the past two decades. Each time Ferentz said he willingly complied. Until last year, he had never been cited for having the garden in the terrace not ordered to remove it.

Puzzled by the dramatic change, Ferentz began to investigate what had caused his terrace garden to suddenly become a nuisance and why it was no longer tolerated by the city.

Ferentz said that St. Francis City Administrator Tim Rhode told him that his next-door neighbor David Goltz had persistently filed complaints about the terrace garden. His complaints eventually triggered a response.

After 20 years of tending a perennial garden in the “terrace” strip between the curb and sidewalk, St. Francis resident Mike Ferentz was ordered to tear it out.                      KATHERINE KELLER

After 20 years of tending a perennial garden in the “terrace” strip between the curb and sidewalk, St. Francis resident Mike Ferentz was ordered to tear it out. KATHERINE KELLER

Good Neighbor Friendship Gone Bad

Once friendly neighbors who shared house keys and kept an eye out for each other’s property, the relationship between the Ferentzes and Goltzes soured a decade ago when Ferentz wrote a sarcastic letter to the online publication St. Francis NOW, criticizing the salary of the city’s firefighters.

Shortly after the letter was published, Goltz inexplicably returned the Ferentz’s house key to Ellen, informing her that he and his wife were no longer friends with the Ferentzes because of Mike’s letter. Ferentz said he let it simmer for about a week, and then went to talk to Goltz, a retired firefighter, to ask what caused the rift. According to Ferentz, Goltz told him that he had dissed his profession; he was offended that Ferentz referred to firefighters as public servants. Ferentz said he apologized for offending him and then asked Goltz, “‘If you are not public servants, what do you call yourselves?’” Ferentz claims that Goltz told him firefighters are heroes, not public servants.

Two years later, Goltz constructed a fence between his property and Ferentz’s. A number of years before the fence went up, Ferentz planted a dwarf apple tree about a half foot from the Goltz property line, with Goltz’s knowledge and permission, according to Ferentz. In order to accommodate the fence, Ferentz was forced to sacrifice his tree.

When given the opportunity to comment for this story, Goltz said, “That is a city ordinance. You will have to ask the city about it. Goodbye.”

“What gets enforced is what’s complained about,” said Don Brickner, president of the St. Francis City Council. So when we received the complaint is obviously when it got acted on and when it got enforced. It’s not that we neglected an ordinance for 20 years and decided on Tuesday, ‘We’re gonna start enforcing this ordinance.”

While Ferentz is convinced the complaint about his terrace garden is a cut-and-dried case of petty neighbor revenge, some city officials argue that Goltz’s complaints brought the violation to their attention, including the mayor’s.

“For 20 years he was in violation of the ordinance,” said St. Francis Mayor, CoryAnn St. Marie-Carls. “It would be similar to a business leaving garbage outside or someone receiving a speeding ticket every day for 20 years.” She added that she was proud to be the first mayor on the books who was in compliance with this ordinance.

The ordinance St. Marie-Carls refers to comes from Chapter 397-5 of the St. Francis Municipal Code that reads, “No person shall plant, transplant, move, cut, prune, spray, treat, alter, or remove any public tree, shrub or plant within the City of St. Francis, including but not limited to any tree, shrub or plant located between his/her property line and the curb or traveled portion of the street(s) abutting his/her premises.”

Mike Ferentz’s perennial garden prior to uprooting.  KATHERINE KELLER

Mike Ferentz’s perennial garden prior to uprooting. KATHERINE KELLER

Rethinking the Ordinance

Because some City Council members wished to find a compromise that would allow Ferentz and other St. Francis gardeners to plant in the city-owned terraces, while maintaining restrictions to uphold the ordinance, the St. Francis Planning Commission conducted a study seeking a workable solution. The commission, made up of volunteers appointed by the mayor, conducted a study over the course of a few months, and then presented their recommendations to the City Council.

Charles Buechel, a Planning Commission member appointed by previous St. Francis Mayor Al Richards, is an avid gardener himself. He said he exhausted his resources trying to find a compromise. Buechel contacted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Horticultural Department at UW-Milwaukee, and the staff botanist at the Milwaukee Public Museum to get environmentalists’ take on the ordinance. He was advised that residents who wanted to plant their terraces would need to understand what, if any, allergens their plant selections possessed, they would need to be in compliance with the DNR’s restrictions regulating invasive species, and they would need to know the relationship between what they planted and any trees on the terrace, so as not to damage or kill the tree by planting too close.

Buechel analyzed safety factors. He looked at potential dangers posed by growing plants at heights that could affect the visibility of oncoming traffic and pedestrians. He reviewed the Americans with Disabilities Act and considered how an overgrown terrace might affect disabled pedestrians’ pathway to the sidewalk from the street. He also evaluated city utility and water lines, and how to avoid interference with underground pipes and cables. He concluded that the city would need to establish height requirements for the plants, distance requirements to allow a pathway for the disabled, and would have to be cognizant of plants’ growth habits in order to prevent residents selecting those that would damage underground pipes and cables.

According to Buechel, the general consensus of those involved in the study was that it would be nice to allow terraces to be planted, but because so many restrictions were needed, enforcement would become a nightmare.

Ultimately, St. Francis officials concluded that the task of crafting a uniform ordinance governing the planting of terraces — spaces that were far from uniform — was too daunting, according to Buechel. Another factor for the decision was the burden homeowners would bear with the liability insurance they would be forced to carry.

“There were just so many variables. It becomes a tough decision. But at some point, you’ve just got to say, ‘We’re going to stick to the (existing) ordinance,’” Buechel said.

With the Planning Commission’s recommendations in mind, a few City Council members still tried to amend the ordinance to include restrictions to allow for plantings. Councilmembers Steve Wattawa and Ray Klug wrote an amendment to the ordinance, which among other things, included filing a planting permit application that would require seven detailed scale-drawings of the planting area and a certificate of liability insurance in the amount of no less than $1 million covering the both homeowners and City of St. Francis and its employees.

Some of the other restrictions concerned the species of plants, height of plants, and their distance from city utilities and the sidewalk. Ultimately the revisions were voted down four to three with Councilmembers Steve Wattawa, Donald Brickner, and Ray Klug voting yes and Councilmembers Sue Bostedt, Debbie Fliss, Michael McSweeney, and Mayor Marie-Carls voting no.

Felicia and Noel Stuiber were also ordered to remove their flower garden from their St. Francis terrace.

Felicia and Noel Stuiber were also ordered to remove their flower garden from their St. Francis terrace.

St. Francis landscaped its terraces along Lake Drive between Packard and Howard avenues.                     KATHERINE KELLER

St. Francis landscaped its terraces along Lake Drive between Packard and Howard avenues. KATHERINE KELLER

Not Alone

Other than Ferentz, there was another St. Francis home where the owners were told to remove plants from their terrace. Felicia and Noel Stuiber, 4024 S. Lipton Ave., were also ordered to tear out their terrace garden last year. Both the Ferentzes and Stuibers filed appeals with the City of St. Francis Zoning Board of Appeals. Both appeals were denied by Building Inspector Craig Vretenar, who cited similar concerns as those expressed in the Planning Commission’s findings.

Ironically, despite the St. Francis ordinance prohibiting residents from planting their terraces, the city itself has landscaped its terraces along Lake Drive between Packard and Howard avenues, which irks Ferentz.

Buechel said that the terrace gardens on Lake Drive, some with plants three to four feet tall, were located where someone could open their door without hitting the growth.

“They went and planted the lakefront with the exact kind of thing I had in my flower bed, which was tall plants and flowers, Ferentz said. “And they deliberately exempted themselves from the ordinance, and when we asked the city attorney why the city doesn’t follow its own rules, he shrugged his shoulders.”

Mike and Ellen Ferentz hired an attorney and were able to negotiate a temporary stay to the order that they remove their perennials and plant the terrace with grass. Ferentz successfully argued that the only way to kill daylilies is by using a plastic ground cover to suffocate them, which requires a few months to be effective.

He removed the perennials October 10 and installed the plastic. He must have grass growing in his terrace by June 2015.

In the aftermath of the order to plant grass in place of Mike’s terrace garden and their failure to appeal the order, Mike and Ellen Ferentz have been scouring St. Francis to identify other homeowners who have planted flowers at the base of trees or planted elsewhere in the terrace. They intend to file complaints against each of these homeowners.

Katherine Keller contributed to this story.


Bay View’s ‘Art Stop’: Urban Counter-Pose, Is it counter-urban?

October 31, 2014

By Jeffrey Zimmerman

LEAD PHOTO Orange sail night ZIMMERMAN

Román Montoto’s Urban Counter-Pose, also known as Art Stop. JEFFREY ZIMMERMAN

The impressive transformation of Bay View’s premier intersection at Kinnickinnic, Howell and Lincoln avenues is consistently celebrated as a triumph of careful urban revitalization by city leaders and neighborhood residents alike. This may not necessarily be the case with the newest addition to the commercial hub — Román Montoto’s Urban Counter-Pose, also known as Art Stop, which officially debuted in October.

Anchoring the reconfigured traffic island in the heart of the busy intersection, Montoto’s new installation combines a soaring 32-foot tower with a visually distinct bus shelter area. The two structures, which occupy the northern and southern ends of the roughly 1600-square-foot-site respectively, synthesize the main purposes the project was designed to address — to create an iconic landmark or “gateway” representing the unique character of Bay View, while addressing more utilitarian concerns about creating a pleasant experience for Milwaukee County Transit riders, who use the intersection as a key transfer point.

Yet, the project has been mired in controversy for nearly three years. During that time, residents of Bay View voiced concerns over the cost, the possibility of misplaced public sector priorities, a potentially opaque and undemocratic public review process, delayed construction timelines, and the design itself. But now that Montoto’s piece is complete and unveiled for the public to see, the question of its success can finally be fully addressed. To begin with, Counter-Pose is really more of a large sculpture — and less a piece of functioning, organic architecture — and therefore issues related to its aesthetic achievements will be grounded in personal taste and will likely remain controversial.

Montoto said the heavy concrete base was designed to capture the “rootedness” of the community, while the steel structure connotes “industrious and creative resurgence, open-ended and optimistic for the future.”  JEFFREY ZIMMERMAN

Montoto said the heavy concrete base was designed to capture the “rootedness” of the community, while the steel structure connotes “industrious and creative resurgence, open-ended and optimistic for the future.”
JEFFREY ZIMMERMAN

This will doubly be the case as Montoto’s design is clearly modern. Counter-Pose, in fact, seems to have been inspired by the design vocabulary of Russian constructivism, a particularly brutal form of modernism that emerged in the social and political chaos of early 20th century Russia. From a distance, and at first glance, Counter-Pose therefore perplexes. It appears to be little more than concrete slabs supporting a schizophrenic array of rusted metal trellises; some reaching skyward, while others bend at unexpected angles. One could easily excuse some viewers for their unfortunate first impression that a partially-destroyed iron bridge had been plucked from the Kinnickinnic River and plunked inexplicably in downtown Bay View.

But upon closer inspection, Counter-Pose’s engagement with the intersection and the broader community comes into clearer focus. Because the traffic island’s narrowest angle faces north, Montoto positioned the prominent tower element of the installation at this key location. The effect of this arrangement is to establish a strong visual focus that draws the attention of pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers as they enter the intersection traveling south, and thereby, produces the desired “northern gateway to the neighborhood” function. At night, when the tower is illuminated by solar-powered LED lights that change in sequence through the colors of the rainbow, the gateway function is especially visible and effective.

The sculpture’s materials, as well, enter into a dialogue with Bay View’s personality and its sense of past and future. In his artist statement about the piece, Montoto said the heavy concrete base was designed to capture the “rootedness” of the community, while the steel structure connotes “industrious and creative resurgence, open-ended and optimistic for the future.”

What’s more, it certainly seems appropriate that a community with origins as a steel mill company town might be symbolically represented by a steel trellis sculpture, however  unexpectedly arranged, at its most important crossroads. Counter-Pose’s stylistic form, to put it gently, may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Montoto’s attempt to create an iconic, material representation of Bay View’s identity is intellectually engaging and, like all good art, promises to generate even further debate.

The MCTS bus stop in the triangle of Howell, Kinnickinnic, and Lincoln avenues.             JEFFREY ZIMMERMAN

The MCTS bus stop in the triangle of Howell, Kinnickinnic, and Lincoln avenues. JEFFREY ZIMMERMAN

A potentially more serious shortcoming of Montoto’s new installation becomes apparent when the functionality of the new bus shelter is evaluated specifically. Like the tower element, the shelter is visually interesting — even stunning — and is rendered in the same building materials and modern, angular aesthetic. But here the all-too-common architectural conceit of form undermining function is given one of its strongest local expressions. What ideally should be an enclosed, large area with a solid, flat roof to afford protection from the elements is left unexpectedly open and exposed. This is especially the case in the main seating area facing Lincoln Avenue where the roof piece — five interlocking pieces of opaque glass, is angled upwards at roughly fifteen degrees, thus allowing wind, rain, snow, and sleet to potentially penetrate more deeply into the partially-protected space.

Furthermore, the only seating options available are the same heavy concrete support slabs that, during the long Wisconsin winter, will hardly make a comfortable place to sit. Bus shelters, of course, are rarely pleasant and charming places, but Montoto’s interpretation at Counter-Pose seems to display a disregard for, if not implicit sadism, towards those transit riders who will use one of the key elements of the installation.

Such indifference to how the public might use the space is also on display when Counter-Pose is viewed as a whole. In this case, it’s instructive to examine the contrast with the Stone Creek Coffee Garden, which invites comparison because of both its adjacency, similarity of size, and geographic footprint.

Stone Creek’s garden, as most residents of Bay View would likely agree, is one of the most successful spaces facing the revitalized KK/Howell/Lincoln intersection. It succeeds because the strategy of its landscaping and design created an intimate “outdoor living room” that is quiet, cozy, and protected from the street.

In contrast, the public space at Counter-Pose, feels bare, open, and exposed. Indeed, the installation is framed only by five small, geometric patches of native grasses, which, at present, do very little to soften the muscularity of its concrete and steel composition. Grasses do get taller of course, and more landscaping, including trees, was a part of Montoto’s original vision. The arrangement also lacks a well-defined physical edge, which could have been employed to better establish a sense of enclosure, and thus encourage people to sit, meet, and linger.

Yet, faulting Montoto specifically on this account is a little less than fair. The original Request for Proposals (RFP) made no mention of crafting an active public gathering place, and the site’s residual traffic island location made this possibility even more of a challenge.

Missed opportunities aside, Counter-Pose still adds much more to Bay View’s ongoing renaissance than it subtracts. While the new installation excludes the traditional signifiers of public space, it is active and friendly in its own unique way.

The distinctiveness of the ambient light show activates the space in stimulating and conspicuous ways, as well. What’s more, Counter-Pose is more than successful as an anchoring agent. Just four years ago, the large triangular-shaped intersection at the heart of Bay View was little more than dead space. Although revitalized in a commercial sense, the intersection was architecturally indistinguishable from any other in the city. Counter-Pose, arguably the most theatrical addition to Bay View’s urban fabric in many generations, has effectively changed that dynamic and marked the community as one of the city’s creative epicenters.

JEFFREY ZIMMERMAN

JEFFREY ZIMMERMAN

What About Those Unsightly Utility Boxes?

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the Montoto’s Counter-Pose is the three utility boxes located roughly in the center of the installation. Because they are not veiled behind any landscaping or physical barrier, they are visually prominent from every perspective except from the south, where, fortunately, the new bus shelter obscures their inelegant masses.

Making matters even worse is that two of the three boxes are a brownish hue that seems to match almost perfectly the rust tone of the Montoto’s steel composition, thereby suggesting the possibility that they might actually be a part of the installation. This is not the case.

Montoto’s original vision included trees and shrubs that would have, in effect, hidden the utility boxes. The Dept. of Public Works, however, did not approve this part of the design because of its concerns that tree root systems might eventually disturb the underground utility conduits at the site. Montoto also specified that the existing grasses should be allowed to reach three or four feet, which would go a long way towards shielding the unsightly boxes at the center of the triangle. Ald. Tony Zielinski has suggested that other strategies of concealment are currently in the early planning stages, including covering the boxes in colorful, decorative murals.

Read Román Montoto’s artist statement.

Jeffrey Zimmerman, who grew up in Bay View, is an Assistant Professor of Geography at UW-Whitewater and a resident of the Tippecanoe neighborhood.

 


hm for donna

October 28, 2014

 

I wasn’t able to get a column done in time for last month’s Compass because my life has almost literally been upended. My wife and I are selling our house in our Bay View-adjacent neighborhood and moving to 53207 proper. If things go according to plan, by the time you read this, the boxes will be unpacked and my commute to work at Bay View High School will be a modest walk instead of a short drive.

The move has brought up a lot of, for lack of a better word, feelings. One is a fascination (or, in moments of honesty, guilt) at this paradox: Though I am moving closer to school, I am moving farther away from where my students live. In 53215, which I’m vacating, quite a few of my students lived within a few blocks of me; in 53207, there are almost none.

That paradox has been an occasional recurring theme of this column, not to mention the Bay View neighborhood’s angst-y internal dialogue — the way that Bay View neighborhood parents don’t see Bay View High School as an option for their own children, even though all our local K-6s and K-8s are fantastic.

I have a limited amount of space here, so I’m not going to rehash the whole tale for you. Suffice it to say that after many years and scores of outreach attempts, the neighborhood enrollment hasn’t ballooned the way we all hoped.

There’s more, of course. Buying and selling a house makes a person think long and hard about things like property values, by which I mean whether a mortgage will be crippling or merely more expensive than you hoped. The house we’re selling is worth less now than when we bought it 11 years ago. 53215 was hit hard by the Great Recession’s foreclosure crisis, though not nearly as badly as other parts of the city. There are nearly 3,000 vacant homes across Milwaukee, news reports tell us, with more than 1,000 owned by the city, which is trying to stabilize some of the worst neighborhoods in town.

It didn’t help that in between packing boxes and bins, I read the latest Public Policy Forum (PPF) report on the financial and academic state of Southeast Wisconsin’s school districts, which gave some cold, hard detail to a lot of these feelings of mine.

For example, I read that more than a third of students enrolled in the St. Francis School District come from Open Enrollment or Chapter 220, in other words, students who leave Milwaukee for the southern suburban district. The PPF report didn’t detail how many of those St. Francis students had 53207 zip codes, but I’ve talked to enough Bay View parents to know that at least some of those St. Francis High School students could be walking with me every morning to Bay View High School instead of riding or driving out of our district.

I don’t mean to pick on St. Francis, in particular. Milwaukee’s public schools are losing almost 7,500 kids a year to the suburbs, including Oak Creek, Greenfield, West Allis-West Milwaukee, and Wauwatosa, which alone enrolls more than 1,000 Milwaukee students.

PPF’s report quantifies some of the financial challenges that come from living in a property-poor city like Milwaukee. In 2013-2014, 83 percent of MPS’s students qualified for free or reduced lunch, the universal marker of poverty when looking at student enrollment. That’s up from 77 percent just a few years ago, and it’s 20 percent higher than Racine, the district with the second highest number of students enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program. It’s almost half again larger than the next-highest Milwaukee County district.

Another regular theme of this column is the strong correlation between poverty and low achievement. Milwaukee’s average ACT score is 50th out of the 50 districts that PPF examined, and its per-student property-tax rank is 47. In the bottom 10 school districts for property tax collections, the average ACT scores of nine of those schools were under the state average of 22.2. (Slinger was the exception.)

All of the districts whose ATC scores were in the top 10 were likewise in the top half for property-tax collections, including all five of the wealthiest districts in the region. Whitefish Bay’s students topped the list with an average of 26

My moving from 53215 to 53207 isn’t going to make any of this any better or any worse, as one household out of almost a million in Southeast Wisconsin just isn’t going to make much of a difference. But it has made me a little bit more conscious of what’s going on, both in my classroom and in my neighborhood(s).