Bay View Roundly Rejects Development Proposed for Kinnickinnic

January 3, 2019

By Katherine Keller

The hundred or so residents who attended the second public meeting December 19 to review developer Scott Lurie’s revised plans for the Bella’s and BMO Harris sites once again vehemently rejected the proposed development. The meeting was hosted by Ald. Tony Zielinski who represents and lives in Bay View.

Project architect Matt Rinka said the revised plan reflected a response to feedback his firm received after the first meeting. He summarized the comments his firm received: too tall, mass too much for the neighborhood, density too much for the neighborhood, a need for more buffering between and less mass against neighboring properties.

The revised plans reduced the tallest parapet height by 20 feet, sliced off the sixth story of both buildings, and reduced the number of apartments from 230 to about 200.

The outlined areas approximate the footprint of Milwaukee developer Scott Lurie plans to construct two apartment buildings. Retail space on the first floor of each building would be topped with four stories of apartments, about 200 in total. Google Maps

Commercial space would be restricted to the first floor, totaling 27,000 feet, and all 350 parking stalls would be enclosed.

Lurie’s project comprises two buildings. The larger of the two faces South Kinnic­kinnic Avenue and is bound by South Logan Avenue on the north and South Herman Avenue on the south. Rinka said BMO Harris intends to lease the commercial space in the building. The second building would face Kinnickinnic and be bound on the north by Herman and the by the Phillips gas station on the south.

The current BMO Harris Bank, the former Bella’s Fat Cat building, two homes south of Bella’s and several other homes facing Herman would be demolished. Two alleys would be relocated.

The new plan increases the green buffer between the development and the single family homes to the west and increases the buffer area between the new buildings and the adjacent single-family properties, where feasible, according to Rinka.

The revised plan includes a pedestrian green space adjacent to the north building, situated on the corner of Russell, Kinnickinnic, and Logan. Project architect Matt Rinka would like to vacate the patch of Russell Avenue between Kinnickinnic and Logan to permit the green space to encompass the existing war memorial and flagpole. Rinka Chung Architecture

Rinka said the new plan is more pedestrian friendly because it calls for vacating the short stretch of East Russell Avenue between Logan and Kinnickinnic to create greenspace that would enclose the triangle where the war memorial and flagpole stand.

The revised plan did not appease the residents who attended the meeting, many who said they lived on Logan or Herman in close proximity to the proposed project.

One of the residents commented, “The minute you start removing homes for commercial development, it goes on and on from there.”

Another commented that the scale and design don’t respect the tradition that Bay View was founded on. Referring to the revised plan he said, “This is still too much.”

“This is a beautiful design, but not for here,” said another resident who lives on Logan. “It is a beautiful but soulless design,” she said. She worried that the mass of the building would block sunlight from her property where she maintains gardens. She said Bay View is for families and that she knows her neighbors. “I don’t need 235 new neighbors,” she said.

This vantage point, looking east along Logan Avenue, illustrates the entry to an enclosed parking garage with 350 stalls. Rinka Chung Architecture

Susan Miller said people are moving to Bay View because they are drawn to “the quaint area.” She would like the design to reflect the two- and three-story buildings on KK north of Logan that have commercial space at street level and apartments above. She said, “This design would be beautiful for St. Francis.”

Joe Hayes said the building doesn’t fit the neighborhood. “We are over capacity already with the number of apartments. How do we address empty apartments?”

Lurie replied his plan calls for smaller apartments so that rent will be lower and that therefore he didn’t think filling them would be a problem.

Another resident said he liked “the industrial architecture of the new design” and wondered if any of the apartments would be HUD affordable housing units. Lurie said there were none and that rent for all units would be priced at full market value.

Similar comments were made by another audience member who said she wants families to live in the new buildings. “Studios and one bedrooms are not family units,” she said. She said she lives on Herman, where traffic congestion is already a problem and fears that it will become worse if there are 200 more apartments. Some of the other speakers agreed, noting that it was likely that there would be more than 200 cars owned by the residents of the proposed 200 new apartments.

Another resident asked who is responsible for making decisions about what can be built and what can be rezoned. Vanessa Koster, representing the Department of City Development, responded that land use decisions are considered (by DCD) in context of the various neighborhood comprehensive plans. The comprehensive plan used for Bay View is the Southeast Side Area Plan, which includes the Kinnickinnic Corridor. (https://city.milwaukee.gov/AreaPlans/Southeast.htm#.XCRYZS3MyA8)

“I have no qualms with increasing density,” said another speaker, but this is too expensive and not for us.” He said he would like to see apartments being built that current Bay View residents like himself could afford. He said that the developer’s projected rent of $1,000 for a studio was unreasonable and beyond the reach of many who might want to live in a new studio apartment in Bay View.

Mike Bersch, who said he was a member of the former Bay View Business Association, noted Bay View’s residential architecture is characterized by a preponderance of bungalows. “It is what our community was built on,” he said. The proposed project is not appropriate, and he compared it to the metal Christmas tree that Charlie Brown rejected in favor of a natural tree. He said it was a great design, but “not for here.”

Greg Bird said he thought the design would be improved if it replicated old Milwaukee architecture. He asked that the architect make the buildings look interesting. He also wondered, given their scale, if the buildings’ heating and air conditioning units, which he thought would be placed on the roofs, would be noisy.

A few audience members said that new development would increase the tax base, which they supported.

After about 25 people voiced their opinion of the project, Zielinski asked for a show of hands of those who opposed and those who supported the project. Only one audience member raised his hand in support, while the majority of others indicated their opposition, at which point Zielinski said he would respect the will of the residents and oppose the project.

He said Lurie may abandon the project or try to push it through the Common Council.

Before the project would be voted on by the council, the parcels would need to be rezoned to permit the developer to build the number of apartments in his plan.

Zielinski said that if Lurie did push for approval, that residents would be given two more opportunities to express their opposition or support at hearings of the city’s zoning and planning committees.

After the meeting Zielinski texted the Compass, “Based upon the neighborhood feedback, I am opposed to the present plan.”

A lot with two buildings, 2159 S. Kinnickinnic is listed for sale, on Loopnet, for $699,000. Photo Katherine Keller

Potential Kinnickinnic Development Sites

Two buildings and a parking lot, 2159 S. Kinnickinnic are listed for sale, $699,000 on Loopnet. The  buildings, warehouse-like structures, are located on a .37 acre parcel between C-Viche restaurant and The Backyard bar.

The former Hamburger Mary’s restaurant building (and before that, Omega restaurant), 2130 S. Kinnickinnic, was demolished. Construction has begun for a 144-unit apartment complex by developers Tim Gokham of New Land Enterprises and Jim Wiechmann of Wiechmann Enterprises.

Recently the American Legion George Washington Bay View Post 180, 2860 S. Kinnickinnic, was demolished to make way for Scott Genke’s apartment project that would include about 36 residential units above retail space on the first story.

Genke owns two vacant lots adjacent to the Alchemist Theatre building in the 2500 block of S. Kinnickinnic where he said he plans to build an apartment building of perhaps 18 units. The announcement of the closing of the Alchemist Theatre has fueled speculation among some Bay View residents that the Alchemist building may be a potential development site.   

Scott Lurie did not respond to the Compass request for comment.

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