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Redevelopment Authority Commission approves Commerce Street Housing Development

by Vince Bushell

The Redevelopment Authority Commission held a meeting February 21 to discuss housing development along Commerce Street, adjacent to and below Kilbourn Park. This land is located south of North Avenue and slopes down to Commerce Street. Mike Wisniewski from the Department of City Development introduced the development projects to the Commissioners, pointing out that the sale of property on the bluff, 2029-57 Commerce Street, would yield the City $600,000 in land proceeds and result in 15 to 16 million dollars in private investment. A section of former railroad land now owned by Metro Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD) would be sold to the developers (Legacy) and architects (Vetter Denk). John Vetter presented the proposal, using a model showing the location and extent of the project. He said the goal of the project was to provide “a cohesive vision and diversity as key parts of the development.” He said their “desire was to introduce new demographics” into the development on Commerce Street. These new market elements are first time homebuyers and family residences. Vetter said the design would “try to achieve a sense of neighborhood.” The family units will have private yards and be built on the bluff. Row houses would front Commerce Street. A larger complex (six stories with 31 units) would wrap around Humboldt and Commerce Street and have a retail component — when questioned, Vetter suggested a coffee shop or restaurant. The 31 unit building has the least expensive options with about half of the units selling for under $150,000 (six at $90,000) and half selling for $170,000 to $250,000. The row houses were in the $250,000 range and the single family homes $300,000 and up, with one expected at one million dollars. There would be a new road constructed near what is now an abandoned bike trail to accommodate the bluff development. Questions were taken from the Commissioners and the general public. Donna Schlieman, a nearby resident and historical preservation advocate, asked if the retaining wall now visible on the slope would be removed. Wisniewski said it would be removed as part of the landscaping the city will do all along the slope. Shawnette Smart, Riverwest resident and homeowner adjacent to Kilbourn Park, expressed strong dissatisfaction with the lack of due process of notification in the decision-making process concerning the proposed development. Smart said it had been her understanding that this area would not be developed. Smart maintains that when City officials had made presentations to the neighborhood about the scope of development, residents were promised that none of the land below Kilbourn Park would be developed. City Planner Peter Park and DCD representative Mike Wisniewski denied this and presented maps showing the area of development that they maintain were shared with the neighborhood. Commissioner and Alderman Fred Gordon said the meeting would not be the last word on the subject. The development proposal will be presented to the Zoning Board and to the full Common Council before action can be taken. The Redevelopment Authority passed the recommendation for this development unanimously. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 2 – March 2002