RNA Tackles Full Agenda

by Vanessa Kuehner

On May 13 the Riverwest Neighborhood Association’s monthly meeting did not disappoint those who came expecting the usual packed slate of engaging, timely, and sometimes intense discussions. The meeting wrapped up around 9:30 pm, although attendance peaked somewhat earlier in the evening. Jerry Patzwald, acting chair, started with a round of introductions that included Jim Wilson, YMCA-CDC community development specialist (see page 8). Opening announcements provided a rich sampling of the many community-enriching activities in our neighborhood. These included:

  • Planning for the annual 4th of July event — volunteers are welcome.
  • Locust Street Festival takes place on the second Sunday of June.
  • The Riverwest Gardeners’ Market returns, 11-4 p.m. Sundays through October with the season kick-off June 15.
  • The Riverwest Directory is in final layout. 5,000 copies will soon be available, with printing assistance provided by Columbia St. Mary’s and COA Youth & Family Centers.
  • The Gordon Park Grooves music series will return for its second summer.
  • The RNA e-mail network is now up to 260 subscribers! (LINK)
  • One Stop Childcare at 2640 N. Humboldt has “wild growth” at the back of the building and UW-Extension is assisting to establish an urban garden that the children may participate in.

At the recommendation of the Development Committee, it was moved that RNA support an extension of Chicago Metra to Milwaukee as part of an integrated transit network including “the Milwaukee Connector” concept. The motion carried. Alderman D’Amato attended the meeting, bringing maps and providing information related to recent discussions of gentrification and development pressure facing Riverwest. He and others noted that information about rent and renters is harder to obtain. The Development Committee will continue to gather data and revisit the gentrification position paper (LINK) at a future date. With Alderman D’Amato on hand, RNA members took the opportunity to cover a lot of ground concerning development issues and a small handful of other matters. They were:

  • Purchase of railroad right-of-way. The city has a proposal to purchase parts of the former rail line for trail use, (north of Burleigh) and grant money has been received for this purpose.
  • Andy Busalacchi is using one section of the rail line, west of the Post Building, to build as many as 90 mini-warehouse units. This is a permitted use for the current zoning of the land and no approvals were required beyond receipt of necessary building permits.
  • The Post Building, 2941-2955 N Humboldt Blvd. is not part of Busalacchi’s current plans and the city will issue an RFP soon for buyers with proposals for its future use.
  • The Bio-pac Building, 2730 N Humboldt Blvd.: Patzwald reported that the city favors the proposal from Bella Luna Pasta. D’Amato indicated the city would be willing to continue discussions with Bella Luna and Ag Works, as both the Post and Bio-pac buildings are available. He suggested that the Post Building may turn out to be a better fit for Bella Luna, and that option would be offered to them.
  • The “old train station” building at Fratney and Auer, former home of the Riverwest Artists’ Association, is for sale. D’Amato said the city will help facilitate acquisition of money for brownfield investigation/cleanup, provided “the use is of greater public value than a private residence.” Site investigation indicates contamination.

There was a lengthy discussion regarding matching funds for city park development, building on RNA email network comments. The city has $50,000 in funding earmarked at this time for “Babies’ Park,” provided that RNA or some other neighborhood group can commit within the next two weeks to raising $25,000 in matching dollars by the end of the year. It was mentioned that Babies’ Park actually has relatively new tot lot equipment whereas other neighborhood parks have rundown equipment (Reservoir) or none at all (Pumping Station, play equipment was recently removed). The main concerns at Babies’ Park relate to kids and dogs lacking proper supervision rather than the state of the play set. People need to step forward now to lead the fundraising effort or the city money will revert to a pool for other uses. A motion was put forward that interest in leading the fundraising effort be elicited via the email network, RNAmail, and it carried. Tess Reiss, the gatekeeper, volunteered to put interested parties in touch with one another. She can be reached at . D’Amato had asked for direction regarding how the neighborhood might prefer that he seek opinions on decisions regarding liquor licenses in Riverwest. It was eventually concluded that D’Amato’s office would send information regarding liquor license requests to RNA to be sent out over the email network. Near neighbors would be asked to identify themselves as such via email as soon as possible. If no response (or only a very limited one) is forthcoming, the Alderman’s office will be notified so that he may send out a mailing. He said his office would typically include residents in a three block radius for a tavern and a broader area for other types of liquor outlets. Jesse Greenlee of the YMCA-CDC provided some information about Holton Street, which was selected by the city to receive a $110,000 INRS (Integrated Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy) grant. The initiative would involve both Harambee and Riverwest in efforts for directed improvements along the length of Holton Street. Half of the money was allocated to NMIDC for work on a commercial building inventory, and the other half is in the hands of the YMCA-CDC for the remainder of the project. The YMCA CDC currently does not have a paid employee or consultant working on the project. The agency is waiting for clarification of Main Street plans from the City. A CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) grant application for Holton Street is pending at this time. The grant could provide funding for street trees and bike lanes. Under Old Business, a motion carried stating RNA’s endorsement of the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods coalition, allowing RNA’s name to be used in future lists of supporters. This initiative has a set of positions regarding future development in the Park East Freeway corridor. In other agenda items, Bylaws discussion was tabled. A RISE (Riverwest Initiative for a Safe Environment) Committee report mentioned an upcoming Pierce Street block club meeting at Mayfields and the value of attending the MPD 5th District Crime Prevention monthly meetings. Block captains and neighborhood leaders should contact Officer Bruce Scott for further information. In a report from the Sunflower Brigade regarding the Johnson Controls site, it was noted that a letter was received from an attorney representing River Neighbors, an organization headed by Marlene Jansen, concerning the name of our organization. The latter item will be taken up as old business at the next RNA meeting. The last announcement asked residents to contact their county supervisor regarding the possible imminent sale of County Grounds land. Supervisor Willie Johnson was in attendance. The next RNA meeting will be chaired by Suzanne Zipperer and held at the usual time and place: Tuesday June 10; 7 p.m., 604 E. Center St. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 6 – June 2003
by Vanessa Kuehner