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Brown Deer prevails in roadwork lawsuit

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rick Sankovitz

By Beth Kevit

A judge’s ruling will let Brown Deer revive a multimillion-dollar street renovation project that had been tied up in a lawsuit with angry property owners for more than a year.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rick Sankovitz answered the final question in the case Wednesday by saying Brown Deer’s right of way on Deerwood Drive is 66-feet wide except for a few specific encroachments. He had previously ruled the village owns the roads involved in the project, does not have to pay to acquire land the property owners had claimed and can build sidewalks.

While preparing to rebuild Deerwood, River Lane, Ruth Place and 42nd and 43rd streets, the village learned deeds to 51 properties extended to the center lines of the roads. Most property owners sold that land to the village for about $200 each, but others held out, some for more money and others to prevent the sidewalk construction.

Brown Deer sued those holdouts in December 2011. The village then put the project out to bid and, in February 2012, Green Bay-based Advance Construction Inc. submitted the low bid of $2.36 million.

But Advance’s bid expired June 1 while the lawsuit continued.

Sankovitz’s ruling Wednesday dealt specifically with one block on Deerwood. As public highways, the roads in the project are presumed to be 66-feet wide, but Sankovitz already had made exceptions for Ruth Place and 42nd Street, ruling they are 60-feet wide because there are buildings lining the roads.

Hugh Braun, who represents the seven remaining property owners in the lawsuit, argued Wednesday that Deerwood Drive also should be narrower than 66 feet because three buildings in the 8700 block cross the boundary established by a 66-foot right of way.

Sankovitz disagreed that the whole road should be limited but said the village does not have a right to the land under those encroachments.

Braun said his clients have yet to decide whether to appeal Sankovitz’s decisions.

Nate Piotrowski, the village’s community development director, said the village knows an appeal is possible, but that is not enough to justify delaying construction any longer.

The Village Board voted Monday to put the project out to bid again pending Sankovitz’s actions Wednesday. Piotrowski said the village expects to have plans available by March 4 and to open submitted bids March 25.

That would allow construction to begin by mid-May, with utility work potentially starting sooner. He said the project is expected to take five to six months to complete.

If Braun’s clients appeal, Piotrowski said, the village will deal with it then.

“I don’t know to what extent,” he said, “an appeal could hinder our construction efforts.”

Piotrowski said he expects the project still will cost about $2.3 million. The state’s Department of Natural Resources awarded Brown Deer $242,180 in grant money to help pay for storm-water management ponds that are part of the project.

The grants were set to expire at the end of 2012, but the DNR gave Brown Deer an extension when the lawsuit delayed construction. Brown Deer now has to use that money by the end of 2013, a tight timeframe if work doesn’t start until mid-May, Piotrowski said.

“We’re going to have to manage our time well out there,” he said, “but I think we have enough flexibility.”

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