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Zoo Interchange land deal in fast lane

By Beth Kevit

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is considering buying and razing the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department patrol substation along Swan Road and Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

The state is poised to pay Milwaukee County $22.6 million to move buildings in the way of the Zoo Interchange reconstruction, but the payment could plummet if the agreement hits a snag.

Under the proposed agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the county would sell a warehouse and a Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department patrol substation on West Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa to WisDOT, which would demolish them to make way for a rebuilt Swan Boulevard.

The County Board of Supervisors’ Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee debated the proposed agreement at a special meeting Tuesday and unanimously recommended approval. But the full board will have to consider it Thursday.

If the full board does not approve the agreement, WisDOT legally could pay the county its original offer of about $3.6 million, said Alan Marcuvitz, an attorney with Milwaukee-based Michael Best & Friedrich LLP who represents the county.

The agreement needs to be approved as soon as possible, Marcuvitz said, so WisDOT can close on the land in April and stay on its timeline to start construction on Swan Boulevard in June.

The two sides arrived at the higher, $22.6 million settlement, Marcuvitz said, after the county convinced the state that the extension of Swan Boulevard would cause problems for the patrol substation.

If the substation were to stay put, he said, the new road design would inhibit access to the highway.

“We thought we were looking at a small beast,” Marcuvitz said, “and it developed into a large beast.”

The settlement would include $17 million in cash and about $5.6 million in in-kind services, he said, which would include demolition and site preparation.

Supervisor David Bowen, a member of the transportation committee, said Monday the special meeting was designed to avoid letting the state dictate the lower settlement.

“They can impose whatever they say is the value,” Bowen said. “It’s in our best interest to make sure we get this done, and while the iron is hot, we do strike.”

Brian Dranzik, Milwaukee County Department of Transportation interim director, said about $8.9 million of the $17 million payment would be used to replace the warehouse, and about $6.3 million would be used to renovate the county’s fleet maintenance building, also on West Watertown Plank Road, to accommodate the patrol substation.

The remaining money would be used for other county costs related to the Zoo Interchange project.

WisDOT bought the county’s old greenhouses, which are behind the fleet maintenance building and warehouse, last year for $1.1 million and plans to demolish them. WisDOT is paying to build new greenhouses at the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory.

The committee’s unanimous approval bodes well for the agreement, Marcuvitz said. If WisDOT were to revert to its original offer, that decision could be appealed in circuit court, he said, but the option on the table is the best for the county.

“This agreement,” he said, “is much superior.”

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