Before selling water to Waukesha, Milwaukee should force its neighbor to the west to make housing more affordable and transit more available, according to organizations skeptical of the deal.
“It can’t be platitudes,” said Peter McAvoy, vice president of environmental health for the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center. “It can’t just be rhetoric.”
Waukesha Water Utility officials plan to seek state approval to buy Lake Michigan water and spend an estimated $70 million building pipes to move the water, said Dan Duchniak, the utility’s general manager. The utility could buy the water from Milwaukee, Racine or Oak Creek, he said, so Waukesha officials are gauging the interest of all three communities.
Racine and Oak Creek signed nearly identical letters in October and December expressing interest in a water sale, but a letter from city of Milwaukee aldermen placed additional conditions on a deal with Waukesha. The conditions include gauging whether the water deal would promote development in Waukesha, requiring Waukesha have public transit linking people in Milwaukee to Waukesha jobs and requiring Waukesha create more affordable housing.
Waukesha is not doing enough to meet those conditions when it comes to affordable housing, said Karyn Rotker senior staff attorney on the Poverty, Race & Civil Liberties Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation.
Waukesha this year directed city planners to target 35 percent by 2035 as the goal for multifamily buildings in the city’s overall housing stock, she said. The remaining 65 percent of that would be in single-family homes and condominiums, she said.
That is a reduction from the previous goal of 45 percent multifamily buildings, Rotker said.
“Waukesha is saying that it wants our water and is waving the banner of regional collaboration,” she said. “But just this year they enacted a policy that would reduce the amount of multifamily, affordable housing.”
Duchniak said everything will be open for negotiation if the utility tries to make a deal with Milwaukee, but he could not respond to the specifics of housing in the city’s long-range plan.
He said 43.5 percent of Waukesha’s housing is rental units, and 14 percent of the city’s population consists of minorities. As for concerns that Waukesha would see an explosion of development because of the water deal, he said, only 15 percent of the land in the water service area is undeveloped.
Waukesha officials expect the city’s population to increase from more than 68,000 today to about 97,000 during the next 50 years.
“We believe Waukesha is very similar to the city of Milwaukee when it comes to makeup,” Duchniak said.
Waukesha in early 2010 will hold public hearings on its proposed application for Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approval to buy Lake Michigan water, Duchniak said, and the plan is to submit the application around March.
The city of Milwaukee’s Public Works Committee on Wednesday unanimously endorsed the aldermen’s letter saying Milwaukee is willing to negotiate a water sale if Waukesha satisfies the conditions.
Rotker and McAvoy said they want Waukesha to make its commitment official before Milwaukee agrees to a deal.
“Zoning, land use changes, would have to happen,” McAvoy said.