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Development law splits Milwaukee neighborhood

By Sean Ryan

A proposal to wipe out a five-year-old development law in a Milwaukee neighborhood is reigniting an argument over the best way to govern growth.

The city in 2005 limited development in a lower east side neighborhood in which most of the buildings are old houses. The law was intended to discourage construction of large condo and apartment buildings and to preserve the existing residential exteriors.

“We didn’t want to see a huge row of identical looking, over-massed, modernistic looking buildings,” said Lisa Christopherson, a neighborhood resident and former president of the East Village Association.

But Jill Bondar, the treasurer of the East Village Association, said she supports Alderman Nik Kovac’s proposal to abolish the law. She said the law does more to prevent homeowners from improving their property than to stop developers from building condos in the area.

“It’s just another layer of government,” Bondar said. “Because of the bad blood that was created between neighbors, a neighbor can report you if you do this or a neighbor can report you if you do that.”

Bondar said she does not want a law limiting what she can do with her property.

The law, among other things, limits fence and sign heights in front yards and requires exterior renovation projects do not change the shape and size of front porches, windows and doors.

“I just don’t think that’s what’s needed in this neighborhood,” Bondar said. “This divides the neighborhood. I think neighbors should talk to each other.”

The East Village Association in 2004 and 2005 pushed to get the law passed. Christopherson was part of that effort but since then has been sued over the issue and voted out of the East Village Association.

East side resident Joe Kaye in 2005 sued members of the association and an alderman claiming, among other things, they created the development law to benefit association members who also are developers in the area. The lawsuit was unsuccessful.

The association this month surveyed area residents and, of the 100 responses, 73 asked for the law to be repealed. The zoning law covers the area roughly bordered by the Milwaukee River, North Humboldt Avenue, East Brady Street and North Warren Avenue.

“I know the survey went out,” Christopherson said. “I did not respond to it partially because I wanted to wash my hands of the whole mess.”

Christopherson said she wants the law to stand and has not heard complaints about home renovation projects being blocked.

“I feel that it’s not doing any harm,” she said, “so there is no reason to repeal it. Little neighborhoods like this are one of the things that makes Milwaukee special.”

Kovac, who was unavailable before deadline, will meet with area residents Wednesday night to discuss the law and the results of the neighborhood survey.

Bondar said the meeting is sure to show the divide in the neighborhood.

“I absolutely want to preserve this neighborhood,” she said, “but not by telling me and my neighbors what to do with our doors and windows.”

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