Plans for a new University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus moved forward Tuesday amid protests from Wauwatosa city officials who pushed for more changes to the plan.
The Wauwatosa Common Council has been considering the proposed UW-Milwaukee campus and business park plan since February. The proposal has packed numerous city public hearings in the past two months as residents argued over whether the project will yield enough economic benefits to justify the loss of city green space to new development.
Alderman Bobby Pantuso, who sided with the majority on the 13-2 vote to approve the plan, said delays and more discussion would not generate any real improvements to the plan.
“If we send it back to committee,” he said, “I think we’ll just be back here in two weeks having the same conversations.”
The development would cover 59.5 acres of an 89-acre property east of Highway 45, north of Watertown Plank Road and south of Swan Boulevard. The UWM Real Estate Foundation Inc. is proposing to buy the land from Milwaukee County for the project.
The UWM foundation plans call for an estimated $250 million worth of development with an estimated 1.1-million square feet of building space. The project includes housing, university buildings and a business park for companies whose products relate to UW-Milwaukee research.
Alderman Dennis McBride, who pushed for approval of the plan, said the land will inevitably be developed because Milwaukee County has committed to selling the property. The UWM foundation proposal, he said, will preserve more land than any development plan for a private hotel or shopping center, he said.
“People are saying we either save the butterflies or we approve the UWM project,” McBride said. “Balderdash. It’s a false dichotomy.”
The campus plan calls for the preservation of 11.4 acres as a natural habitat for butterflies near the historic Eschweiler buildings on the northern portion of the campus.
Alderman Peter Donegan raised concerns over the proposal to build new apartment or condominium buildings on land that would otherwise remain undeveloped. The land proposed for the new housing development is around the historic Eschweiler buildings on the site.
The Eschweiler buildings must be preserved under the UWM foundation’s land sale agreement with Milwaukee County. Foundation representatives have told the city that, economically, the only way to pay for restoration of the Eschweiler buildings is to develop new apartment or condominium buildings around the historic structures.
Donegan said he does not think community residents are willing to sacrifice more land around the Eschweiler buildings just to see them preserved.
“Because we have to renovate the Eschweiler buildings,” he said, “we have to take more park land. I’m not comfortable with that proposition.”
Donegan asked for more time to explore other ways to preserve the Eschweiler buildings without having to build new apartments around them.
“I don’t want to break this deal,” Donegan said. “If this is the best we can do, I will stand for it.”
Supporters of the plan, including Pantuso, said city officials will have future opportunities to vote on the project. The UWM foundation must return to the city and get separate approval for each new building in the development, and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission must approve new residential buildings proposed for the land around the Eschweiler buildings.
Pantuso said the plan approved Tuesday night, like any good compromise, does not leave any of the sides completely satisfied.
“Not everybody gets everything that they want,” he said. “But everybody gets a little piece of the pie.”