Area developers and residents are debating whether a development plan for a neighborhood on Milwaukee’s east side will be a help or a hindrance.
For more than a year, members of the neighborhood’s Business Improvement District have been working on a development plan for the area that includes North, Farwell and Prospect avenues on Milwaukee’s east side.
Part of the plan includes an architectural review board to control development. The review board would be the second in the city and modeled after the one in the Third Ward.
Developer Bob Monnat said he supports the plan for a review board because it would better control development and allow for community input.
“It is an additional step for developers,” said Monnat, CEO of the Mandel Group Inc., Milwaukee. “It takes more time and it risks more money for the developer but it has worked in the Third Ward.”
The development plan calls for denser development, including a minimum of four to six stories for buildings, first-floor retail space and design standards.
James Piwoni, an architect who wrote the guidelines for the Third Ward and for the east side, said the guidelines will be finalized this month. The proposed architectural review board needs approval from the Common Council, which could occur as early as November, he said.
But one developer, Robert E. Schmidt, has told the planners that he opposes the six-story minimum because the economy won’t support it.
Schmidt, chief executive officer of Bolder Venture LLC, Milwaukee, did not return calls for comment.
His company razed a gas station at North and Prospects avenues and built three single-story fast-food restaurants on the site. He also owns the nearby Prospect Mall.
Nik Kovac, the alderman who represents the area, said the fast-food restaurants Schmidt built are wrong for the area and an example of why the review board is needed.
“This is an important neighborhood in the city,” Kovac said. “Over the next 10 to 15 years we are going to see a lot of development and we need standards to guide it.”
The area, Kovac said, is a popular night spot but needs more retail development to bring people to the area during the daytime.
Monnat said the area would not see more major projects such as the nearby Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital or the Cambridge Commons dormitory.
“We will be seeing smaller, in-fill projects,” he said. “The projects will be two, five or eight million (dollar) projects because there are no other institutional projects in the market place and not other large sites.”
Monnat said he supports the architectural review board that will be made up of nonprofessionals who own businesses or property in the area. He acknowledged that it would mean more work for developers, but said the positive side is that it provides local input and control on development.
Peg Silvestrini, an owner of Beans & Barley, a cafe and market at 1901 E. North Ave., said she generally supports an architectural review board but has reservations about the minimum height standards.
“We were thinking about putting solar panels on our roof for our hot water heater,” Silvestrini said. “But a five-story building went up across the street.”
She said it might be unwise to require all new development have first floor retail.
“The city has insisted that there be first-floor retail and there are a lot of vacancies,” she said. “You can’t just have blanket rules like that.”
James Plaisted, the executive director of the East Side Business Improvement District, said the review board would have enough latitude to allow for the development of a single-story building such as Beans & Barley, but would require an architectural design that would make the building stand out.
Piwoni said the goal is to look at the neighborhood as a room.
“If you visit a place that feels like a well-designed room, you don’t forget it,” Piwoni said. “A good example of that is Bayshore.”
Kovac said the east side is not mimicking the suburban Bayshore Town Center.
“We are what that Bayshore is pretending to be,” Kovac said. “We have the urban mix that they want. We just need to guide future development, especially along North Ave.”