Milwaukee County is selling itself short in a three-way land swap with Oak Creek and Northwestern Mutual Investment Services LLC, according to Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo.
“From a purely financial standpoint there is no way what we’re getting is going to be close in value to what we’re giving up,” he said. “Once that Drexel interchange is built, that’s going to be some very valuable land.”
If the deal goes through, the Milwaukee County Parks department would get 40 acres more than it gives to Northwestern Mutual and Oak Creek.
But size does not equal value, Sanfelippo said.
Milwaukee County is giving up prime real estate, he said, near the future site of the Drexel Avenue interchange on Interstate 94. The county would receive undevelopable park preserve land known as the Esch Honadel Woods.
In the swap, Northwestern Mutual would acquire 52 acres along the future Interstate 94 interchange in Oak Creek. Oak Creek would net 18.4 acres.
There would be no money exchanged in the deal. The Oak Creek Common Council signed off on the swap, but the Milwaukee County Board is holding off until it gets property value assessments for all of the land.
But that will take months, said Kevin Haley, the Milwaukee County Parks landscape architect overseeing the deal. That land won’t always be available, he said, and the county should not wait.
The additional 40 acres should not burden the county because the property requires very little maintenance, said Milwaukee County Supervisor Gerry Broderick, chairman of the Milwaukee County Parks, Energy and Environment committee.
“And, frankly, it gives us an opportunity to preserve land that is right for preservation,” he said. “Plus, having accessible parkland nearby is included in the quality of life people have come to expect in Milwaukee County.”
But there are drawbacks to surrendering county-owned parkland, said John Lunz, president of the Preserve Our Parks group. In this case, he said, the deal lets development encroach on parkland.
“Any time you have a lot of development right up near an environmentally sensitive area,” he said, “you have concerns on what impact it will have on the remaining area.”
It still beats the alternative, said Doug Seymour, director of Oak Creek’s Community Development Department, because there is no guarantee Oak Creek could preserve the land it is giving to Milwaukee County.
“I think Milwaukee County certainly has experience managing large tracts of environmental land the city doesn’t necessarily have,” he said, “and that takes away the temptation for future councils to nibble away at the edges of this land.”
Oak Creek plans to build an elementary school on the West Drexel Avenue property obtained in the deal, Seymour said.
But the city is not obligated to build a school, the county’s Sanfelippo said, and there are better uses for that property.
“I think that’s what we’re being told now to make the deal a little more palatable because who wants to be against a school,” he said. “But, I highly doubt they are going to use that site for a school.
“It’s just talk, and talk is cheap.”