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Bill to aid Couture has 17 sponsors

By: Molly Willms//January 24, 2014//

Bill to aid Couture has 17 sponsors

By: Molly Willms//January 24, 2014//

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A bill aimed at clearing the way for private development on a Milwaukee lakefront parcel is getting bipartisan support at the Wisconsin Legislature.

2013 Assembly Bill 655, introduced by state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, and state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, has 15 additional sponsors, including a Democrat each from the senate and assembly.

The parcel in question is the proposed site of The Couture, a 44-story mixed-use building planned for development by Rick Barrett.

AB 655 is the second attempt by state lawmakers to free up the property for private development. The first was a measure approved in the 2013-15 state budget that identified the county-owned land as being west of the designated Lake Michigan shoreline.

Questions have arisen about whether the property, which is the site of the downtown Transit Center, is filled-in lakebed and therefore governed by the Wisconsin Constitution’s Public Trust Doctrine, which regulates the ownership of waterways. Under the doctrine, navigable waterways must remain open for public use, meaning any land that arises naturally or that is added within a waterway cannot be used for private development.

The county announced negotiations with Barrett in July 2012, but as yet has not been able to get the title insurance it needs to sell the parcel because of potential litigation over rights to the land.

Milwaukee County supervisors recently gave committee endorsement to file for declaratory judgment on property rights to the land. Supervisors have expressed frustration that members of County Executive Chris Abele’s staff had campaigned for the assembly bill.

The bill has been assigned to the Jobs, Economy and Mining committee of the state Assembly. It is scheduled for a public hearing at noon Feb. 5.


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