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Milwaukee assisted living project on life support

A company’s proposal to build a new assisted-living home would provide housing for seniors and the disabled but alter the character of a residential Milwaukee neighborhood.

The proposal, before Milwaukee’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee, would combine four empty lots at 7901 and 7911 W. Potomac Ave. into two parcels, allowing the owner, AD2LUV LLC, to construct a pair of buildings for an assisted-living home. Despite being held back by the committee last week, the proposal is expected to move forward at a special session Tuesday morning.

The land is in Arlington Gardens, a residential neighborhood made up of single-family homes. Because the new structures are a “community-based residential facility,” zoning law allows them to be classified as single-family homes even though they could each house up to as many as eight people and be significantly larger than neighboring structures.

Committee Chair James Bohl, along with Council Members Robert Bauman, Nik Kovac, and Willie Wade, expressed concerns that the buildings might not be a good fit for the area.

“You can build something that’s two, two-and-a-half, three times the size of anything around it … it’s the equivalent of dropping a monstrosity from Lake Drive in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Bohl said. “It’s really is playing afoot with the intention of state law … creating a quasi-institution in a residential neighborhood and calling it a single-family home.”

City Treasurer Spencer Coggs, who owns a home near the proposed location and testified as a concerned resident, echoed those concerns, saying he was speaking as a resident and not in his official capacity.

“There are technical concerns, and neighborhood concerns,” Coggs said. “What size homes will they be? If they are extremely large, the question becomes, don’t they look more institutional than residential? … Do large, institutional-like buildings conform to the neighborhood?”

In addition to out-of-proportion development, later uses of the structure might shift to that of a regular residential home or other uses, running afoul of zoning protections.

“God forbid this company goes broke,” Coggs said. “But then if they did, the question becomes, what happens to these two large, possibly institutional buildings in the neighborhood?”

“I think it’s a legitimate concern,” Wade said. “We know a lot of these [community-based residential facilities] have problems.”

“Can’t this process become a back-door zoning change?” Bauman asked. “If it still meets the definition of a single family home, you’re sort of going through the back door what would be very hard to do through the front door.”

State and federal law is responsible for the zoning exception. The city attorney advised the council that the elderly and disabled are protected classes under the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, and accordingly, it could be deemed housing discrimination to prohibit these sorts of residences, Bohl said.

Local lot coverage restrictions are responsible for the request to combine multiple parcels. The area is zoned for a maximum lot coverage of 30 percent. With a maximum height of 45 feet, two combined lots could still yield nearly 5,000 square feet per lot, said Robert Harris, project manager for the Department of City Development. The proposal is to construct two properties on four parcels combined together.

“This also has sprawl implications,” Bauman said. “By increasing the lot size you increase the structure size … [but] we accepted the plots based on the fact we want relatively small lots. We want relatively compact housing stock. We don’t want half-acre lots. We don’t want acre lots, which is more the suburban model, which basically guarantees very expensive homes, excluding moderate income, low income residents.”

Coggs said that, in addition to the unwanted size of the development, previous boundary-dispute litigation left unresolved questions about whether the proposed plots encroached on his property.

“I suspect it will be approved,” Bauman said in an email, “since current city ordinances and state law do not provide us with too many options.”

Still, the development will have to secure state permits and pass OSHA inspections.

The owner of the land, AD2LUV, is a limited liability company formed in 2005. It fell into delinquency on two occasions but was restored to good standing in 2008 and again in 2011. Undraye Howard, listed as the company’s registered agent, did not testify at the committee and could not be immediately reached for comment.

About Matt Taub, [email protected]

Matt Taub is the Milwaukee city beat reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or 414-225-1820.

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