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Home / Government / Critical of Milwaukee’s deconstruction policy, Barrett vetoes plan to set aside $1.5M more to combat blight

Critical of Milwaukee’s deconstruction policy, Barrett vetoes plan to set aside $1.5M more to combat blight

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has vetoed a budget amendment that would support a newly enacted city policy requiring the deconstruction — rather than demolition — of historic houses, saying the policy has hindered the redevelopment of blighted properties.

Barrett’s veto would cross out a budget amendment the Common Council passed 12-3 on Nov. 13, calling for an additional $1.5 million worth of borrowing to be used to combat blight. In his veto, Barrett said the additional cash would be “intended to fund” the city’s new deconstruction policy, which took effect Jan. 1 and requires property owners to deconstruct, rather than demolish, homes designated historic or built before 1930.

Barrett said the city’s deconstruction ordinance, passed in an unanimous vote last year, raises the cost of demolishing old homes. The Common Council,  scheduled to meet on Tuesday, now needs 10 votes to override Barrett.

“Numerous concerns have been raised about the delay in removing blighted properties not owned by the city and the overall cost of deconstruction,” according to Barrett’s veto. “The deconstruction ordinance currently in effect has serious cost impacts on property owners, who must bear the whole cost of deconstruction.”

Alderman Bob Bauman, a supporter of the city’s deconstruction policy, said Barrett’s veto is “irresponsible” and would further hinder the city’s plans to tear down blighted properties. If the mayor has his way, Bauman said, money will be eliminated not just for deconstruction but also other work to combat urban blight.

“His veto has no reality to that,” Bauman said.

The city’s deconstruction policy applies to most homes that were built before 1930, as well those that have been designated historic or that stand in a historic district. About 43 percent of the city’s housing stock was built before 1930.

At times excluded from the policy are any houses that have been damaged or deemed unsafe or that contain building materials unsuitable for reuse.

In deconstructing a home, crews remove and recycle building materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Supporters of the policy also argue that deconstruction offers more job opportunities than standard demolition work and saves taxpayers money by avoiding the need to pay landfill tipping fees.

To encourage compliance, the new policy imposes penalties on property owners that demolish a property that’s subject to the deconstruction mandate. Violations can lead to thousands dollars worth of fines, and contractors can risk losing a spot on the city’s list of certified deconstruction contractors. Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services can also issue stop-work orders or conduct site inspections.

But critics say the policy is expensive. Tom Mishefske, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services, said last fall that deconstruction projects cost about $24,000 on average. Standard residential demolition, in contrast, costs about $15,700. The new policy, he estimated, could result in his department’s performing 36 percent fewer blight-removal projects a year. Mishefske and other department officials did not immediately return a request for comment by press time on Monday.

Travis Blomberg, executive director of WasteCap Resource Solutions, a non-profit organization that has advocated for the city’s deconstruction policy, said the new ordinance has not been without hiccups. He said the city had at one time scheduled a training seminar on the new ordinance. The seminar was scheduled for June but was later canceled.

Blomberg said he and others at WasteCap agree with Barrett that the deconstruction ordinance could benefit from some changes.

“There have been growing pains during the first year,” Blomberg said. “The gap that we see is the lack of funding for training and workforce development to get deconstruction off the ground. This veto would be a step backward for deconstruction in the City of Milwaukee.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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