Why I Voted No On The St. Adalbert’s Rezoning

Earlier tonight, the Plan Commission deadlocked on a motion to recommend rezoning of the former St. Adaldert’s property to allow for construction of a 37-unit affordable housing complex there.

The vote was 3-3 to recommend to the city council denial of the request from Gorman & Co. That result will be reported to the council for potential action at a future meeting.

I voted in favor of recommending denial. Here is why …

While I like a lot of things about the project, I don’t like it for that neighborhood. Its impact would be real. At 13.4 units per acre, the density is 42% higher than the surrounding area, even if you include the vacant parcel to the north of Manitoba Avenue. I wasn’t comfortable putting that burden on the neighborhood – especially in one where opposition was so significant. I barely heard a single voice of support for this project in the past month, and that weighed on my mind.

In short, I think it’s best to see what else comes along.

I was impressed with the developer … and hope they consider bringing back a senior housing development. I’d strongly consider such a plan. To me, this would be a good compromise, one with a neighborhood impact significantly less than the current project.

Absent that, I’m willing to wait and see what unfolds for this site. And I look no further than another shuttered Divine Mercy property in South Milwaukee for hope that the wait will one day be worth it: St. Mary’s.

Who would have thought that the St. Mary’s hall and gymnasium would be creatively reused as a successful online auction business, or that the St. Mary’s School would find new life as a funeral home, or that the convent would be senior housing? Who is to say the same can’t happen at St. Adalbert’s? Yes, it’s a different property with unique challenges. And the property may continue to deteriorate as we wait, but that’s where we rely on the owner of the property to live up to their responsibility and keep the buildings to code.

I close with this. In a letter to his parishioners asking for their support of the Gorman apartments, Divine Mercy’s Fr. Robert Betz encouraged the community to show a “welcoming spirit” for all people as part of its “Proud Past, Promising Future” slogan. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I was dismayed with the reaction of some residents in the debate over this development.

We are who we are when it comes to our demographics, and I’m proud of who we are as a city. It’s also clear there are a significant number of people in South Milwaukee who have incomes suitable to live in the apartments as proposed.

That potentially includes families of more than half of the students in the South Milwaukee School District (50%+ qualify for the free-and-reduced lunch program). And it includes some people in the neighborhood around the proposed development. And some of my own family members. And me at one point in my life not too long ago.

So, yes, there is a need for affordable housing in South Milwaukee. That’s why I would never rule out support for a project like this down the road. Just not at St. Adalbert’s. Not now.


Filed under Development, South Milwaukee

23 responses to “Why I Voted No On The St. Adalbert’s Rezoning

  1. Jon Ellis

    Erik, Thank you for voting that way ! I couldn’t agree more with every comment you made in this post. I just have a question about the 3-3 vote. Since it is even, do you as mayor have more say than others ? Or is it totally up to the council now ?

  2. Randy G

    Thank you for taking into account the voices of the people on this issue. It’s refreshing to see an elected official actually listen to his or her constituents. I agree there can be a better use for this property.

  3. Melanie

    I agree with Randy

  4. I agree with you Erik, and the words of Father Betz, that I wish we as a city would have a more welcoming spirit for low income people/housing. I do, however, think you made the right choice to vote as a representative of your constituents. Thank you for your message, and thank you for hearing what your constituents had to say.

  5. Donald Bulley

    Good choice.

    • Frank Gratke

      The statement “hope they consider bringing back a senior housing development” should be followed up on. A good next step is to refer the matter to the South Milwaukee historical preservation committee. Let them review with the developer the use of this historical site. AKA get a counter proposal generated that is much more acceptable. A flat “no” can tag the city as unfriendly to developers. Cudahy took a pounded for saying no to Wall-Mart. Continuing the process is not a “no”.

  6. Elissa Mross

    I don’t think the people of South Milwaukee should be made to feel guilty that they did not want another low income property in their neighborhood. South Milwaukee already has many affordable housing options and has done their fair share as a community. I would like to see you and the city council continue to make improvements to the city so we can all have better property values and that decisions are made in the best interest of the current residents.

  7. Randy G

    Wholeheartedly agree with Elissa’s comments!

  8. Atta Boy! (from one TM Alum to another)

  9. RocketMom

    It’s always uncomfortable to disagree, but applaud you for looking towards the future. Ten thousand people a day are retiring (the boomers) and many do not have adequate funds to live on. With SM being close to hospitals and a bus line, we are sitting in the right spot for affordable housing, but just not at St. Adalberts.

  10. Cathy

    Just to let you know. The Bernadette statue in the grotto at 16th Ave. was pushed over last night. Fortunately it did not break into pieces. Police were notified. This is not the first time the building has been vandalized.

  11. Erik – Since you voted to oppose you have taken a position. Your comments indicate you want to have it both ways. Support the demographics of who we are as a city unless the neighborhood is vocal in their opposition. So where would you support such a project? And when? Would it be suitable at the location after it has sat vacant for another 5 years? Would you support it if more residents of the city and not just the neighborhood were in support. Would the density not be the same if it were a senior housing? Or at least pretty close? Are seniors not able to live in the proposed project? If you would a support this type of housing except when it is unpopular, I question your true convictions.

    • Gary: Indeed, I have taken a position against the rezoning application, and I explain my position in the post.

      As I said, I would consider such a development in a different place. Where, exactly? Somewhere where it more matches the neighborhood density. Beyond that, I’d rather not deal with a hypothetical. And I don’t envision my position changing based on how long the building stays empty. I have never liked the “if not this, then what?” argument much. As I wrote about, who would have expected what happened at St. Mary’s (the hall being turned into an online auction business, the school into a funeral home, etc.) to happen there? I guess I’m not ready to rule out a creative redevelopment of this property, too. Would I consider the project if support was stronger and broader? Again, a hypothetical, but I am elected by the people, and their voice matters. But I will also say this: The significant, vocal opposition from the neighborhood (and outside the neighborhood) certainly did weigh on me. For weeks, I barely heard a single voice in support of the project, either publicly or privately. As for density, I suspect the unit density of a senior development would remain about the same. But the population density — the number of people living in those units, in that neighborhood — would be less.

      In the end, I am sorry you question my convictions here. I work hard to make decisions based on what I think is right for the city, and appreciate that some will disagree. I take that responsibility seriously and don’t enter into decisions like this lightly.

      • Frank Gratke

        I do not question the mayors convictions. I do know he has very little resources and expertise. Trying to be a part time mayor with a very small staff and work on a Major decision is ridiculous. What is needed is counter proposal. Gordon the developer is here, the St. Adelbert land needs something on it. It would be nice if a counter proposal would get drawn out. However , I do not thing anything from the city or the citizens groups will come across. They just do not have the resources and expertise to do it. Thus the land will sit and Gordon will forget us or the build the wrong plan.Which I believe should push home values lower.
        Frank “Disco” G

    • Donn Plotz

      Gary: We have asked the developer to reconfigure for senior housing and he came back and said it would not work because the parking lot is not connected. What would handicapped residents do? The lay out of the property as is, is not conducive to efficient parking and use of space. As a neighbor 3 houses away, I would like to see single family, duplexes or 4 family units spread across the whole property, not just the 1/3 of the block. The density issue is valid because not only are the living units limited to the 1/3 of the block but the church space is not being used for living space either.

  12. Betsy

    Hmmm…I’m not sure, Frank, that South Milwaukee has to come off as so desperate that if it doesn’t say yes to this invitation to the dance it may never be asked to a dance again. We still don’t know if Walmart has boogie fever or two left feet…perhaps we shouldn’t be so hasty to take on another dance partner without really checking out its moves.

    South Milwaukee has quite limited capacity for development and I think it behooves the city to be incredibly considered and deliberate about what kind of development is permitted. Though the city cannot consider the incomes of people who might occupy a space in rezoning decisions, there are real considerations about the ways in which zoning decisions might effect the economic health and development of the city. The limited space for development in the city makes these decisions far more complex and important than if a poor decision could be easily rectified by some other development on another space or in another area of the city…we just don’t have land for development to be able to easily absorb a poor decision.

    Though I second Elissa’s comments about the inappropriateness of attempts to send those questioning the implications of “affordable” housing at the St. Adalbert’s site on a guilt trip, the real issue is not whether what might occupy that space is “affordable” housing, it’s about the type(s) of buildings that make sense there…is it a place at which multi-family units makes sense…what kind of effect would housing the number of people that could occupy the units described in the proposal have at that site, etc. South Milwaukee already has a pretty significant chunk of affordable housing. If folks in this city were worried about “those people,” they would need to hop in a time machine and set it back a good spell…”those people” are us. I am frustrated that people’s attempts to get some clarity on the potential real implications, economic and otherwise, for individual households and the city as a whole…and voice concerns about these issues…are being met by characterizations that they are somehow “unchristian” or similar ad hominem nonsense. My current read of this is that Divine Mercy has gotten hot and bothered to unload this property and is willing to try to play some kind of more-moral-than-thou trump card in order to do so. My impression is that the Divine Mercy agenda is more about what’s good for Divine Mercy than what’s good for the City of South Milwaukee. At this point, the moral bullying makes me even more suspect about this proposal.

    • Donn Plotz

      Betsy: I totally agree with you about Divine Mercy just looking at this property as a cash cow and not the whole fit into not just the neighborhood but the city. The position of this type of development in this space will have implications for the whole city. Divine Mercy seems to be looking at this as the last offer they will ever have. As though, It’s this development or board it up. Maybe a different realtor could find a better fit. Maybe scrap it out-lots of money in stained glass windows, pews, granite or marble floors?

      • Frank Gratke

        Another calculation; Looking at the property, trying to purchase, it tear down the buildings , you may get 20 buildable lots. An unapproved lot may be worth $20,000, OR $400,000 for 20. Getting the buildings down may be $250,000. Thus a net of $150,000. I heard Gordon offer $500,000. Yes,catholic archdiocese has to protect its resources. Thus, is a law suit possible? yes. I feel the city just saying no is denying property owner the value of the land. The city needs to have a counter plan, it effectively says no to this plan but one, helps to delay a lawsuit and two, possible gets something built that is acceptable. Letting the buildings sit is not that good of a plan.

        Frank “Disco” G

      • Jim

        I would suggest full disclosure by our city council members that are also members of Divine Mercy Parish; there is possibly a conflict of interest there.

      • Frank Gratke

        The statement “I would suggest full disclosure by our city council members” suggests the council members are something they are not. I known most of them for years, their hearts are in the right place. They could do more reading and research of the issues. I have done some heavy research into the environmental issues. The watershed committee with DNR ties is coming to the South Milwaukee city hall Thursday. I will come and try to ask the question “Should the Toxic Release Inventory of Environmental Protection Agency be used to find problems in the watershed.” I could use some help neighbors, they usually heavily verbally abuse any body that brings real issues. If you get a chance please come to the meeting.

        Frank “Disco” G

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