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.