Catching up on some news from last week’s South Milwaukee City Council meeting …
The council voted 8-0 to approve a new certified survey map and amendments to the development agreement for Grant Park Plaza, allowing the owners of the strip mall to separate the property into two parcels. Doing so will help the owners sell pieces of the development – including the building housing Pick ‘n Save – to individual buyers. I supported this because a sale will relieve pressure on the owners’ finances, and hopefully it will spur improvements to the center’s too-vacant center section.
Grant Park Plaza needs investment, and it’s pretty clear that the current owners are struggling to make that investment. Maybe new owners can. That can only be good for South Milwaukee.
The council also voted 8-0 to form a “Chapter 68 Appeals Committee” to hear an appeal by Ed Abrams, owner of Spirits Bar & Grill, seeking a variance from the city’s sprinkling ordinance. As you know, Spirits suffered a major fire in May, and Abrams is looking to rebuild. However, city ordinances are clear: The rebuilt establishment must have an automatic sprinkling system. Abrams puts that bill at close to $50,000 … and he wants an exception so he can proceed without it.
The council decided to form a three-person committee to hear the appeal and other non-zoning ordinance appeals that may arise going forward, removing politics from the equation. The committee consists of the council president, city administrator and city engineer, with the city clerk as an alternate. They meet Oct. 15 to hear the Spirits case. I’ll keep you posted.
The council also voted 5-3 to approve a resolution stating that the South Milwaukee City Council is opposed to the Milwaukee Streetcar project, if it requires funding from We Energies ratepayers to pay for utility relocation. We joined West Allis in passing this resolution first suggested, in writing, by Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan, a vocal critical of the Streetcar.
I was one of three “no” votes. Why? I think this vote was way too premature, and unnecessary.
There are too many outstanding questions around this project, especially around the utility relocation funding issue, and we have no business weighing in on this until we know more facts.
Will ratepayers be on the hook for the relocation? Will Milwaukee taxpayers pay the bill? Will both? And if it’s both, how much will people have to pay? Pennies? Dollars? More? And will the project even require relocation of utilities in the end? Those are just a few of the questions I have before I’m ready to weigh in on a resolution like the one we passed last week.
We acted too quickly, and, in doing so, the council made a bigger statement against investing in rail as part of the region’s transportation system. It was the wrong statement.
I support rail as part of our transportation infrastructure — in that way, making the Milwaukee area like every other major metropolitan area in the country.
We need to step up our investment in a wide array of transportation options. Of course, that includes roads. But it also includes our struggling bus system and rail.
It’s an economic development issue for me. I support a way to more easily get people workers to jobs. I support a way to help the Milwaukee area better compete with other communities for employees and employers who are looking for a well-balanced approach to transportation. I support that balance.
Unfortunately, the debate on projects like the Streetcar too often becomes, “I’ll never ride it, so I don’t want to pay for it.” I understand the concerns, but the argument can’t end there.
You may never ride the Streetcar. I may never ride the streetcar. But thousands (tens of thousands?) of people likely will, including young professionals and families who already live here or are looking to move to the region – those who are much less tied to their cars than “older” folks like me. Moreover, the companies that hire these workers want to see communities commit to projects like this.
We should do the same … and not stand in the way with resolutions like we passed last week.