The World According to Nick
Politics, News, Photography, and Triathlons... What don't I talk about?
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Cyclists are Banned from Mayfair

As some of you know, I ride with a great group in Wauwatosa called the Tosa Spokesmen. This morning, we were riding from Cafe Hollander in the Village to Pewaukee Lake. Part of our standard route is to take North Ave. west, and then cut over to Center St. through the Mayfair Mall parking lot. This morning, we had a rather large group of 20 cyclists, and got to Mayfair around 7:15 AM. At this time on a Saturday of course, the mall is closed, and the parking lot was completely empty. So we did as we normally do, and turned into the parking lot off of North Ave. at 104th St. and stayed to the western eastern edge of the parking lot heading towards the northern edge so we could cross Hwy 100 onto Center St. at the stop light.

About halfway through the parking lot, a mall cop drove up next to us, not on a Segway unfortunately, but in a sedan. He told us through his car window that this was private property and that cyclists weren't allowed. We told him that we'd be exiting the mall at Center St. and be out of his hair soon. He then drove up next to us again closer to Center St. and told us once again that it was private property, and we weren't welcome.

Now then, it's difficult to say what his problem was. First of all, we've been using this method to avoid Hwy 100 and North Ave. for years without trouble. And as I said before, the mall was closed, and the parking lot was empty. We were disturbing nobody. Whatever his reasons, he made it perfectly clear that cyclists are not welcome at Mayfair Mall.

So I would heed their warning. Do not ride your bike to Mayfair for any reason, especially if you plan on shopping there. In fact, if you own a bike and enjoy riding it, I would suggest you stay clear from Mayfair Mall as well. They may not let you in if they find out you own a bike.

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Monday, May 16, 2011
Wauwatosa Lets Businesses Move Forward... After Some Bribery

Tomorrow the Wauwatosa Common Council is expected to approve a new plan for the Burleigh Triangle, but only after the developers made some serious concessions in their plan, and threw in a good old fashioned bribe to sweeten the deal. Last month I reported what happened when the original proposal went to the Planning Commission.  During that meeting, many concerns were brought up, mostly superficial, concerning the fact that the plan the developers who own the property didn't quite align with the "master plan" which the city had approved several years ago. Anxious not to let their money go to waste, the developers revamped their plan, and made what seems to be some pretty serious concessions:

In an attempt to keep a city-imposed delay to just two weeks, Burleigh Triangle developers came equipped with answers for a do-over with a committee Tuesday and earned approval of preliminary plans for their proposed retail complex at Highway 45 and West Burleigh Street.
HSA will fund the entire project initially but is asking the city to create a tax incremental financing district for the site to allow $8.67 million in increased tax revenue generated by the development to cover public infrastructure costs. That request currently is being reviewed by city staff.

Sweetening the pot further, HSA agreed to consider donating up to 1.5 acres of its land to the city for a future fire station. The city currently has a station nearby at 4187 N. Mayfair Rd. that is aging and considered by some as nearing obsolescence.

As the HSA trio outlined new details for the project, several of the 14 conditions the committee required in final plans for the project were addressed. Among them: an outline of how HSA expects to fully develop the site to create a dense, walkable urban development that incorporates higher valued office and residential use.

HSA had said for some time that office space was in lower demand. In fact, with the new Research Park being developed on Watertown Plank Road, the need for even more office space is likely to decrease even further. And when it comes to housing, Megan McArdle points out that we haven't even hit the bottom of the market yet. HSA is well aware of this, which is why the proposed a use of the land that would actually be profitable. The City of Wauwatosa is demanding otherwise, and it looks like HSA has little choice but to concede to those wishes if they want the right to develop their own land.

But it get's worse than that. HSA had to "sweeten" the deal and promise to give some of the land they purchased to the city for a potential new fire station. Of course, it's being called a "donation", but let's call a spade a spade. HSA is bribing the City... or is it a kick back? It's hard to tell sometimes.

Ironically, the City is looking at approving an amendment to the City Master Plan for East North Ave. During the meeting about the plan at the Planning Commission, the Mayor actually had the temerity to say that we shouldn't worry too much about the details in the plan, because many of them are "pie in the sky". This experience with the Burleigh Triangle proves how important the details in these master plans are. When developers come with plans that don't meet the "master plan", those plans will be hard to get pass the various committees and commissions in Wauwatosa. They aren't about "pie in the sky" ideas. They're about real plans, and real power to implement them.

HSA found out exactly what that means with the Burleigh Triangle, and has paid dearly to get their plans passed the city.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Oh Daughter - What Does It Look Like That Man Is Doing?

This news story appeared in WauwatosaNOW today, and hopefully doesn't reflect the intelligence of the rest of the city where I live:

A 63-year-old Wauwatosa man was arrested for lewd behavior after he was recorded repeatedly fondling himself while looking out his window last week.
A female neighbor was paying bills about 3 p.m. April 19 when she looked out her window and noticed her neighbor in the 2600 block of North 66th Street standing in front of his window naked.

She thought it was a fluke and that he didn't realize he could be seen, but he started touching himself. He returned to the window twice more and continued masturbating.

After consulting her daughter to make sure her eyes weren't deceiving her, the woman called her Block Watch captain for advice. He brought a video camera to the woman's home. The neighbor returned to the window for a fourth time and was recorded for 12 minutes.

First of all... how old was her daughter?! Hopefully she was over 18, otherwise the mother just willingly exposed an underage girl to some pretty lewd behavior. Secondly... well... as if this needs to be said... but really. Doing that in front of your window... in your own neighborhood? Really? Finally... I don't know, but videotaping the whole thing, while I understand the desire to remove the "he said - she said" element out of the equation, is just... weird.

Though really, the whole thing is just weird... which is why I shared it with all of you.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Wauwatosa Planning Commission Follies

As has become my custom of late, I decided to head down to the Wauwatosa Planning Commission meeting last night. Once you realize how things work, it becomes pretty clear that the Common Council meetings aren't all that important. If you want to see how plans get shaped, molded, stopped or changed, you need to go to the Planning Commission. Among a laundry list of items on the agenda were two that I was primarily interested in. The first was a proposal to build a new Walmart Grocery Store on 124th near Capitol, where the Jewel-Osco used to be. The second was a preliminary plan for redevelopment to take place in the "Burleigh Triangle", which is an area just east of US-45 on the north side of Burleigh Ave.

Walmart Proposal

Walmart's seem to attract a lot of attention wherever they go, and they tend to collect quite a gathering of people who don't want them. Frankly, when I went up to speak in favor of the proposal, I did so anticipating people would be there against it. As it turns out, nobody came to speak against it, but I didn't know that until after I had offered my comments. What was interesting was everything that went on before public comment was allowed. In an unusual break from the standard procedure, the Mayor spent quite some time quizzing the Walmart representative. Most of these questions were regarding the size of the store, and the fact that it was for groceries only, and not for any consumer products. Finally, she ended with the statement "I do not want a Walmart in Wauwatosa", referring to a traditional big box Walmart.

When I went up to provide my (and as it turns out, the only) public comment, I chastised the Mayor (and some of the commissioners) for making Walmart tap dance around, and create a such a fuss over a store that should have every right to do business in the city. The Mayor seemed to be surprised that I thought Wauwatosa was being hostile to Walmart. She said that the city had never asked Walmart to downsize their project. Of course, given the Mayor's general attitude towards Walmart, which she made perfectly clear when she said she didn't want one just a few minutes earlier, it seems obvious that Walmart very well could have come with a smaller project to begin with because they knew that was the only one they could get away with. For her to say "I don't want a Walmart" and then fane surprise when her comments are viewed as hostile is naive at best.

In the end, the proposal passed, but it is clear that the proposal had been very specially tailored to meet the personal preferences of the Mayor, and some of the Commissioners. You can read more about the proposal, including a quote from me, at WauwatosaNOW.

Burleigh Triangle

This was one expensive meeting for the developers of the area. There were at least a dozen consultants there, many of whom spoke with a Power Point presentation to the Commissioners.  At their hourly rates, I can image that one meeting costing their client several thousand dollars. Once the very long presentation was over, it was time for Gloria Stearns to go to work. She had a list of 17 items that she wanted changed in the proposal. The city, as it often times enjoys doing, created a "Master Plan" for the site that was supposed to guide future development. Of course, by Master Plan, we're really talking about ideas that the Commissioners have for how other people should spend their own money, even if it doesn't make sense in the long run.

Despite the developer's research that showed that Office Space and Residential development down was significantly decreased during the current economic downturn, Commissioner Stearns was very concerned over the lack of Office Space in the proposed plan (a reduction from that which was proposed in the City's Master Plan). The master plan called for a "mixed use" development, which has become all the rage in a "walkable neighborhood" even if the demand doesn't exist for it. She even had a spreadsheet with what she estimated was the potential salary differences in the jobs provided with and without the office space. She even went on the internet to for her data, so clearly it's got to be accurate.

She also wanted to make sure there were no roof top signs, because "those aren't Wauwatosa". As far as I know, the city has no ordinance against such signs... she just doesn't like them, so you'd better not have them. She also wants to make sure that native plants are used (she seemed rather obsessed with native plants), and that any second story windows which appeared to be fake would not be tolerated.

Once again, the Commission moved the proposal forward, but indicated that all seventeen items would need to be addressed in order to gain final approval. The vast majority of these items weren't regarding safety, traffic, sewer or flood water management, which would all be appropriate items to be concerned with. Most of these items were concerned with aesthetics and whether it was the "proper type of development" that the commissioners wanted.

It's important to note, as Commissioner Albert pointed out, that several "Master Plans" for the site have come and gone, and none have been implemented. In fact, this is really the first time that a group of private developers have come forward and been willing to take a risk on the site. While their plan may not match the current "Master Plan", that is not important. They have put their own money forward on this, and therefore have a vested interest in ensuring that the project is successful, because they are taking all the risk. When that happens, the city has a duty to allow them to develop their land as they think is best, because they have everything to lose. The city's responsibility should not be as an aesthetics governing board, but instead should ensure that the site would not cause flooding issues, and that traffic concerns are properly addressed. Everything else should be left to the developers. This is their land. They bought it. They own it.

This is not a game of Sim City. You can read more about the development at Wauwatosa Patch.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011
How Does Wauwatosa Really Feel About Unions?

A little over a week ago, Jim Sensenbrenner held one of his town hall meetings where he "answers questions" from constituents. Along for the ride was State Senator Leah Vukmir who represents that area of Sensenbrenner's Congressional District in the State Senate. As many of you probably heard, the City Hall was packed, and they ended the meeting early with most of the questions and arguments centering on the collective bargaining issues in the state. One might have gotten the impression that the citizens of Wauwatosa in general were not very happy with the Budget Repair Bill.

Of course, you don't have to be a citizen of Wauwatosa to go to one of those meetings. Hell, you don't really even have to be in Sensenbrenner's District to go and yell at him. I suspect many of the people there weren't, though I don't have any real evidence to back that up. But it is interesting to note that when the Wauwatosa Common Council voted last night on new Union Contracts before the collective bargaining changes were to take effect, the reactions from the people at the meeting were quite different:

More than 100 people crowded into City Hall tonight, and nearly all were there to lobby city officials to put off approving union contracts until the state Legislature votes on the financial aspects of the budget-repair bill.

The sentiment of the crowd, as well as hundreds of calls and e-mails directed to city officials, led the majority of the council to vote against approving contracts with the fire, dispatcher, clerical and public works unions

Members of the Common Council apparently had said before hand that they were planning on voting for the new contracts, but after the large negative reaction from the citizens present, they changed their minds. I find it somewhat surprising that the Unions are able to mobilize all these forces to go to the State Capitol and protest, and turn out in large numbers for a Town Hall meeting, but when the City actually planned on voting on contracts before the collective bargaining changes went through... they couldn't summon any support in Wauwatosa.

Says a lot I think.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Another Business Denied in Wauwatosa

No business for you says the Wauwatosa Planning Commission to Dominic Lalicata. For those of you who don't know, the Applebee's next to the Sentry on 68th and State is closing, and Dominic wants to open a Mad Dog Saloon in it's place. Tuesday was his second time in front of the Wauwatosa Planning Commission, and it was his second denial. Last time he was denied because he apparently didn't have enough details, and because the Mayor heard some rumors about his location in West Allis. Apparently rumor is enough to deny a business to someone... not fact.

This time, the commissioners decided they needed something more, so they ginned up false concerns about having a bar next to a grocery store:

If patrons who have imbibed in alcohol drive through the busy parking lot shared by Metcalfe's Market, it could result in disaster, commissioners said Monday night.

The shopping carts, cars backing in and out and parents with young children in tow are the norm in the lot that sees peak business of 300 to 400 customers per hour between 4 and 8 p.m. Friday and up to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, said grocery store owner Kevin Metcalfe.

Now let's take a step back for a moment here. First of all, driving while impaired is already illegal, and saying that imbibing and then pulling out of a grocery store parking lot is somehow incredibly dangerous is just foolish. And let's not forget that Applebee's had a bar, and served alcohol as well. So there have already been plenty of people "imbibing" and driving in that lot already. Is Applebee's alcohol somehow different than Mad Dog's?

And the reality is that you aren't going to have parents with children grocery shopping at peak bar time... typically between 9PM and close. That's when parents are tucking their children into bed and reading to them.

And as my lovely fiancee pointed out:

Are there not several bars across the street from Hart Park? Isn't that wildly unsafe, according to these standards? I do believe some families (with small children) even park in front of said bars while en route to baseball games, etc. Oh, the horror!

Not only that, but one of the most popular bar's in Wauwatosa (Cafe Hollander) has most of it's patrons sharing the city parking lot with Hart Park next to tennis courts and volleyball courts. Why no concern there?

This is a pretty standard problem with the planning commission in Wauwatosa. They love to play with other people's money. Applebee's went out, and now we have to find the "right kind of business" to go in it's place. They aren't risking their own money, and they aren't going to do any of the heavy lifting, or any real work, but somehow they think that they deserve to put their fingers in everything. This was made clear during last month's meeting:

Both on the commission and in the audience, some openly suggested the Village would be better served by a family restaurant rather than another tavern.

When LaLicata initially proposed his a tavern in Greenfield to the city's Plan Commission years ago, he emphasized the amount of food service the business would generate. But when it came down to it, the business was much more bar than grill.

If they want the right kind of business to go into that space, then why don't any of them lease out the space, get a small business loan from a bank, and get to work? And forgive me, but is there an ordinance that says that businesses in that area have to be "family friendly"? Did anyone stop and think that maybe one of the reasons that Applebee's was unsuccessful was because there just isn't that much demand for "family friendly" restaurants in that area? Perhaps putting a different type of business in that space is what will make it successful. At the very least, it's his money to risk if he's wrong.

Unfortunately, I was out of town during this last planning commission meeting, but I intend to be at the next Community Development Committee meeting where this will be discussed on Feb. 22nd.

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Monday, August 09, 2010
Wauwatosa TIF District for UWM Engineering School on Hold

I went to Wauwatosa City Hall tonight in order to attend the Planning Commission meeting, which was considering a TIF District in order to pay for infrastructure to support the UWM Engineering School proposed for the County Grounds on Watertown Plank Rd. There were approximately two dozen people present, along with representatives from UWM in support of the measure. The vast majority of those present (except for the aldermen) were opposed to the TIF District for various reasons. Most were against it either for environmental reasons, or because it seemed like the UWM plan was based on too much speculation without enough backing data. The meeting began with an overview by the Community Development Director who wrote the TIF along with a representative from UWM:

  • The TIF is for $12 million which is to be used solely for infrastructure improvements including water, sewer, roads and "decorative" improvements to the roadways.
  • The Land Use and Zoning plans were already approved by the Common Council, and are no longer under review. This was only for the TIF District.
  • The funds were for infrastructure only, and would only be used by the city.
  • The money would not be spent all up front, but as development required it. In other words, the $12 million is the maximum to be spent, but would not all have to be spent.
  • The plan calls for both the UWM Engineering school, a research park, and housing and rental properties that would be ideally suited to graduate students, professors and area professionals.

After that, there was one member of the Citizens Advisory Board in favor, followed by a rather long line of people against. A member of the Milwaukee River Keepers was concerned that:

  • There was a lack of information in general, and that approval of the TIF district seemed premature based on that lack of information.
  • All data regarding the potential value seemed to be from UWM. (As it turns out the Springsted report was commissioned by the Common Council).
  • Unlike most TIF Districts, this area is not considered blighted.
  • The land has not been purchased yet, and funds have yet to be allocated by UWM.
  • The plan incorporates plans for private housing, despite a very soft housing market.
  • Current business parks (including the other Wauwatosa Research Park) have significant vacancies. Condo and rental development also has many vacancies as well.

Other concerns were voiced by various members of the community, including:

  • UWM has already missed two payment on the County Grounds, and the entire proposal seemed to be dependent on the TIF district for success.
  • Everyone seemed to be in agreement that infrastructure would be placed in phases, but based on past developments, this is usually not efficient, and most infrastructure is done up front. This seems contradictory. What happens if all this infrastructure money is spent up-front, and the Business Park flops?
  • Everyone seemed very concerned regarding the guarantee of preserving the Eschweiler buildings. (The UWM plan does call for the renovation of those buildings for rental property.)
  • There seemed to be no information regarding ROI calculations on the research park, and also no information regarding what the bond rates would be, and what effect it would have on the city's bond rating.
  • For those who were opposed to the County Grounds plans in general, using tax dollars further for this purpose seems like a slap in the face.

I personally voiced several concerns:

  • In many instances, infrastructure improvements are paid for by the developers. Since many of the proposed research interests are supported by large businesses (like Honeywell for instance), it is troubling that the city is being asked to back what seems to be Corporate Welfare. If this were a good business decision, then the TIF would be unnecessary. It would seems that they are coming to the Wauwatosa Taxpayers to help finance a marginal plan which nobody else is willing to finance.
  • The UWM plan would renovate the old Eschweiler for rental housing. However, based on the experience of the renovated buildings in the other Research Park in Wauwatosa, it seems doubtful that professionals would want to live in an old renovated building like that. Most businesses that are in the older renovated buildings in the current Research Park absolutely hate them because of how old they are, with no air conditioning, and limited ability to make the space as they'd like. Its only used by small startups until they can afford something even marginally better. As soon as a small startup grows to a certain size, they immediately bolt to a newer building, often times in a different office park. It is doubtful that the Eschweiler building renovations will be that much better for housing rentals and would attract many renters.
  • The Springsted Plan payback plan seemed to be based on very speculative land valuation which would be highly dependent on the actual development plans which don't exist. In other words, it was their best guess based on plans that are still in flux. Even then, they can only say it's likely that it would be paid off in the maximum time allotted for in state law. So if anything went wrong, it would take even longer to pay off.
  • The $12 millon for infrastructure is based on today's dollars. But if it's a phased plan, then those estimates will have to go up, as inflation takes hold. That means that if the City invests a certain amount of money now, the people will be committed to potentially more than $12 million in the future as inflation takes hold in order to continue the needed infrastructure improvements. Even in the TIF District were to amended and require approval for the extra money, the sunk cost will likely make the passage of such an amendment a virtual guarantee. In other words, it will end up being a snowball rolling downhill.
  • With the housing market in it's current condition, is really that smart for the city to become involved in more housing speculation? If a private entity wants to take this risk on it's own, then that's their business. But it is not the Wauwatosa's job to speculate on real estate.
  • The City Development Director admitted that the UWM plan could not go forward without the TIF District approval, and that more research and planning was also dependent on the TIF approval. In other words, we wouldn't know how much this would all truly cost until it was approved. This seems to be the local version of "you don't know what's in the bill until you pass it."

Former Aldermen Richard Bachman also spoke:

  • Having previously been involved in the creation of several TIF Districts, he had never seen this much public opposition to a plan.
  • The Springsted study which said that the group would likely be able to pay off the costs in the maximum 27 years provided for by state law, seemed like a very soft promise.
  • UWM pays "user fees" to the City of Milwaukee, and members of UWM had previously said they would do the same to Wauwatosa. Now, UWM is saying they are fully tax exempt which would seem to indicate they would not do the same to Wauwatosa. What is UWM's position on this?
  • Part of the proposal includes a Federal Block Grant requiring local matching funds. Will this TIF District be considered those matching funds, and is that even legal? That concept seemed to be in contradiction to the City Development Director's statement that all money would be used solely for infrastructure improvements.

Several of the Council Members, although generally in favor of the proposal had extra concerns:

  • The UWM Master Plan had several major projects including the new Fresh Water school. The Engineering School and Research Park was the 3rd priority. What happens when money is tight? How will those priorities affect the building plans?
  • How does this TIF District compare to other successful TIF's like those in other communities like Menomonee Falls?

One of the final points made by Ms. Welch was the banks right now aren't lending money for these types of developments. The Council Members seemed to think that this was a good reason to create the TIF District, and nobody saw this as a reason for caution. Why are banks unwilling to lend on these types of development? It's not just because of the current economic environment. Currently, the market simply is not supporting these types of proposals because businesses aren't growing like this at the moment.

I did have a chance to talk to the board members afterwards for a few moments. My general impression was that everyone really wanted to vote this forward, but couldn't because of the degree of opposition that was voiced. In fact, several of the aldermen on the board talked about how Wauwatosa is too conservative when it comes to "speculative TIF Districts" and that many cities such as Menomonee Falls and West Allis have been very successful with them. Of course, those were made in very different economic times. One of the ones we talked about was Woodland Prime in Menomonee Falls. Drive up there some time. It's a virtual business park ghost town.

The motion was made to place the plan on hold without prejudice until the next Planning Commission meeting when more information could be presented next month.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010
Wait... That's a Reason to Object?

Wauwatosa has a lot going for it right now... the community is great, as are the people... and the businesses are trying very hard and being very successful. In fact, I'd say that Wauwatosa is having somewhat of a renaissance right now. Unfortunately, the Wauwatosa Common Council still likes to get in the way. Recently, the issue of expanding the very successful Alterra on 92nd and North came before the council. Alterra wants to expand their outdoor patio seating, which is somewhat confined. They wanted permission to expand their patio area and put seating closer to the street.

Fortunately for Alterra, they were able to garner enough votes for passage, but not without objections from some of the council members (emphasis mine):

Other opponents to replacing developer Sean Phelan's plan cited an appreciation for the aesthetics, a belief it would attract business to an already successful café, an objection from the business to proposed changes and the lateness of the submission.

Alderman Brian Ewerdt didn't support Birschel's proposal, but he did say that he, too, had concerns about the safety of Phelan's plan - that's why he also voted against that plan.

Now, I can understand safety concerns, especially given the incident at Starbucks just a few weeks prior. But I want to know who on the council thought it was appropriate to object because it would make the Alterra more successful. At a time when the economy is struggling, the last thing we need is for Aldermen to be deciding which businesses are doing "too well", and make efforts to throttle their success. Ideally, the Common Council should have the minimum amount of involvement possible in how businesses run... but short of that ideal, the Aldermen should be finding ways to work with business expand and become more successful, not the exact opposite!

I look forward to reading the minutes from that Common Council meeting so I can find out which Alderman should be voted out of office.

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