Friday, November 1, 2013

The Transit Center and the Public Trust

If you have been following local news lately you may have noticed a number of stories relating to a  high rise development proposal, called the Couture, for the site now occupied by the Transit Center, which is located where Michigan Ave. meets Lincoln Memorial Drive. The plan for the development has been endorsed by many in the community. However it is opposed, in its current form, by Preserve Our Parks (POP). I am on the board of POP. Our group's opposition to the current plan has generated more controversy than the plan itself. Unfortunately, POP has been criticized for our stand, which has been characterized as intractable, among other things. 

POP is not opposed to appropriately sited development. In fact, POP is working with architects Mark and Linda Keane to provide a visionary alternative to the current proposal for lakefront redevelopment. Furthermore, POP is not opposed to the Couture. And no one likes the Transit Center. The issue has never been about that outmoded structure. The problem is that the Transit Center was built on partially filled lakebed land. All of Wisconsin's waterways, included filled lakebeds, are subject to the Public Trust Doctrine, which serves to protect them from private development. POP opposes any development that encroaches on filled lakebed land because of the Public Trust Doctrine. If the Couture were to be sited on the portion of the Transit Center site that is not filled lakebed, POP would not be opposed to it.

If POP had not stood its ground on an earlier lakefront development scheme there would be a freeway now where Lincoln Memorial Drive is.

I invite you to read a more detailed account of POP's position. The following is a letter written by board member Bill Hibbard to the County Supervisors:

Please reject the current Transit Center deal!

Preserve Our Parks (POP) understands that you may soon be discussing and possibly voting on the sale of the Transit Center site to a developer who wants to build the Couture, a 44-story multi-use tower on the land. POP, a local organization dedicated to saving parks and other green spaces from commercial development, strongly urges you to vote NO to this specific proposal.

Preserve Our Parks has no problem with the County selling roughly the western third of the property, for commercial development, as that parcel is not affected by the Public Trust Doctrine of the Wisconsin Constitution. Here’s the story:

*Old maps, many of them official public records, show that Lake Michigan water once covered roughly two-thirds of the site. Under Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine, this means NO commercial development or private ownership of this filled lakebed land.  (The maps are on file with the Milwaukee City Engineer, County Register of Deeds and Public Land Commissioners; pertinent maps also are available at the County Historical Society, at the UWM Library’s digital collection and in commercial plat books.)
*The Legislature’s late insertion into the state budget bill – with no advance notice, public hearing or committee debate -- of a provision declaring a new, fictitious shoreline that doesn’t include the Transit Center site. This seems to POP a curious and illegal way to try to amend the Constitution. We believe the lake – not the legislature -- sets its shoreline!

*Over nearly a century of transferring Lake Michigan shoreline land to the City and County of Milwaukee, the state has specified each time that this filled lakebed be used for public purposes. And the Public Trust Doctrine reserves these lands for the use and enjoyment of the public, with no dilution or interference with the public’s rights by private development.

*If the Couture is allowed to proceed at the proposed site, it opens opportunities for development of filled lakebed land all along our Lake Michigan shoreline. And its implications could be felt across Wisconsin; similar legislation could lead to the statewide loss of waterways and wetlands to commercial development. 

*No public hearings were held on best use of the site,  no bids were solicited out, it was the County Executive’s done deal with little or no outside input.

We want to emphasize that POP does not oppose the proposed Couture project; we simply object to building it on the portion of this site that’s clearly governed by the Public Trust Doctrine. POP also is not anti-development; recently the organization commissioned prominent Milwaukee architects and urban planners  Mark and Linda Keane to prepare a concept for development of the area to create a striking Grand Gateway to Milwaukee.

The plan would expand the area’s park-like qualities and make it a focal point for recreation and fun, inviting development that would add to the city’s tax base. It would ease traffic flow through a point of congestion, And by moving the Couture construction to the wesr or to nearby land that will be freed by planned relocation of freeway ramps, the 44-story tower will bring it into compliance with the Public Trust Doctrine.

Again, we strongly urge you to oppose sale of the full Transit Center site to the Couture developer.  Selling just the western third would be a win-win situation for all concerned. Thanks for your consideration

BILL HIBBARD, Preserve Our Parks Board  member
For Preserve Our Parks

1 comment:

  1. There has to be a middle ground - a way to enforce the Public Trust Doctrine yet grant an exception to allow this development to occur.

    I would argue that this proposal is a better (perhaps best) use of the land than what currently exists. As a City of Milwaukee resident, I want to see my downtown thrive and the City's tax base increase.

    While I understand and appreciate the stance of POP (and a person who loves and enjoys our parks), I am one who urges my representatives to find a way to allow this development to take place. There has to be a way to maintain the teeth of the doctrine, yet allow for sensible compromise.