Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wauwatosa moves closer to development on the County Grounds

The Plan Commission, a committee of the Wauwatosa Common Council, voted 5-2 last night to recommend approval of a $12 million TIF (tax incremental financing) district for UWM to create its planned Innovation Park on the County Grounds. The proposal will go next to the full council for a final vote on approval.

Read the full story by Mke Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Daykin at "Land and Space."

Here is the letter I sent to the members of the Common Council before the Plan Commission meeting:

More people than ever have been visiting the Monarch Trail this season. Thanks to Barb Agnew and the Friends of the Monarch Trail, Wauwatosa and the County Grounds have become the kind of attraction that we have been envisioning. You all have affirmed your commitment to maintaining the habitat that makes this phenomenon possible. I thank you for that.

I urge you to tread carefully as you deliberate whether to pass the request for a $12 million TIF. I am not alone in thinking that this is being rushed and that the amount being requested is unduly large. In fact, some council members have raised these same questions.

I believe that if UWM is serious about building a campus on the County Grounds that the necessary funding will be found. I don't believe it has to be done now, in October, or this year. A TIF may be required - I understand that - but should not be rushed.

The people who have been flocking to the Monarch Trail are mostly new to the County Grounds. They are always amazed at what they are finding there - even when the butterflies are not present! They are almost universally concerned to learn about the development plans. It is clear to me that the majority of Wauwatosans have not been made aware of these plans, let alone the request for a TIF using their tax dollars as a guarantee.

A few of the many people watching and photographing the monarchs on Monday evening.

Dear Urban Wilderness readers, there is an alternative to the current development plans that allows for UWM to have its research campus and protects the integrity of both the historic Eschweiler buildings and the irreplaceable monarch habitat. This alternative is the work of the County Grounds Preservation Coalition, which is comprised of a growing number of non-profit organizations devoted to historic preservation and conservation. They include the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy, just to name two.

Support for UWM's research campus is not incompatible with the goals of preservation and conservation, but the premature establishment of a TIF could promote overdevelopment of the site and diminish those goals. Such a large and risky tax-payer guaranteed TIF would create tremendous pressure to reap a return on development. The cost of renovation of the historic buildings would make it even harder. All the parties know this. The coalition has a solution: separate the Eschweiler complex from the rest of the development plans.

Please call or write the members of the Common Council and ask them about this. Tell them how you feel about these plans. Common Council contact info is available on the City of Wauwatosa website.

To see more photos from the County Grounds and the Monarch Trail, click here.

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