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Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

Million-Dollar Goll House Condos Get Preliminary Approval

But many neighbors oppose the plan

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Monday’s marathon joint meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission and the City Plan Commission resulted in the approval of New Land Enterprises’ plan to build a 26-story condo tower behind the historic Goll House mansion at 1550 N. Prospect Ave.

New Land’s plan is to use funds from the backyard condo tower for the restoration and maintenance of the 1898 mansion. The condos would be built between the mansion and the bluff overlooking Lincoln Memorial Drive.

New Land proposes to build a tower with 35 units that have a starting price point of $1 million, a private gym with a lap pool, and five floors of above-ground parking. The mansion would become the entrance to the condo tower with a restored ballroom, guest suites and a concierge. The two buildings would be connected by a 7 foot-long glass walkway. The condo tower requires a zoning change because it does not con form to the shape currently allowed on that site. The zoning change still requires the approval of the full Milwaukee Common Council.

The developer and owner, Boris Gokhman, bought the property in 2005, after the Milwaukee Common Council designated the mansion a historic structure in November 2002.

Gokhman argued that if the commissions did not approve New Land’s proposal, the historic mansion—now being used as offices—would fall into disrepair. “It doesn’t work for us financially” to restore the building without the funds generated by the condo tower, Gokhman told the commissions.

New Land supporter Alderman Bob Bauman, whose district includes the site, warned that opposing the plan would lead to the mansion’s demise. “There’s still the option of demolition,” warned Bauman, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission.

Alderman Nik Kovac, whose district borders the Goll mansion, successfully argued for more guarantees that New Land would complete the mansion’s restoration before it finishes the condos.

As a result, New Land will not receive a certificate of occupancy unless the restoration is finished.

Neighbors Question Preservation Commission’s Responsibilities

New Land’s plan was approved by the commissions, but many of the meeting’s attendees ques tioned whether the Historic Preservation Commission was right to approve the mix of modern and historic buildings on one property.

These neighbors warned that the commission should consider whether the modern condo tower would change the integrity of the entire site, and not just consider the changes to the exterior of the historic mansion itself.

Todd Farris, an attorney representing the condo association of the neighboring 1522 Prospect Ave. building, argued that the Historic Preservation Commission must consider whether the new construction on the Goll House property is compatible with the historic mansion itself. Farris argued that the modern tower is not. “You have jurisdiction over the entire property,” Farris told the commission. “You cannot change the law on the run.”

But Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley had written an opinion stating that the commission could only consider whether the proposal would change the exterior of the mansion itself, because the mansion had only been considered a “historic structure,” not a historic site or district.

Assistant City Attorney Gregg Hagopian testified that “we are aware that there are differing opinions” about the commission’s jurisdiction over the mansion or the entire property.

Sandra McSweeney, the only commissioner to vote against New Land’s proposal, objected to the effect of the new condo tower on the historic mansion. McSweeney disliked the solid wall of the parking structure, the visible air-conditioning vents, the “shed-like” connector between the two buildings and the complicated access to the tower through the mansion. “I think those [additions] all very negatively impact the Goll House,” she said.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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