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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008

Downer Avenue Project’s Details Fill In

City Plan Commission approves the development

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Residents still seem largely opposed to the giant new development that will be constructed on Downer Avenue, a historic neighborhood on the city’s East Side. But on Tuesday, the City Plan Commission approved a more detailed version of the plan, reasoning that the big decisions were approved last February by the Milwaukee Common Council, and that the current design fits into those general guidelines.

As it stands now, the development separates the boutique hotel from the condominium complex, which had been one integrated component in the original plan. The hotel (which has yet to find an operator) has been reduced from 11 stories to seven. Instead of rebuilding the Chancery/Einstein Bagels building, it appears that the developers will raze it and build the hotel as a new but “architecturally consistent” building on that site. The hotel lobby and valet drop-off will be on Downer Avenue. The condos/townhomes will have entrances on Webster Place and Stowell Avenue. Medical offices will also be added, and the construction of a parking structure is already underway.

Critics of the plan say that the scale of the development is too large for the neighborhood and that the concerns of residents were not addressed by Alderman Mike D’Amato, the city or the developers. Supporters countered that Downer Avenue businesses are dying without the infusion of more commercial and economic activity. Speaking before the commission yesterday, D’Amato said critics have never liked the project and never will, so why bother listening to them now?

Housing Project on Hold: The City Plan Commission also voted to put on hold Empowerment Village, a proposed supportive housing development at Sixth Street and Rosedale Avenue on the city’s South Side. The project seems to have strong support from mental health advocates and the city, but environmentalists and other area residents want that stretch of the Kinnickinnic River to remain untouched, except for a proposed bike path. The commission seemed to be torn between the housing needs of the mentally ill and the plans to protect the river. It asked the Department of City Development to work with the developer, Cardinal Capital, to find another cityowned lot that could serve their needs. If they can’t find an appropriate space, the commission will consider approving the project at the current location.

But Housing Trust Fund Shares the Wealth: Although Empowerment Village may be on hold for now, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Alderman Mike Murphy announced that the city’s new Housing Trust Fund has just made its first allocations to affordable housing projects. Projects include Mercy Housing Lakefront; St. Catherine’s Residence Inc.; Heartland Housing and Guest House; United Methodist Children’s Services; and Milwaukee Christian Center. The trust fund granted a total of $1.4 million to these developments.

State of Emergency: The Wisconsin District Attorneys Association (WDAA) has announced that the state prosecution system has gone from a state of crisis to a state of emergency. The DAs say that the federal government’s severe funding cutbacks mean that Wisconsin will lose 21 prosecutors in the state, and cutbacks will come in programs that deal with domestic violence, drug trafficking and gang activity. They said the state is already short 132 prosecutors, and turnover is too high for safety. So state Sen. Jim Sullivan (D-Wauwatosa) is proposing to fill the shortfall—about $881,600—on an emergency basis with state funds so that the current number of prosecutors can be retained.

Air Traffic Controller Shortage: Both of Wisconsin’s senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, say they are alarmed by the news that Mitchell International Airport has a shortage in air traffic control specialists. To be fully staffed, the airport currently requires 51 air traffic control specialists, but only 40 are now employed and two will retire this month. What’s more, on Feb. 14, the airspace under Milwaukee’s air traffic control will double, and more specialists will be necessary. In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, the senators wrote: “while the current lack of trained controllers is a cause for concern, we believe an impending expansion of the Milwaukee airspace could greatly exacerbate the situation and strain the system’s ability to ensure public safety.”

Squelched Report Hits Home: The Center for Public Integrity has released a report that it says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has buried—“reportedly because it contains such potentially ‘alarming information’ as evidence of elevated infant mortality and cancer rates” in the Great Lakes region. The report claims that more than 9 million people—including those in Milwaukee—may face increased health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury and other pollutants. Exposure can lead to low birth weights, or elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer.

Dan Kohler, of the environmental watchdog group Wisconsin Environment, said it was “outrageous” that the report was blocked. You can read it here: www.publicintegrity.org/GreatLakes/index.htm.

The Debate Stalemate: Andrew Sharp, spokesman for the campaign of state Rep. Pedro Colon, who is running for Milwaukee city attorney, says that Grant Langley, the longtime city attorney, didn’t respond to the Colon campaign’s list of 30 possible debate dates. In January, Langley’s staff told reporters that he would debate Colon “anytime, anywhere”—but those debates have yet to occur. Sharp says that Langley won’t debate because of his “record of failure that no one can defend— not even Grant Langley.”

The End of the Bash: The Bay View Neighborhood Association (BVNA) announced that the Bay View Bash is “on hold indefinitely.” The South Side event, which stretched along KK Avenue and featured booths from local establishments, as well as a slew of great bands and even a reserved area for kids, was launched in 2004.

According to the announcement, it looks like the Bash was too successful for its own good: “The Bash has grown in attendees and attractions, drawing people from every corner of Milwaukee. However, the board has come to the difficult conclusion that the event has grown beyond the core focus of the Bay View Neighborhood Association. Due to the increasing commitment of resources as well as the increased liability of the event, the value and benefit to both the BVNA and the community was re-evaluated.”

Their Milwaukee: The Milwaukee International Film Festival (MIFF) isn’t just a cool event in the autumn. It’s also responsible for launching cool programming and gatherings throughout the year. On Feb. 20, MIFF’s newest program will premiere. For “My Milwaukee,” inner-city teens were given a camera and a mentor and then allowed to tell their own story. Five short films were produced and the young filmmakers and their mentors are still in touch. The premiere at Discovery World is already at capacity.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.

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