Apartment development near Downer Avenue gets Plan Commission OK, despite objections from neighbors

Nearby condo owners suing city, claiming 55-unit complex is too dense for neighborhood

A proposal to construct a 55-unit apartment complex on land owned by St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 2618 N. Hackett Ave., was endorsed by the City Plan Commission. (Rendering courtesy of HGA Architects and Engineers)

Last updated on August 25th, 2022 at 01:51 pm

Despite drawing jeers from a few dozen neighborhood residents – and even a lawsuit from five nearby condo owners – a proposal to construct a 55-unit apartment complex on land owned by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at the corner of North Hackett Avenue and Belleview Place, near Downer Avenue on Milwaukee’s East Side, has cleared an initial governmental hurdle.

City Plan Commissioners voted 6-0 this week to back a request from the church and developer to rezone the site – a move that will allow the project to move forward with the proposed 55 studio and one-and-two-bedroom units.

The commission’s conditional recommendation requires the developer, DeMichele Company, LLC, to work with the city’s Department of Public Works and as well as the Department of City Development to conduct a study of how the development might impact traffic in the 2600 block of North Hackett Avenue, which is a northbound one-way street. Residents opposed to the project have sited impacts to traffic as one of the major concerns of the project. Other concerns have been related to the density of the project.

The expectation is that the results of the study will be ready for review by the time the rezoning request makes it to the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee for review.

The Commission spent the better half of three hours discussing the proposal. That included about an hour spent in closed session where they discussed the lawsuit.

Project site

The project would take an open lawn area and surface parking lot currently owned by the church and use it for the site of a 4-story apartment complex, with 69 underground parking spaces.

DeMichele Company and the church have already applied for a certified survey map that would separate the development site from the church’s remaining property at the corner and allow the church to sell the property to the developer.

The church intends to demolish and reconstruct the annex addition portion of its facility as part of the project.

The proposed project has had some neighborhood residents, including 42 that signed a joint letter to city officials, alleging that the new renters coming into the neighborhood would be younger than the existing neighborhood’s residents and would exhibit undesirable behaviors.

Mentioning these complaints, Sam Leichtling, city planning manager at the Department of City Development, noted that city planning staff did not consider the age of would-be residents of the development, as that would be a violation of the state’s fair housing law. He advised the Plan Commission members to do the same. Leichtling also noted that the development meets Historic Preservation Commission design standards for new buildings in the neighborhood, and fits within the vision of the comprehensive plan for the neighborhood, which sits just off the Downer Avenue Commercial District.

An attempt to to reach J. Nels Bjorkquist, the attorney representing the five condo owners who are suing the city, was not immediately successful on Tuesday afternoon.

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Cara covers nonprofits, healthcare and education for BizTimes. Cara lives in Waukesha with her husband, a teenager, a toddler, a dog named Neutron, a bird named Potter, and a lizard named Peyoye. She loves music, food, and comedy, but not necessarily in that order.

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