Assembly hearing today on Milwaukee shoreline bill

The state Assembly will hold a hearing today on a bill to establish the legal boundary for the Milwaukee shoreline. The state Senate will hold a hearing on the bill on Thursday, Feb. 13.

The location of the shoreline is critical to Milwaukee County’s attempts to attract development to the Downtown Transit Center site, located southwest of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan Street near the lakefront. County officials want to sell the property, currently used for bus storage, to developer Rick Barrett, who plans to build The Couture, a 44-story tower with luxury apartments, a hotel and retail space.

However, parks advocacy group Preserve Our Parks has threatened to file a lawsuit to block the project. The group says that most of the Downtown Transit Center site was originally part of the Lake Michigan lakebed and that therefore the state’s public trust doctrine forbids development there.

The state Legislature added a provision to the state budget last year that establishes the boundary line east of the Downtown Transit Center site. However, Preserve Our Parks has threatened to challenge the law in court and the county has been unable to obtain title insurance for the site.

Some legislators, supported by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, want to pass a stand-alone bill to settle the shoreline issue. The proposed legislation would formally recognize the Milwaukee shoreline boundary that was established in 1913.

“If the 1913 boundary line is not respected, the shoreline is undefined and unknown, and the resulting muddle could threaten public and private development in Milwaukee,” Abele said in a statement today. “This bill protects and clarifies the boundary for some of the most valuable land in the state.”

Some Milwaukee County Board supervisors have recently pushed for the county to take legal action to establish development rights for the site in court.

“The issue of what can be transferred to private ownership for development should be determined in a factual hearing before a Circuit Court judge,” said Supervisor Pat Jursik. “The County Board has directed that this be done in a ‘clear title’ lawsuit. Once private ownership is in place, public rights terminate. This is the question that we must care about. It is not done by jamming public legislation down the throat of the public even if done in the name of development.”

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