County supervisors seek legal action for Downtown Transit Center

Milwaukee County has been unable to obtain a title insurance policy for the Downtown Transit Center and two County Board supervisors want the county to take legal action to clarify the county’s legal rights for the property.

The move is an attempt to boost The Couture, a proposed 44-story building that would be built on the site and would have luxury apartments, a high-end hotel and retail space.

County Supervisors Patricia Jursik and Gerry Broderick have sponsored a resolution, submitted Tuesday, to direct the county’s legal counsel to work with outside counsel to file an action of declaration rights to “obtain a judgement determining the extent of the county’s title and rights to the Downtown Transit Center property… Such legal certainty can only be attained by a final court judgement.”

They want the legal action to be taken by March 15.

The Downtown Transit Center is located southwest of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan Street near the lakefront. It is used as a bus storage and transfer facility and has park space on the rooftop.

County officials plan to sell the property to developer Rick Barrett, who plans to build The Couture on the site.

However, parks advocacy group Preserve Our Parks has objected to the development plans saying most of the Downtown Transit Center site was originally in the Lake Michigan lakebed and therefore the state’s public trust doctrine forbids private development of the site.

Last year the state Legislature inserted a provision in the state budget establishing the location of the shoreline to the east of the Downtown Transit Center site, so that it is not subject to the public trust doctrine. But that has not resolved the matter.

“In spite of this legislative action, no title company has been willing to issue a title policy that removes the issues concerning public trust,” says the Jursik and Broderick resolution.

Preserve Our Parks says the legislation is unconstitutional and says it plans to file a lawsuit if the county moves forward with plans to sell the site to Barrett for a private development project.

The threat of legal action has discouraged title insurance companies from issuing a title insurance policy for the site, Barrett said.

A review of the property by the state Department of Natural Resources in 2012 also determined that the site is not subject to the public trust doctrine.

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