More aldermen should embrace density

Commentary

The original Goll Mansion apartment tower design approved by the Common Council in 2017. Rendering by Kahler Slater.

A developer wants to build a $55 million apartment tower on the East Side of Milwaukee, and is not seeking any subsidies from the city.

Proposals like this usually are approved without much difficulty. There are big apartment developments all over downtown Milwaukee and the East Side.

1522 On The Lake and the proposed Goll Mansion site tower.
1522 On The Lake and the proposed Goll Mansion site tower.

But this project was blocked by a minority of the Common Council. It was proposed for the site of the 118-year-old Goll Mansion on Prospect Avenue. The project called for moving the mansion closer to the street and building a 27-story apartment tower on the site. The owner of the mansion says the only way to preserve it is to generate revenue from a large development.

Whether that is true or not, and whether or not moving the mansion is actually feasible, you would think aldermen would be happy to see another development that will create construction jobs, boost the city’s property tax base and add more density and vibrancy.

But several residents of the 18-story 1522 On The Lake condo tower next door to the Goll Mansion submitted a petition opposing the project, so a supermajority of the council was needed for approval.

Aldermen voted 10-5 in favor of the project, not enough for a supermajority. So now the project is in limbo, as is the future of the Goll Mansion.

Residents of 1522 On The Lake raised a variety of concerns about the building. In 2008, residents of 1522 On The Lake also opposed a 26-story building with much less density, only 35 condos, that was planned for the Goll Mansion site but never moved forward.

“I would take that to believe their concern is their views will be obstructed more than anything else,” said Alderman Jim Bohl.

Alderman Robert Bauman, whose district includes the Goll Mansion site and 1522 On The Lake, sided with his constituents who opposed the project. Bauman said the proposed building was too big for the site. However, that’s a strange complaint. Big cities have big buildings. Prospect Avenue is lined with high rise after high rise. Density is a good thing in cities, bringing more vibrancy and more customers to businesses in the neighborhood.

While Bauman’s opposition to the project is understandable because of his constituents, why are some other aldermen opposed? In addition to Bauman, Aldermen Cavalier Johnson, Mark Borkowski, Jose Perez and Tony Zielinski cast “no” votes.

“Size/density of building was just bad urban planning,” Perez said.

“I am for the right kind of development and not just any kind of development,” Zielinski said.

“I voted no…because of the same reasons mentioned by Alderman Bauman regarding size and density,” Johnson said.

I wish these aldermen would show greater appreciation for density, which makes urban neighborhoods stronger.

Hopefully, another project for the Goll Mansion site emerges soon. But the last project before this one was proposed eight years ago.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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