ZND approves Rivianna

The Milwaukee Common Council’s Zoning Neighborhoods and Development (ZND) Committee on Tuesday approved a detailed plan development for the proposed Rivianna hotel and apartment towers development, planned for just south of the Historic Third Ward.

The plans still must be reviewed by the full Common Council.

"(Approval) will allow the developers to proceed with (efforts to obtain) financing and obtaining building permits," said Department of City Development planning director Vanessa Koster.

Rivianna Development Group LLC, which includes developers Bob Schultz and Harry Drea, want to build a building on a vacant lot at 236 S. Water St. with three 15-story towers on top of a 4-story base. The development, along the south side of the Milwaukee River, would have 186 apartments, a 128-room hotel and 11,000 square feet of retail space. The developers say all of the construction work will be done by union laborers.

"We are pleased with (Tuesday’s) committee vote and are excited that the project is moving forward," Drea said in a news release. "We are continuing to work through the final stages of our financing, and our goal is to get a shovel in the ground this year."

The developers say they are "very close" and "very optimistic" about obtaining financing for the $80 million project, but decline to say who would provide the financing.

"Our goal is to lock in financing and get a shovel in the ground this construction season," said Rivianna Development Group spokesman Evan Zeppos. "We are still on course to get this project approved, financed and started before the snow flies."

The project is opposed by some area residents, especially residents of the Marine Terminal Lofts condominiums, who say the building would be out of scale with the Third Ward, located on the north side of the river, and would block their views.

Ald. Robert Bauman, whose ward includes the Third Ward but not the Rivianna property, said the Rivianna development is an example of "bad urban planning" because it will not conform to the character and strict development standards of the Third Ward, which has a building height limit.

Without similar standards, Bauman compared the area south of the river to the "wild west."

"Anybody who comes in with a plan and they have union jobs gets to do whatever they want, basically," Bauman said. "Certainly jobs are important but that can’t be an excuse for bad design and bad planning and bad urban planning."

The Department of City Development should have rejected the Rivianna project, said Bauman, who cast the only "no" vote on the ZND Committee.

However, Ald. Jim Witkowiak, whose district includes the Rivianna site, expressed strong support for the project and said he took "some offense" to Bauman’s wild west comment about the Fifth Ward area south of the river and the Third Ward.

"Some people feel crossing the river that everything should remain the same and consistent (with the Third Ward)," Witkowiak said. "But most of the people on the south side of the river don’t feel that way. Most of the people on the south side of the river see this as an opportunity to define our own neighborhood, instead of trying to copy what someone else’s neighborhood looks like."

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