City's options may be limited on workforce apartments
But residents vow to continue fight against project
New Berlin — Despite opposition from hundreds of people who packed City Hall Monday night to fight a proposed workforce housing apartment project, Mayor Jack Chiovatero acknowledged Tuesday there is probably not much the city can do to stop the development from moving forward if the developer deals with the city’s objections.
At Monday's Plan Commission meeting, the panel rescinded a parking waiver it had granted to the developer, MSP Real Estate, in May. The commission is allowing the developer to change the plans so that the waiver is not needed, which is what Chiovatero and some aldermen said they believe he is doing.
"If the developer corrects everything, I don't know if you can shut it down," the mayor said.
Whether MSP can correct everything remains to be seen, Chiovatero said. There are many hurdles, including a groundwater problem affecting expansion of underground parking, he said.
Alderman Bill Moore said the city must be careful about triggering a lawsuit from MSP. The area in the City Center where the workforce apartments would be located already is zoned for multifamily use.
"There's a lot of liability out there for the city if he wants to continue in the path he is going, and the city says 'no,' " Moore warned. "I don't want it (the city) to get into a legal situation the city might lose."
Milo Pinkerton, MSP president, said in an interview that he no longer needs the waiver. "Every single parking space required per city ordinance is now met on site, and I sent that drawing to city staff a week ago," he said Friday.
With the likelihood the city won't be able to stop the project, opponents are focusing their efforts on the state.
The Concerned Citizens of New Berlin, an opposition group made up of hundreds of residents, is asking the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority to deny approval of the federal tax credits that are the project's lifeblood. Under workforce housing, developers receive tax credits to provide affordable housing.
The group on Tuesday sent the agency a petition signed by more than 1,900 residents who oppose the project.
"We are trying to show WHEDA that there is no community support for the project in the City Center and only the City Center," said Laura Karvala, one of the group's leaders.
Community support is one of the things WHEDA looks for when approving tax credits, she added.
The agency is to decide about June 18, Karvala said.
The MSP project calls for 72 units of workforce apartments in three buildings and 100 senior citizen apartments in one four-story building. Pinkerton stressed the workforce apartments are not for low-income residents. They are affordable apartments built for families who meet WHEDA's income guidelines. The target incomes for the two-bedroom units are between $24,750 and $42,420.
After more than 300 people filled City Hall and spilled outdoors on Monday for the workforce housing showdown, the Common Council on Tuesday approved a 90-day moratorium on new development in the City Center. But that moratorium does not affect the MSP project.
Council President Ken Harenda proposed the moratorium to give the city time to re-evaluate its vision for the City Center. The city's Smart Growth Plan calls for high-end shops and upscale condominiums there, but the council has told the Plan Commission to review whether small high-end shops are a viable option at the center.
While some residents do not want workforce housing anywhere in the city, others said it would be acceptable as long as it's not in the City Center. Harenda said he doesn't necessarily oppose workforce housing elsewhere, but said: "It should be noted that New Berlin currently is the second highest in low-income housing units available in Waukesha County."
The developer could come back to the Plan Commission with a revised parking plan as early as July 12.
→ Q & A: Developer gives his side of story. Page 3
→ Open house: Presentation changes few minds. Page 3
→ Reaction: What our readers are saying. Page 4
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