Confusion reigns at land-use meeting: Milawukee (WI) Journal Sentinel, 7/26/05

Menomonee Falls residents skeptical of Main St. development plan

By Reid J Epstein

A proposal to create a comprehensive land-use plan for the [Menomenee Falls] village's northeast corner was met with skepticism and confusion during an unwieldy and disorganized meeting Tuesday night at the Village Hall.

Residents, many of whom said they were unsure about exactly what the plan entailed, shouted down plan commissioners and trustees who attempted to explain the boundaries and ramifications of the plan, which calls for the village to dictate potential uses for land in an area bounded roughly by N. 124th St., County Line Road and the Menomonee River. So many people came to the meeting that village officials opened three other rooms for the overflow crowd to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

Officials said they have no plans to use eminent domain to acquire property for private development and hope the area can be redeveloped without using public money, particularly a tax incremental financing district, which is one of the options available.

"Too frequently, people are looking for government to do everything," said Trustee Michael McDonald, who is chairman of the Plan Commission. "I hope not a penny of TIF money happens in this area."

There are 80 parcels in the Main St. redevelopment proposal, 14 of which are owned by car dealer Ernie von Schledorn. Six of those are vacant lots. Earlier this month, Von Schledorn said he will support the village's plans.

Others spoke against a proposal to redevelop Main St., a depressed corridor dotted with vacant lots and empty storefronts. Village officials contracted with urban planners RTKL Associates Inc. to develop a design for the neighborhood. Trustees hope to have a plan finalized soon and financing formalized by fall.

The RTKL proposal imagines creating developments that combine residential and commercial uses. Paris Rutherford, an RTKL vice president who addressed residents and officials Tuesday, said the idea is to create a "unique experience" in Menomonee Falls that is distinct from other similarly suburban areas. He said the community should act relatively quickly or risk the neighborhood becoming commercially unviable.

"If we don't have new investment in a place like the Main St. corridor, the community becomes stagnant," Rutherford said.

But Lisa Tolfa, who lives on Jefferson Ave., just north of Main St., said the village should not seek to encourage a business district along the corridor.

"I don't know why we have to put more businesses there," she said. "It's like you want to make us another Brookfield."

Rutherford said that the Main St. plan would increase homeowners' property values because it would make the neighborhood more attractive for new homebuyers.

"The whole effort is to make it appeal to people like you," he said.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: www.jsonline.com

Comment by Don Umhoefer of Menomenee Falls:
Meeting went well the other night. Very good turnout from the public so they had to open up overflow rooms and broadcast the meeting. We had handed out about 3500 flyers last weekend, and they started the meeting by bashing the flyer and accused it of exaggerations. Once I got to the podium, I told them that I wrote the flyer, that it was based on information in their draft redevelopment plan and that I would do it again!

Lots of confusion about the land use plan for a larger area of the Village at first, and that dragged on for so long that most of the press left before we got to the redevelopment plan and the topic of eminent domain. Once we did, it was great to see people from other areas of the Village had come to express their views against the taking of private property.

All in all, there was a good discussion between the citizens and the Village officials. I demanded that they take a stand against the use of eminent domain fro economic development and explained that they had an opportunity to be one of the municipalities that lead the reform of this type of governmental abuse of power. I asked them to adopt a charter ordinance defining blight and stating that the Village will not use their power of eminent domain to take property from the citizens for purposes other than roads, public buildings, and utilities, and will not take private property from one person to give to another private party, like a developer. They said that they would take it under consideration...

The land use plan for the larger area of the Village was allowed to move ahead. The Main Street Redevelopment Project approval was dropped for the evening and will be discussed further at a CDA meeting Monday morning.