By Rick Romano
We checked into what’s happening and found updates and information about the city refreshing its Comprehensive Plan as well as making the community safer, the school district getting ready for the 2023-24 school year, a nonprofit turning a little-used park into a mecca for those of all abilities, and Milwaukee County’s growing effort to improve public transit.
Planning for the Future
With a comprehensive plan last developed and approved in 2008, the city is moving ahead to develop a new plan meant to address the community’s current and future needs.
“The current Comprehensive Plan from 2008 needs to be updated,” said Mayor Dennis McBride. “People recognize that the community has changed significantly since that time. The real estate market is different, Mayfair Road and other business districts are different. The transportation needs are different. So, we are getting various groups of residents and businesspeople together to make sure all voices are heard.” He said he expects the plan to be developed throughout 2024 and finalized in 2025.
In order to develop a plan that will address those changes and anticipated future needs articulated throughout the community, the city hired Houseal Lavigne Associates, a Chicago-based urban planning and geospatial design firm (see www.hlplanninh.com).
Senior Planner Josh Koonce and several associates kicked off the planning process at the end of June with a presentation to the Common Council followed by an initial community meeting.
In both sessions, Koonce emphasized that the plan would be developed as a “dynamic” document what would serve the city for the next 20 years “with regular updates every 5 years.”
Koonce also pointed to planning that will include issues such as broadband, food access and sustainability that were not on the radar in 2008.
Visioning workshops, he said, will provide opportunities for input. A vision statement and goals will be developed, and land-use recommendations and zoning recommendations made based on the planning process that comes before them. Early comments suggest Bluemound Road, North Avenue, and Mayfair Road will be among the targeted planning areas.
A month after the process started, Koonce explained the next phase is producing an existing-conditions memorandum.
“Think of it as a consulting book report, an overall assessment of land use and current codes, combined with consensus information that we get from the workshops,” Koonce said.
Ultimately, he said, there will be a comprehensive policy guide that will help assess current and develop new zoning codes. He said it is important to hear from everybody.
“We want to take in the entire community,” he said, noting that schools and parks are among many other elements to be addressed.
When the Comprehensive Plan is complete over the next 18 months, it will be a document that is easily reviewed and understood by anyone in the community, from new Common Council members and Planning Department staff to residents who just want to know where the community is headed.
Koonce said he is impressed with the city’s strong downtown and the elements of strong neighborhoods often found in suburban communities that border large cities.
“Those are some of my favorite places,” he said.
More information on developing the Comprehensive Plan can be found at the city’s website, www.wauwatosa.net.
Safety was on the minds of the Common Council earlier this summer as it turned down a Chick-Fil-A establishment proposed for Mayfair Road just south of Burleigh Street.
“Traffic was the concern there,” Mayor McBride said. “That is among the most dangerous stretches of roads in the city. Every month, we get a report from the police. We know from seeing Chick-fil-A in other communities that it generates so much traffic and the proposed site could not solve that amount of traffic (without disturbing Mayfair Road traffic). So, it turns out that Chick-fil-A is a victim of its own success.”
McBride said the city is continuing to work with the property’s owner to determine a better alternative.
Speaking of traffic safety, the Common Council also approved a measure brought before the members to apprehend a vehicle involved in a reckless driving violation if the driver has a prior conviction. Along with this decision, the Council also approved police handling the issue of out-of-regulation tinted windows on vehicles that do not comply with state tinting laws.
Abby Pavlik, police spokesperson, said both measures help to keep the roads safe for all drivers. In the circumstance of overly tinted windows, regulation also provides a measure of protection for police officers who need to know who is in a vehicle that they stop.
Wauwatosa School Superintendent Demond Means is confident going into the new academic year. “We are proud of our schools,” he said. “We are optimistic. The state of our schools is strong.”
Means noted that he expects there has been an improvement beyond the behavioral issues in 2022 explored in the spring issue of Tosa Connection. He noted that the second semester stats of 2022-2023 have improved and were to be reviewed publicly at an Aug. 10 meeting of the School Board. He said those results were to be posted on the school district website after that meeting at www.wauwatosak12.wi.us, where one can also check on the entire district’s disciplinary information by searching for Pupil & Family Support/Disciplinary Framework.
Means also said there is improvement standardized test scores related to English Language Arts, Math, and the ACT, which reportedly have suffered in recent years among most suburban districts. The pandemic has been reported as a major factor in those falling test results.
Means said he is less concerned about the amount of improvement than he is about incremental growth. He does not favor target number improvement.
“We are looking for incremental growth,” he said. “What that looks like is different for every student. I am leery that if we say a score (we want), and we don’t hit that then it’s ‘why didn’t you get there?’ It puts undue pressure on students and educators. We are committed to improvement. It’s about the journey.”
The district’s overall journey as part of the community is strengthened by weekly meetings between Supt. Means, Mayor McBride, and City Administrator Jim Archambo. The District Board of Directors and the Common Council will participate in a Sept. 19 joint meeting related to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. “We appreciate the partnership,” Means said.
He also pointed to the district’s own comprehensive planning process – Tosa 2075 – found at www.wauwatosak12.wi.us
A Park Reimagined
Christopher Due, chair of the city’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, also is a board member of the Ability Center. This non-profit is in the midst of developing a unique universal accessibility park designed to accommodate those of all abilities, just steps from the city’s boundary in what has been known as Wisconsin Avenue Park, 10300 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Due said the Ability Center previously highlighted the plans – a project that is a partnership with Milwaukee County – to the Equity and Inclusion Committee.
“This is in a great location and combines all the best of accessibility that is found in many playgrounds throughout the area,” Due said.
Ability Center founder and CEO Damian Buchman said the 18-acre, $10 million project – named Moss Universal Park in honor of long-time area resident George Moss – is being built in two phases.
The first phase will redevelop a current park building to become a completely accessible clubhouse with updated restrooms featuring changing tables for children, charging stations for mobile devices, and an athletic field accessible for wheelchair baseball and softball.
The second phase will include carving out a half-mile, fully-accessible walking path through the woods as well as a challenge course adaptable for those of any ability.
“We are very happy to partner with Milwaukee County and many others to make this possible,” said Buchman. “We want this to be a welcoming park for all and we don’t want anyone to leave the park except when they are exhausted.”
The Ability Center, established in 2018, previously partnered with Milwaukee County to improve accessibility at Bradford Beach. Moss Universal Park has received funding and other support from MMSD, the YMCA, and the Anon Foundation. To date, the project has raised a reported $4.5 million.
Mayor McBride said that while Tosa is blessed with a number of city and county parks, this project is special.
“We have all these parks, which makes Wauwatosa an attractive place to live,” he said. “When a park like this in a terrific location is redeveloped by a private entity and supported by the county and other sources, it is transformative.”
About Ability Center Founder Damian Buchman: Diagnosed with bone cancer in both legs growing up, Buchman said he is blessed to be alive and carries a personal mission to help everyone who has endured recovery or is learning to adapt to a new level of ability. In fact, he states within the organization’s mission: “We are all borrowing a body today that will not work the same tomorrow. Whether it’s disease, accident, or the aging process, none of us can escape the need for different, adapted, or inclusive access in the future.”
For more information, go to www.tacwi.org
A Speedier Bus Ride
Wauwatosa resident David Locher is one of the key personnel involved in making the Milwaukee County Transit’s (MCTS) 9-mile, east-west Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line successful as it runs in, through, and then out of the city. The enhanced transit line is designed to provide a quicker, safer trip as it connects downtown Milwaukee with the park-and-ride at Watertown Plank Road using Wisconsin Avenue, and south to Bluemound Road.
Locher, MCTS’ enhanced transit Manager, calls it a kind of ‘rail without rails’ that currently uses more than 300 clean diesel buses (2023 models ensure a cleaner ride) and 11 battery-operated buses (with more in the offing). These buses hit 17 sstations along the route while connecting riders to 25 hotels and nine universities and colleges. MCTS unveiled a charging station at its park- and-ride stop. There, a bus gets charged every third trip.
“We have always had a robust transit system with a Tosa landscape,” Locher said. “The east-west corridor parallel to I-94 is the most heavily trafficked corridor in the region.”
The BRT utilizes dedicated lanes and platforms that better connect people to the bus even if they are in wheelchairs. And timing is critical.
“We have a goal of 15 seconds per stop,” Locher said, noting both doors open, and the driver does not carry money because transactions are done at the stop site. Electric vehicles have special strap systems that secure those in wheelchairs.
Locher was complimentary of Wauwatosa officials who helped pave the way for necessary infrastructure to make the route happen through the city. Mayor McBride is happy to have the BRT run through the city.
“I studied transit-oriented development in grad school,” McBride said. “When there is a permanent transit line, the land around and along it becomes much more valuable. It’s just more desirable, making it is easier to attract development there. So, not only is it a good thing for those who need access to public transportation, it is good for developing housing and business.”
An expansion of the BRT in metropolitan Milwaukee may be in the offing, Locher said. He noted that while Wauwatosa is “thriving within itself, it is an edge community that is attractive to Milwaukee. We are engaged with County Board and the Federal Transit Administration to secure grant and funding to a north south BRT,” he said. The goal is to have that line – twice as long as the current east-west route – run along 27th Street in Milwaukee and suburban areas and connect to the rest of the MCTS system.
“The hope is to have residents of those communities along 27th Street’s heavily residential neighborhood connect to Wauwatosa and the Regional Medical Center.”
Quick facts about who uses the East-West BRT:
- 120,000 employees
- More than 51,000 students
- 47,000 residents
- 6,600,000 tourists
For more information, go to www.estwestbrtmke.com