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Shops, apartments planned for Oakland Avenue

Bay would give up parcels to Shorewood as part of development plan

Aug. 5, 2009

A developer's plan to build a building with luxury apartments and retail shops at the corner of Kensington Boulevard and Oakland Avenue could hinge upon whether Whitefish Bay officials agree to give up some of the property to Shorewood.

Milwaukee developer Blair Williams of WiRED Properties is proposing a multistory building that would house four retail suites on the ground floor and about 26 one- to three-bedroom luxury apartments on the upper floors.

A gas station formerly operated on the site, which straddles both Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. The lot is made up of two Whitefish Bay properties and one Shorewood parcel, but has been a single commercial site for many years. Under the proposal, the two Whitefish Bay lots would be annexed into Shorewood, and Shorewood would pay Whitefish Bay $103,106 to cover the lost tax revenue for 150 years.

Williams has been working with Shorewood officials to redevelop the site, which is in a Shorewood tax incremental financing district. Williams said such financing is essential for the type of quality development that is proposed. TIF is a mechanism that allows municipalities to borrow money for infrastructure improvements. The increased property tax revenue from the improved land is then diverted from the tax rolls to pay off the loan.

Letters of intent signed

Williams told the Whitefish Bay Village Board Monday that he has four tenants for the retail space: a restaurant, a wine retailer who would have a wine bar, a spa/salon and a coffee shop. They have signed letters of intent, but Williams said he could lose them if the proposal were to stall.

There would be 47 underground parking spaces for apartment tenants and 36 surface spots for retail customers.

The development also would feature a courtyard with a fountain. "This will feel like two buildings because of the large courtyard and a walk through from the parking area," Williams said.

Parking would be to the rear of the building. The building is connected at the second floor, with a break at the first floor level for the walkway.

Under the proposal, Whitefish Bay would have two representatives on a design committee that would review the building plans.

Williams said he has reviewed the design standards for the Shorewood TIF district and those used for the Silver Spring TIF district and would follow them. He said a developer's agreement would guarantee that objectionable uses, such as a night club or tattoo parlor, would not be allowed.

Neighbors voice concerns

Williams previously met with residents living near the proposed site. Some of them came to the Monday's board meeting to express their concerns.

Karen Cullen, 4513 N. Cramer St., said she didn't have confidence that the developer would continue to seek and follow Whitefish Bay's opinions if the land was no longer part of the village. Her backyard, she said, abuts the site.

"I have a concern about how this will look from my own yard and if I will hear chit-chat from the courtyard," she said.

Cullen said she was not comfortable with a four-story building but would like to see the site developed.

"I don't like being around the corner from an abandoned gas station," she sad.

Susan Leslie, 4525 N. Cramer St. asked if the development would impact property values.

Williams said he believes that over time the value of neighboring properties would increase because of the development, while Village Manager Jim Grassman said the impact on home values would be neutral.

Shorewood Village Manager Chris Swartz and Village President Guy Johnson attended the meeting.

"Our Village Board and CDA have been reviewing the plans and have been supportive of it to date," Swartz said. "It addresses the master plan and the concerns of neighbors.

The Whitefish Bay School Board must also agree to let the land go to Shorewood. Financial advisers Ehlers & Associates estimate the district will offset any loss in property taxes by the transfer by a gain in state aid to the district.

The Whitefish Bay Village Board discussed the proposal in closed session Monday, and Grassman said trustees will review it again on Sept. 14. Williams plans to meet with nearby residents prior to that board meeting.

The proposed development is across the street from where Williams in 2007 proposed another building with luxury condominiums and 5,000 square feet of retail space. Williams said that project is on hold because there is no financing available for construction of condos.

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