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Top North Shore stories of 2013

Dec. 31, 2013

Where can you find NBA stars, power struggles, union protests, grassroots fundraising, and every once in a great while, a fatal lovers quarrel? Milwaukee's North Shore, of course.

Below is a roundup of some of the North Shore's top stories in 2013 by community. What'll happen next year? Only time will tell.

Brown Deer

Mike Novak prepares to accept a congratulatory handshake from emcee Dr. Deb Kerr while his wife Jeanne embraces their son Steve during opening ceremonies for Brown Deer High School’s new field house, which was named for the Novak family.

 

Made possible by a successful 2011 building referendum and a $100,000 grant from NBA 3-point specialist and Brown Deer alum Steve Novak, the Brown Deer Novak Family Field House opened in April to a triumphant fanfare.

It was an emotional evening for Steve Novak and his father, Mike, Falcons athletic director, when Steve dedicated his generous donation to his father's guidance and leadership.

"This was a mix of his vision, his work, his sweat, blood and tears," Steve said of his father's vision for Falcons arena. "From the time I was born, I was destined to be a Brown Deer Falcon, because that's what he was. He taught me how to love and how to give 100 percent to everything I did."

Fox Point

A contractor cuts through a support of the Bridge Lane Ravine Footbridge during demolition in August.

 

2013 marked another year in the long and ongoing saga of the Bridge Lane Ravine footbridge, which for a century spanned the forested divide between Bridge and Barnett Lanes.

In mid-August the storied, picturesque, and more recently, controversial footbridge was demolished. Village officials opted to keep in place concrete pilings which can be used to anchor a new bridge if and when the decision is made to rebuild.

That call will hinge on whether nonprofit fundraising group Footbridge Friends can hit their $655,000 goal, which represents half of a $1.25 million construction estimate plus $30,000 the village loaned the group in 2012 to kick-start its effort. As of mid-December the group had raised about $470,000.

A roughly $980,000 reconstruction estimate, delivered by consulting engineers Ayres Associates in February, was revealed in November by Village President Mike West. The Village Board has since decided not to solicit another cost estimate — there have been 17 since 2010 — but may send the reconstruction project out to bid in the coming months to solidify a cost.

Glendale

The Hilton Milwaukee River and Anchorage Restaurant site was the subject of much debate in 2013 and will continue to be so through 2014.

In June, the Plan Commission scrutinized and expressed concern over a plan to convert the hotel and restaurant into lodging for international students, primarily from China. The Wisconsin International Academy, proposed in partnership with the Chinese Education and Research Network, would have included a student dormitory, classrooms, food service and administrative offices to facilitate a program for students attending nearby high schools in long-term foreign exchange programs.

The commission in July voted, 5-1, to deny WIA's request and the Common Council, unable to decide either way in August, unanimously denied the request in September. At the behest of Mayor Jerome Tepper the council revisited the matter in October but reaffirmed its decision, again delivering a unanimous vote.

"Our master plan has guided the city to where we are today," Alderman Richard Wiese said. "The (requested zoning) change would have had significant impact well into the future that would not necessarily be the best for the city."

Attorneys representing the Hilton owners have threatened to sue the city over the council's decision but have not yet filed suit.

Mequon

Robert Strzelczyk won Mequon's 1st District in a September special contest.

The balance of power on the Common Council shifted in September when Robert Strzelczyk was elected in a special contest to represent Mequon's 1st District.

Long-time Alderman Dan Abendroth in April both defeated Strzelczyk for the District 1 seat and dethroned incumbent Mayor Curt Gielow. When Abendroth picked the mayoral post, the 1st District seat was up for grabs.

Though the seat is oftentimes awarded to the runner-up in such scenarios, the council opened the floor for applicants and soon found themselves in a gridlock. A number of council votes failed to produce the required five-vote majority for Strzelczyk or hopeful Rob Holtz, with a 4-3 split falling along the lines of those who supported Abendroth's mayoral bid and those who did not.

Unable to make the decision, the council put the question to voters, who had the choice of Strzelczyk or Holtz, who had the backing of Mayor Abendroth. It was an unusually high-stakes aldermanic race which had the potential to make or break a 4-4 tie on the council between those who supported Abendroth's campaign and those who didn't. Such a spread could have produced ties for Abendroth to break with his vote.

When Strzelczyk won the special election, however, the council makeup swung 5-3 in favor of those who had not supported Abendroth's spring 2013 campaign.

North Shore Fire Department

North Shore Fire Department firefighters line the walkway into Glendale City Hall as part of a demonstration against the department’s board of directors.

It was a tumultuous year for the NSFD board of directors, who dealt with long-term financial issues, union unrest, and testy negotiations over the oft-contentious department funding formula.

In May, an actuarial study pegged the department's 30-year retirement benefit liability at about $44 million, roughly $30 million of which was unfunded. The board reacted by cutting about $175,000 from the department's annual health insurance costs beginning in 2014 and diverting the savings into a long-term retirement benefit fund.

The change did not sit well with the Local 1440, the union representing NSFD staffers. Firefighters and their loved ones packed Glendale City Hall in September to decry the resulting insurance deductible and out-of-pocket hikes and lambast the board of directors as it considered and ultimately approved the 2014 budget.

NSFD later offered an opt-in plan which allows firefighters to keep the lower deductibles, but at a higher up-front premium cost.

Throughout the year the board, city and village administrators, and Public Policy Forum worked out a new department funding formula to replace the funding arrangement, which expires at the end of 2015.

City and village administrators reached consensus on a proposal, but the future of the department was thrown into uncertainty throughout October and November as River Hills Village President Bob Brunner and Glendale Mayor Jerome Tepper squared off over the proposal.

Brunner threatened to veto the new formula while Tepper threatened to have Glendale leave the department at the city's earliest opportunity, in 2016. After numerous NSFD and River Hills Village Board meetings, Brunner eventually relented and voted "yes" at a late-November NSFD meeting. The formula proposal has since been ratified by each NSFD member community except River Hills, which is scheduled to vote on the matter in January.

Shorewood

The apartment building where Shorewood's first murder in 20 years took place in July.

For the first time in 20 years, a murder was committed in the village of Shorewood.

Homer Washington, 21, of Milwaukee, was charged and found guilty of murdering Clarence Charles, 57, of Shorewood.

According to Washington's testimony, the two were lovers who were fighting over an alleged infidelity when a knife came into play on July 15. A later examination by the Milwaukee County Examiner's Office found that Charles had been stabbed 13 times.

Washington will be sentenced in January.

Thiensville

A rendering of the Thiensville Health Alliance building, slated for construction in 2014.

Thiensville Dr. Gary Lewis won out in a bid for prime village-owned Main Street real estate.

In 2012 the village purchased the former Riemers Flowers, D & D Electronics, and Sea N' Sand Scuba stores for the purposes of razing and redeveloping the properties.

Over the summer, the village solicited proposals for the site, garnering bids for mixed-use developments from Lewis, Jesse Daily, owner of Thiensville-based Core Consulting, and Leona Knobloch-Nelson and Jonathan Nelson of Mequon-based Knobloch Nelson Architects.

In September, officials picked Lewis' proposal for a three-story retail, medical and conference building, which is slated for construction in 2014.

Whitefish Bay

Ruined belongings line a Whitefish Bay street in the wake of catastrophic flooding in summer 2010. The private lateral project shot down by the Village Board in 2012 was billed as a partial solution to Bay's perennial flooding issue.

The people spoke, and the government listened.

After an hour-and-a-half-long tumult of criticism and outrage from residents at a July Village Board meeting, officials unanimously struck down a project that would have repaired sewer laterals connected to nearly 400 homes on the southern end of Whitefish Bay. In total, the sewer rehab work would have cost about $1.6 million, with property owners paying for their own lateral repairs at an estimated individual cost of $2,500 to $7,000.

The board's actions create a domino effect whereby village-wide lateral repairs are removed entirely from the village's 15-year capital improvement plan.

So where does this leave the village's ailing infrastructure and flooding problems?

Village engineers say the four main causes of stormwater finding its way into the sewer system and causing backups are: leaky laterals, manhole and sewer main leakage, residential downspouts connected to sewer drains and leaky foundation drains.

Since lateral fixes are now off the table, that leaves manhole coverings and sewer main lining and a stepped up enforcement of the policy on disconnecting downspouts from the sewer.

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