By Doug Hissom Special to Published Feb 20, 2008 at 5:21 AM
It has a good name -- Empowerment Village -- and a good cause, offering affordable housing for mentally ill people. But good intentions didn't convince members of the Milwaukee City Plan Commission to give away some important green space along the Kinnickinnic River.

Developer Cardinal Capital wanted the city to approve a change in zoning on a two-acre parcel along the river near 6th Street and Rosedale so it could build housing and offices for the Our Space Foundation and the American Red Cross.

Facing the difficult task of arguing against much-needed facilities for the mentally ill, environmentalists successfully pointed out that green space is a much more important commodity.

Cheryl Nenn, riverkeeper for the Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers, noted that the KK River is nearly 95 percent developed and this space is the last green area along the river. She also questioned why the city would sell the property at a bargain rate of $10,000.

Local poet Jeff Poniewaz gave a sterling speech recalling his days of growing up along that stretch of river, saying that green space "is conducive to mental health" and preserving that space would "benefit the mental health of Milwaukee at large. ... We need these places where children can go and bond with nature."

Bay View resident Bill Sell countered arguments that the mentally ill in Milwaukee have been the victims of the "not-in-my-backyard" crowd by pointing out that this site would actually isolate the mentally ill housed there in a neighborhood by itself. "This is protecting those neighbors from their fears of mental health."

Others questioned why the city would put forth this project after encouraging residents to get involved in the Southeast Side Plan for the past two years -- a project that identified the land as an area that should stay parkland.

"It's critical for the city's credibility to back up its planners," said Ald. Tony Zielinski.

When asked why they couldn't build across the street, the developers said grading the site would add thousands of dollars to the cost. The City Plan Commission told the developers to find a more suitable location in the city for their project, but held open the idea that the project could come back to this site.

Driven to Identity Theft: The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Traffic Bureau apparently is not overly concerned about identity theft. On tickets that are meant to be paid and mailed back to the bureau, the ticketee is asked to put his or her driver's license number on the ticket. Any astute person with nefarious tendencies could easily obtain the driver's license number and proceed to create havoc with that.

Missed Mark: Eric J. Thundercloud had a good excuse for missing his hearing to renew his bartender's license -- he was in jail. It was the fourth time Thundercloud asked that his license hearing be delayed but the Licenses Committeefinally lost patience and voted to deny his renewal. Thundercloud is serving 10 months at the House of Correction for earning his fourth drunk driving ticket. The committee usually balks at giving out bartending licenses after the second OUI anyway.

Assembly Leaders All Wet: Milwaukee County Supervisor Pat Jursik sees the need to weigh in on the Assembly's failure to pass a Great Lakes Water Compact. Republican leadership in the Assembly doesn't like a provision that would allow states to veto any attempts to transfer Great Lakes water out of he natural basin.

"No community can ignore the natural boundaries that define it," she says. "Water is not an unlimited resource. Waukesha has already developed beyond the region's ability to supply safe water. Instead of working to preserve water supplies by supporting the Compact, Rep Gunderson and Rep. Huebsch are creating a water war within our own state. Such negative efforts should be redirected to the preservation and conservation of each natural habitat -- within and without the basin. On behalf of my district within the basin, I call on the Assembly to pass the Great Lakes Water Compact without change and without delay."

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.