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This map, created by the City of Milwaukee, shows the Couture and other development plans.

Preserve Our Parks is obstructing an important development proposal

Let's go to the dictionary.

The word for today is "obstructionist." n.

"1. a person who deliberately delays or prevents progress."

"2.a person who delays or obstructs the business before a legislative body by parliamentary contrivances or legalistic maneuvers."

"3. Preserve Our Parks."

Number three isn't a real definition, but it might as well be.

The organization is part of the heart of the incredibly complicated debate about building a cool and useful building where a desolate useless building now stands. Simply put, there are a lot of people who want the new building and the parks folks are not among them.

I love the Preserve Our Parks organization. It works hard to maintain and improve conditions in the Milwaukee County Parks system, one of the best in the entire country.

But here's what's happening now, in basic terms.

A developer, Rick Barrett (no relation to the mayor) wants to build a tall tower, called The Couture, on the land near the lakefront where the Milwaukee Transit Center now stands. The transit center is a ghost building. The Couture would have apartments and retail space and be 44 stories tall.

The parks people don't want the building. They have all kind of arguments that have been included in lawsuits and statements. Essentially their argument is that the building would sit on Lake Michigan lake bed which means the land is in the public trust, a provision of the Wisconsin Constitution.

At issue here, I think, is which land is protected by the public trust doctrine. Some people say the lake bed extends to the land underneath the transit center. The pro-development group says the lake bed extends to Lincoln Memorial Drive. Anything east of the road is in the public trust. West of the drive is fair game for private development.

I made a lot of calls to people to try and figure out what's going on here. I talked to the president of the board and its Madison lawyer. I talked to County Executive Chris Abele.

John Lunz, the president of board of directors of the parks group, said that the land is part of a filled lake bed and is protected by the constitution. I asked him about the fact that there is already a worthless building there and why that was okay and what was wrong with the Couture. I think that once he got done hollering about the constitutional affront he might just have said that the building could be constructed further to the west.

Then I got hold of Madison attorney, William O'Connor, who was not too eager to talk about it. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that a few years he ago argued the exact opposite of the argument he is making now. You gotta love lawyers. He said that this whole thing should be decided in a court of law, preferably a circuit court. I pointed out that a journey like that would just delay the project for days and weeks and months and years. He didn't want to comment about the concept of delays.

Finally Abele and I talked about it.

The County Executive is in favor the project, of course. He has tried to create a climate and legislative action that would allow this project to move forward. Abele has been a friend to the parks system since he's been the chief in charge of parks and has funded improvements and deferred maintenance projects.

He pointed out that in 1913 boundaries were set and the shoreline was established east of Lincoln Memorial Drive. He also pointed out that all of this difficulty did not augur well for any other developers who were planning on making a big investment in Downtown Milwaukee near the lake.

Who cares if some ancient provision in the constitution makes this little parcel of land untouchable? There is already an absolutely useless building there already. If we can make an investment that will create jobs and broaden the tax base, I think it's a pretty good investment.

Again, I asked Lunz why it was okay to have the transit center there and not the Couture. His only answer was that there was a very nice public meeting room on the second floor of the center. I didn't bother to check, but I've been in there before and the maintenance man who let us in seemed awfully glad to actually have some live people there.

The other thing about this dispute is that it's another one of those short-sighted attempts to stop the kind of progress that will only enhance Milwaukee's image and reputation.

If the lake bed line is at Lincoln Memorial Drive, isn't the Discovery World on filled lake bed? Harbor House? Summerfest? My guess is yes and so is a building that has truly helped put Milwaukee on the world map: Milwaukee Art Museum.

My suggestion – and I know nobody is asking me for a suggestion – is that, this time, the parks people should get out of the way of sensible development that doesn't have anything to do with parks, and pay more attention to their valuable work with the county to keep our parks alive and well.

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Talkbacks

blurondo | Jan. 29, 2015 at 3:09 p.m. (report)

"Who cares if some ancient provision in the constitution"... That's exactly the way I feel about the second amendment.

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Jeff | Jan. 29, 2015 at 8:44 a.m. (report)

Amen!

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InTheView | Jan. 29, 2015 at 8:18 a.m. (report)

For once I agree with Begel. But P.O.P. isn't the only group getting in the way of development around town. It's a different world in Wisconsin where we actually sit down and listen to the empty headed self-interest groups instead of just breaking ground and moving on. 40 years ago we were in the same class as Minneapolis & Seattle. 30 years ago we were in the same class as Denver and Portland. 20 years ago we were in the same class as Kansas City and Indianapolis. But everywhere we turn, development gets blocked by knuckledraggers that want to keep Milwaukee in the 1950s. The only cities left to compare Milwaukee to is Buffalo, Cleveland & Detroit. That's not a class that you want to be in. Reading this article was a much needed break from packing my bags and talking to the real estate agent all morning.

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