City panel wants Gorman and UW Health to redo Union Corners plan

By Mike Ivey, The Capital Times, January 24, 2014

It’s back to the drawing board at Union Corners.

The city Urban Design Commission on Wednesday told Gorman & Co. to take  another stab at a general development plan (GDP) for the 11-acre site at  Milwaukee Street and East Washington Avenue.

The problem is that the new plans presented to the city are vastly different than  plans shown when Gorman was selected by the city to develop the long-vacant  parcel.

“UDC said the proposed GDP is not approvable as presented and suggested that  Gorman get UW Health to the table,” said Ald. Marsha Rummel, who represents the  east-side district.

The initial proposal from Gorman — which played up amenities like a new  library, small scale shopping and public spaces — was generally supported by the  neighborhood during a series of meetings two years ago.

But new plans featuring a $20 million, two-story UW Health  clinic on the corner of East Wash and Milwaukee include more surface parking  and less greenspace. The new plans also show two large apartment buildings  adjacent to the existing neighborhood where original plans had the larger  buildings fronting the busier East Washington.

One issue the UDC wants to see addressed is how the clinic would relate to  the rest of the development and whether it should face the street or not. That  was an issue with another UW Health clinic built at the former Bancroft Dairy  site on South Park Street.

“Union Corners is a pretty important site that has already gone through a lot  of planning so we need to make sure we do it right,” said Melissa Huggins, a  member of the citizen panel which reviews real estate developments.

Developer Todd McGrath in 2003 had proposed a major project at Union Corners  but those plans evaporated amid the housing bust.

The city eventually purchased the property out of foreclosure in 2010 and  sold it to Gorman for $1 in lieu of any tax incremental financing assistance.  Developers hope to begin construction on the clinic building in late summer,  with UW Health looking to move in during the summer of 2015.

At $20 million, the initial phase of development would deliver some $400,000  in annual property tax revenues.

Gorman has cautioned the plans could change with market conditions,  especially if the demand for owner-occupied condominiums or townhomes picks up.  Development would take place in phases over several years.

Gorman spokesman Joe Schwenker says his firm will revise its proposal and  share it with the neighborhood and Ald. Rummel before going back to the UDC in  March. The developers are also going to communicate the desire of UDC members to  speak directly with UW Health officials over the layout of the clinic.

John Steines of the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association  has been involved in planning for the site since McGrath was involved. He says  the neighborhood isn’t against development but wants it to reflect the values of  the community.

A particular sore spot for some east-siders is removal of the “woonerf,” a Dutch term for a street where pedestrians and  cyclists have legal priority over motorists. That feature was shown in the  initial plans but left out of the new edition.

“We believe a positive outcome can result through the enlightened engagement  of those who care about the importance of careful planning and design,” he said. “But the new plan is significantly retrograde in quality.”

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