Amid strong community opposition to a business owner's request to raze a Shorewood home for a parking lot, the village's Plan Commission voted unanimously against the proposal Tuesday night.
About 60 residents turned out and about a dozen spoke against a rezoning petition filed by Garden Room owner Deb Kern. Despite the vote, the matter will still go before the Village Board for consideration.
The petition would have made way for Kern to have the home at 3940 N. Frederick Ave., kitty corner from her business, leveled in favor of a nine-stall, environmentally friendly parking lot with permeable pavement and a rain garden.
Kern said she needed the additional parking to accommodate her growing customer base, while area residents said the conversion would result in waning property values on the block, one less home for a new Shorewood family and more crime.
The two sides gathered support for months leading up the meeting — residents via a petition drive and distributing literature, and Kern through her own petition drive and garnering support of other East Capitol Drive business owners.
Kern makes her case
The additional parking is a need, not a want, Kern said.
Of the 800 people that visit Kern’s business on any given week, about 650 drive and 325 said they have a difficult time finding parking, she said.
The Capitol Drive commercial district is congested. Per village code, there should be at least 197 off-street parking stalls available for businesses in the 2100 block of Capitol drive and there are only 21, she added. Additionally, in the village municipal lot, 56 of the 75 available spots have parking permits attached to them.
“Hopefully, we do not debate that there is a parking problem,” she said, contending that professionals say the village is short as many as 170 parking spaces.
She touted her proposed parking lot as something that could be a model for future lots in the village, and said it would free up on-street parking stalls for other Capitol Drive businesses.
“This lot is critical for my business to stay and survive,” she said.
Residents come out in force
Sue Witas, a Frederick Avenue resident who organized the resident campaign against the proposal, echoed what she has been saying for months. The proposal would adversely affect the property values on the block and that parking is readily available near the business.
“I have talked to literally hundreds of residents over the last two months and the overwhelming response is that Shorewood residents do not, under any circumstances, want to see their houses torn down for parking lots,” she said. "The mere suggestion of it makes many of them angry.”
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John Vioth, a Maryland Avenue resident, said the proposed parking lot would bump up against his backyard and invade the privacy he enjoys there. He added Kern should be looking to find additional parking on property zoned commercial and not residential.
“Why do I have to give up my privacy and my home that I paid a lot of money for so she can build and expand her commercial use?” he asked.
Jamie M. Harris, a Maryland Avenue resident and associate director and senior lecturer in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Urban Studies department, said the proposal is not an appropriate approach to parking issues in the village.
“In terms of urban design principles, this goes in the opposite direction of current thinking and best practices,” he said. "The current thinking about how to promote healthy, vibrant communities, neighborhoods, and commercial districts is to come up with creative infill developments. Not to expand the supply of surface parking lots.”
In 2006, Katz Properties sought approval to rezone a duplex at 3942 N. Frederick Ave. — right next door to the property Kern wants to level — to construct a parking lot. The Plan Commission discussed the matter in two meetings and voted against approving the rezoning the property. But when the matter reached the Village Board, the rezoning was approved.
Parking issues need creative solutions
As the village has planned the revitalization of its business district on Capitol Drive and North Oakland Avenue, it has been careful to keep the businesses separate from residential neighborhoods, said Trustee Michael Maher.
“This has been a process that has been defined and (the) general principle (has been) to keep the businesses facing Capitol and Oakland, and to preserve that line and not have the business flow out into the neighborhoods,” he said.
In the weeks leading up the meeting, Commissioner Nate Piotrowski said he experimented with parking on Capitol Drive and patronizing different businesses, and didn’t experience parking issues.
Commissioner Chris Gallagher said the proposal brings the parking matter back to the forefront.
“If there is a win-win that comes out of this, it is that you’re hearing from a lot of commission members that we need to go back and look at better ways to create parking,” he said. “To improve parking in the community."