On Saturday, Sue Witas will station herself outside the local , clipboard in hand, armed with a petition and details about a proposal her neighbors characterize as "shocking and devastating" to their Shorewood block.
Witas is among a group of Shorewood residents whom are trying to garner petition signatures and community energy in an attempt to derail a project that would raze a home at 3940 N. Frederick Ave. to make way for a "green" parking lot for customers.
"We are such a small village that anytime we lose a household, it's just a bad idea," Witas said.
Garden Room owner Deb Kern has purchased the house and is seeking approval from the village to have the property rezoned. If the rezone request is granted, she will demolish the home and construct an environmentally-friendly parking lot with permeable pavement and a rain garden.
The issue will come to a head at a Shorewood Plan Commission meeting Tuesday night at 6:30.
A growing customer base
Kern says as the shop — which sells garden items, antiques and houses a greenhouse and — has grown in terms of its customer base, so has her need for parking. And in Shorewood, which is known for its public parking issues, it makes sense.
"Over the 10 years we have been in business, we have always had problems with parking," Kern said.
The lot would give her an additional nine customer parking stalls, with a garden in the back to grow herbs for the shop.
"We are the only businesses on this strip, besides , that doesn't have dedicated parking," she added.
Nearby residents up in arms
Witas has been going door-to-door handing out literature and garnering petition signatures, and posting fliers in Shorewood coffee shops and storefronts, and has sent up an online petition on Change.org and Facebook page.
Like Witas, residents in the 3900 blocks of North Frederick and Maryland Avenue are up in arms, and have collectively drafted a letter to village officials arguing the razing of a home to make way for the lot would "substantially lower the property values as well as the quality of life of homeowners."
"To think the village can just tear down houses willy-nilly because they want a parking lot is shocking."
Nick Jones and Michelle Milstein, 3936 N. Frederick Ave., live immediately next to the vacant home, along with their two toddlers. They say a parking lot next to their home will result in lower property values, a loss of privacy and aesthetics, and an invitation for more crime.
"We would never feel comfortable having our children in the backyard knowing that right there (the proposed parking lot) there could be someone sitting who we wouldn't necessarily see," Milstein said.
They say they wouldn't have purchased their home if they knew the neighboring home could be torn down for a parking lot. It mars the appearance of an otherwise appealing neighborhood, they say.
"To think the village can just tear down houses willy-nilly because they want a parking lot is shocking," Jones said. "It destroys a home which is a beautiful example of a 1920s bungalows."
Witas added Kern is proposing tearing down a home, which could bring a family to the village, and children to the school district.
Kern's request to raze the house comes about six years after a duplex immediately north of her property was torn down to make way for a parking lot."
"I can understand the neighbors' concerns, but it is a business district and we are trying to create something beneficial to the village."
In 2006, Katz Properties sought approval to rezone the duplex at 3942 N. Frederick Ave. 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.
In a letter sent to the village, Frederick Avenue residents say the lot is "consistently littered with trash, cigarettes, and weeds, which is an eyesore." They added there are often noise disruptions at all hours.
Milstein says as she combed through the 2006 meeting minutes, she read that the previous owner of her home said at a public meeting, tearing down of the home for the Katz parking lot would result in a "domino effect."
"It's another nail in the coffin on this street," Milstein said.
Village officials say the property value only dropped from $235,000 to $218,000, after being converted from a duplex to a parking lot.
Parking in Shorewood
Witas, who lives at 3928 N. Frederick Ave., said there is plenty of parking available, often closer to the shop than where the parking lot would be constructed.
"If I go out and walk on any given day, I can count multiple parking spots within reasonable walking distance to the Garden Room," she said. "We believe it's a non-issue."
Kern says while school is out, there appears to be plenty of parking, but once the bells ring on Sept. 4 and school is back in session at directly across the street, it won't be the same story.
She added about 75 percent of her customer base lives outside of Shorewood, making the need for parking more evident, according to a customer survey her shop conducted.
When asked why she targeted the Frederick home for the site of a new parking lot, Kern said, "I don't know where else you would put a parking lot.
"I would be very disappointed (if plans aren't approved)," she said. "I can understand the neighbors' concerns, but it is a business district and we are trying to create something beneficial to the village.
"We are trying to construct, not a beautiful one, but a nice looking parking lot," she continued. "I think it would be an asset to the village."
Jamie M. Harris, an associate director and senior lecturer in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Urban Studies department, said he's against the project on principle. He resides in the 3900 block of North Maryland Avenue, and while he doesn't live on Frederick Avenue, he says the project harms Shorewood as a whole.
"The village should not be tearing down intact housing for parking," he said.