Neighborhood Mobilizes to Derail Plans to Raze House for Garden Room Parking

Residents in the 3900 blocks of North Frederick and Maryland Avenue are up in arms over the local shop and tea room's plans to demolish a Shorewood home to make way for a green parking lot.

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.

'Domino effect'

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.

Sunrocket August 24, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Hmmm - this woman seems to be in the habit of doing things that only benefit her - not what is around her. I think this could be the start of a bad trend. She say's "it is a business district" well, it is also a residential district also. I am in that area a lot and I can't say I see car's circling the block endlessly looking for parking spaces. I was also unaware that children from Atwater were driving to school and parking. Everytime I am in the garden room, mostly just as a looky loo, I am usually the only one in there.
Healthy Mommy August 24, 2012 at 03:06 AM
If anyone had to design and establish a green parking area next to my home, I would certainly choose Anaba/Garden Room! We are lucky to have such a progressively healthy business in Shorewood. Surely this could be a beautiful thing. Perhaps garden room could design and maintain a stunning privacy wall for the neighbors?
Jenny Heyden August 24, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Perhaps they could look at this threatened block with a little more care. I don't think it will increase business. Buying a home adjacent to ones business does not make the neighborhood a business district. I get that they could offer a nice level of customer service to large object purchasers with a back lot pickup. But It has few houses close together - another tear-down for a parking lot would impact the property value far more than anyone is thinking. If it were next to my home, I think that would be my first worry. Oh sh*t is more like it.
Lisa Berman August 24, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Shorewood needs businesses badly, to support the tax base so we can get some property tax relief....that means there needs to be some expansion of business property. We also need substantial businesses that are unique like the Garden Room to ensure Shorewood remains a vital and interesting community.
Cricket August 24, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Shorewood is only so big. Residential housing contributes to enrollment in the schools. Shorewood's business district seems to be increasing which should help the tax base. What we need are viable businesses that will stay in business to help contribute to the tax base. That said, I am not so sure tearing down a perfectly good house to get 9 parking spaces is the right idea. It might start a trend that is not healthy for the village.
Jamie Harris August 24, 2012 at 02:20 PM
No one is suggesting not supporting area businesses or creative parking solutions, rather the question is whether perfectly intact homes in residential zones should be considered for conversion to parking lots. The Village has recently put into effect a 2 hr parking restriction and invested over a $1,000,000 in increased public parking on Oakland. So it's not as if nothing is being done to help area businesses. There is also a priority to market the Village to bring in families with school age children. The potential loss of state aid on a household with children can run into several hundred thousand dollars over a generation, clearly a cost that the Village and school district have to bear when a home is destroyed for parking.
Bob McBride August 24, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Wasn't a house torn down not long ago so someone could have a bigger side yard? That seems to be a greater waste of housing stock than this does. Maybe if the house demolition is unacceptable, the Village of Shorewood needs to "encourage " The Garden Room to consider moving to one of the newer developments on Oakland - perhaps one that has a parking structure. Of course, then you've got a rather unique commercial/retail property that may be hard to fill for the same reason that The Garden Room wants to demolish the house. But at least you've still got the house.
andrea August 24, 2012 at 02:44 PM
I visit the Garden Room, but rarely purchase more than a $20 on sale item. I've never seen a line at the register either. The restaurant? Food is "meh" to me. Nice business, but not so nice that a residential area should lose a home to a parking lot. I wonder if the Shorewood residents on the north and east side would support a business if one of their homes had a wrecking ball aimed at it.
Cricket August 24, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Would you say the same thing if it was the house right next to yours?
Adam W. McCoy (Editor) August 24, 2012 at 02:51 PM
You talking about this story Bob? http://shorewood.patch.com/articles/shorewood-family-out-25000-in-house-moving-fiasco
Bob McBride August 24, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Yep, that's the one, Adam.
David Tatarowicz August 24, 2012 at 07:21 PM
@Lisa For some reason the Village Board and Administration keep saying that more business will give tax relief .......... when in fact, business property is taxed at the SAME rate as residential property. The tax is based upon the market value of the property, be it residential or commercial. And right now, small business property market values are stuck at 2008 levels, while the residential properties have at last started to rise.
Michelle August 24, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Just found out the Plan Commission will NOT be discussing Deb Kern's rezoning request on 8/28. Deborah Kern (owner of the Garden Room/Anaba Tea Room) pulled the item from the 8/28 Plan Commission meeting agenda. Please visit the Facebook page to stay updated about when the item will be discussed (possibly in September): http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oppose-Shorewoods-Rezoning-Proposal/404542296274206
Greg August 27, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Businesses use a much smaller portion of the tax base.


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