City Council committee takes Sanctuary Woods 'Off the Table'

A report from Peter Abbott

No two ways about it, the results of tonight's Community Affairs Committee meeting were a major milestone towards ultimate victory: saving the County Grounds. The committee voted unanimously not to proceed with discussions of the Life Sciences District Master Plan (LSDMP) unless the Sanctuary Woods area, the County Grounds Park, and the Department of Natural Resources' forest northwest of Swan Blvd. were "taken off the table" for future development by "whatever it takes" to do that, in the words of 8th District Ald. Jason Wilke.

Those words were part of an amendment Wilke offered to a motion by 7th District Ald. Cheryl Berdan, who had kicked off the committee's discussion by making a motion putting the LSDMP on "hold" until the the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) and Milwaukee County had completed their surveys of the County Grounds' 60-acre Northeast Quadrant.

"Once they give us that information," she warned, "that would trigger the process to start again." Wilke's amendment, however, put that date off much further.

"Once those areas are off the table," he said, "we can put these controversies behind us and get on with the rest of the plan

The proceedings really began before the opening gavel, when City Administrator James Archambo set the stage with a memo recommending that the committee put the Life Sciences District Master Plan (LSDMP) "on file, effectively setting aside the planning process," which would take the plan off the agenda of all future meetings of the Common Council, its committees, and the Plan Commission (yay! — two less meetings to attend and organize for on May 15 and 22).

Dozens of citizens offered their views — all of them opposing the LSDMP proposals to build 6,500 apartment units, retail shops, and the roads and infrastructure needed to support them. The County Grounds Coalition's Dr. Ed Sternberg reminded the committee that the LSDMP violated the city's plan for the Northeast Quadrant, which the Common Council had reaffirmed and made part of the city's Comprehensive Plan years earlier.

My personal favorite among the comments was from a citizen who suggested the city "re-wild" the County Grounds remaining natural areas. "What we need to be discussing," he said, "is whether to cover the paths with mulch or gravel."

Don't forget, though, we still have to push the county to help do "whatever it takes" to take the County Grounds' natural areas "off the table." We can start by attending the County Board's Parks Committee meeting at 9 a.m. next Tuesday, March 16, in room 201 of the County Courthouse.

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