County Grounds Coalition scores another victory with County Board committee action

chair, County Grounds Coalition
member, Grassroots Tosa steering committee

Responding to our popular outpouring, the County Board Parks, Energy and Environment Committee voted May 16 to take all of the county-owned land in the Northeast Quadrant, including County Grounds Park and the Sanctuary Woods area, off the table for future development, at least for now, by deferring the issue to the discretion of the committee chair.

The entire committee appeared to be on our side — all of them, without dissent — and expressed a desire to preserve “what little land we have left.”

Kudos to everyone who called, emailed and wrote letters to their county board supervisors and County Executive Chris Abele — but a special thank you to those who took the time, however brief, to show up at the County Board Parks, Energy and Environment Committee’s 5-hour meeting Tuesday.

The County Grounds were the last two of 12 items on the agenda. By the time the committee heard Barb Agnew’s environmental impact report, about 3-1/2 hours had passed since the committee began its proceedings at 9 a.m., and a number of us had to leave before Barb’s eloquent presentation.

Barb took issue with a map previously issued by the county’s economic development director, Jim Tarantino, which closely mirrored the last Life Sciences District Master Plan map, carving out the southwestern corner and a few other patches of County Grounds Park for development in return for preserving the Sanctuary Woods area.

Barb pointed out that those patches of land are home to some threatened wildlife and are on the migratory path of others. She presented an alternative map, which would protect all of the natural areas of the County Grounds’ Northeast Quadrant as parkland.

Tarantino, originally scheduled to precede Barb on the committee agenda, followed her instead and essentially withdrew his map in light of Wauwatosa’s resolution, communicated to him in a letter from Wauwatosa Development Director Paulette Enders. That letter asks the county to “place permanent preservation protections on County Grounds Park” and the “‘Sanctuary Woods’ area … unless the zoning changes it to Parks or Conservancy, in which case permanent protections are in the hands of the County Board.”

Enders’ confusing wording appears to acknowledge that the city can rezone those areas as “Parks or Conservancy,” but still implies that additional county action is required to make their preservation permanent.

Confusion is often a political tool, which is why we must remain vigilant, especially if the county executive and the Wauwatosa Common Council and mayor start passing the buck back and forth like a hot potato.

So continue to put pressure on your city alders to rezone all of the Northeast Quadrant’s remaining natural areas as Special Purpose—Conservancy. That zoning makes those areas parkland, as defined by state law, with additional restrictions on what can be built there.

We might still need additional deed restrictions and other legal measures, like a conservation easement, to insure the land can’t be rezoned for development. In the meantime, though, let’s get every layer of protection we can get now, and follow up with whatever measures are necessary to preserve it from the developer’s bulldozer “in perpetuity.”

Do you like this post?