If there’s one thing alders can agree on about redeveloping the school district land the city is acquiring, it’s that there should be some sort of community area.
Alders on Monday discussed the open house the city’s Community Development Authority held last month. While some were as interested in the possibility of a community pool on the land where Sugar Creek Elementary School now sits as many of the residents who attended it were, others were more cautious.
“All these ideas are exciting and fun,” Ald. Evan Touchett (Dist. 4) said. “I keep thinking how are we going to do that.”
There’s no doubt an outdoor pool on the 12.2-acre site would be an expensive proposition, and the question of how it would fit in with three indoor pools the community will have by that time and the Fireman’s Park beach and splash pad left a few people unsettled. But there seemed general agreement among alders and the mayor that with the city’s rare opportunity to acquire land in its central core, it’s better to be patient and get the right amenities in there than to rush a bad or insufficient project.
The land that’s being planned is a combination of the Verona Area School District property south of West Verona Avenue the city will acquire after the district relocates two schools in fall 2020 and a handful of adjacent privately owned properties that could be added to it.
The council reviewed the same three options the UW-Milwaukee student group Community Design Solutions created and presented, though CDS is planning to revise them for the CDA in the coming weeks based on feedback from the Aug. 22 open house. Eventually, the CDA would seek proposals from a developer to match the final concept.
One of the CDS designs was based around a pool and community center, one had a community center or makerspace but no pool, and a third had neither. Each had apartments and retail space, a large park, a bandshell and a spot where a farmer’s market could be held.
Comments from the Aug. 22 public meeting overwhelmingly revolved around the pool, but they also included concerns that some options had too many apartments or that the buildings were too tall, and some alders agreed with that Monday. Some alders wanted any proposal the city solicits to ensure those with affordable housing options ranked higher than others
All agreed that once it’s developed, the site should feature some sort of community area. Whether that’s in the form of a bandshell, a makerspace, a pool or a community center or some combination, not everyone had a strong opinion.
Minutes earlier, the council had held a brief discussion about the budget process, with a note of how tight the budget would be this year. And the city just spent $3 million on the Fireman’s Park improvements over the past year.
But most agreed the city can take its time, perhaps adding one piece at a time as money becomes available. Ald. Katie Kohl (D-2) relayed a story of her hometown in Ohio and how the community held a fundraising campaign to build a community pool when the city couldn’t afford it.
“I don’t want there to not be a pool being built just because we can’t take on the burden right now,” she said.