Apartment project again looms on horizon

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More apartments look to be on the horizon for downtown Waukesha.

The city's plan commission unanimously approved preliminary site and architectural plans for a high-end apartment complex at the historic site of the Waukesha County Museum, 101 W. Main St., a proposal which has been discussed and reviewed for about 18 months.

Developer Alan Huelsman will likely pursue tax incremental financing district funding for the project, according to City Planner Maria Pandazi, but an application for that funding had not been filed as of the commission meeting Aug. 10.

Mayor Shawn Reilly, the plan commission chairman, said that application would have to be filed before construction on the project could begin.

Latest plans

Although commissioners seemed pleased with the latest iteration of the plans, some concerns about more refined details – especially parking – were voiced by many, including a representative of a local church adjacent to the property.

The most recent plans differed only slightly from previously approved designs, Pandazi said. They call for 32 apartments to be built inside and above the connector building between the former Waukesha County Courthouse and jail – both constructed in the 19th century – and inside the jail. The third floor of the courthouse will be converted into a banquet hall, and the first and second floors will house the Waukesha County Museum.

Previous plans had called for some modification of the connector building's facade, but no longer.

According to planning documents, the complex will feature 23 one-bedroom apartments, 4, two-bedroom units and 5 studio apartments.

Plans for the project stalled earlier this year, but appear to be back on track. However, while the most recent plan commission approval of the project will allow it to move forward, several additional reviews – including at least one more presentation to the city's landmarks commission, plan commission and common council – still lie ahead.

Parking problem

The most frequently mentioned concern about the project was parking. Currently, according to planning documents, there are only 36 parking spaces allotted for residents of the courthouse apartments.

Marty Larson, speaking on behalf of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, which is immediately south of the proposed development, said the parish was concerned that transforming the building into an apartment complex would further limit an already insufficient nearby parking supply.

"Parking is a big problem," he said.

Pandazi said the city has encouraged Huelsman to include additional guest parking spaces along the west side of the property, on Martin Street, where the main entrance to the apartments will be, and would continue discussing the issue throughout the approval process.

Gene Guszkowski, the architect for the project, said the development team was working to resolve the perceived problem.

Plans for museum

A key component of the proposal has been the preservation of the Waukesha County Museum, which has in recent years fallen on hard times – primarily for financial reasons.

Under Huelsman's concept, the museum would enter a long-term lease agreement to remain in the building. His team would be responsible for the building's expenses and maintenance, which in the past rocked the museum's finances, given the age of the former courthouse.

Dennis Cerreta, the museum's executive director, said the lease would be for 25 years, with a renewal option, and the museum, which recently reopened, would only pay $1 a year in rent.

"We are looking forward to this project," he said.

Cerreta has said that, optimistically, the redevelopment project could be completed in about a year and half.

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