Whitefish Bay officials reacted favorably to a Milwaukee-area developer's plans to build a $27 million luxury apartment community in the parking lot behind the Fox Bay Cinema Monday night.
The Mandel Group is well known for its estimated $825 million in high-end apartment and condominium developments in the Milwaukee area, such as Marine Terminal Lofts in the Third Ward, University Club Tower downtown, The North End on Water Street, and soon, LightHorse 4041 at Oakland Avenue and Kenmore Place in Shorewood.
The developer unveiled its plans for Whitefish Bay in front of the village's Community Development Authority and Architectural Review Commission Monday night. The proposal calls for the construction of 103 high-end apartments in three buildings in the north municipal lot spanning from Santa Monica Boulevard to Diversey Boulevard.
Dick Lincoln, senior vice president at Mandel, said the added 103 apartment homes would bring more foot traffic to the area, which was a suggestion in the Silver Spring Master Plan drafted in 2003.
"What we want to do is drive traffic into businesses on Silver Spring without adding more automobile traffic," Lincoln said.
All three proposed buildings would offer underground parking for building residents, so only three total parking lots would be lost under the new configuration.
The two apartment buildings proposed on the east end of the parking lot would retain the ground level parking configuration, with three levels of apartments above the sheltered parking area. The west end of the parking lot, which Anchor Bank reacquired a couple months ago, would feature a building with a different type of architecture and no ground level parking.
The Mandel Group has signed a binding contract to purchase the western-most parking lot from Anchor Bank. The village would maintain ownership and maintenance responsibilities over the eastern parking lot.
To finance the project, the developer is asking the village to create an overlay tax incremental finance district for the eastern end of the project and a redesigned public walkway. A TIF district is a public financing tool that allows the village to borrow and spend money on public improvements, and then recoup the money through the growth in tax revenue generated by those improvements.
Because the village would retain ownership over the parking lot, the developer is asking the village to assist in financing their estimated $2.7 million in public parking renovations by issuing $1.7 million in TIF bonds. Once the project is built and stabilized, the developer estimates the village would receive an additional $320,000 in annual tax revenue.
Shifting Away From Condos
Nationwide, the developers said there is a shift away from condos, and locally, condos have not done well in the North Shore area.
The high-end apartments will be targeted for "empty nesters." A demographic study shows nearly 50 percent of Whitefish Bay households don't have children as primary residents and one-third of the village is over the age of 50.
Instead of keeping up with the maintenance of their existing home, or moving into a standard apartment building, Robert Monnat, chief operating officer of Mandel, said there is a need for high-end apartments that do not have the maintenance requirements of a house or the obligations of a condominium mortgage.
"When apartments were built in the village previously, they were built for people living in apartments as housing of need rather than housing of choice," Monnat said. "What we're proposing to build is condominium quality living units in a multi-family setting that we happen to rent instead of sell."
A New Look
The development plans also include streetscaping design elements, such as a redesigned 40-foot-wide pedestrian passageway between the Cutter's barbershop and the former El Guapo's space. The new gathering space could be used for the Whitefish Bay Farmer's Market and other community events. A similar pedestrian link was suggested in the Silver Spring Master Plan.
The proposal also includes more wayfaring signage and eliminating the curb cuts on the Beamont Avenue side of the parking lot, making it safer for pedestrians to walk in that area. The area between the parking lot and the rear end of Silver Spring businesses would also be redesigned to resemble an British mews.
Mandel plans to hire traffic engineers Ayres Associates to do a parking utilization study to sort out the parking configuration and traffic impact of the development.
Architecturally, the three buildings are designed to appear as five buildings in order to "break down the scale of this development into buildings reasonably compatible with buildings here on Silver Spring," said architect James Shields of HGA. Two of the buildings would feature a grassy courtyard roof on the second level.
CDA Chairman Ray Krueger said the buildings, if approved, will be a centerpiece for Whitefish Bay, and he recommends the developers try to implement as many energy-efficient elements as possible into the design plans.
"This ought to represent a state-of-the-art 21st century building," he said.
John Stuhlmacher, the chairman of the Whitefish Bay Business Improvement District, said he was supportive of the added foot traffic on Silver Spring, but he said members of the business community were concerned about ripping up the lot they just paid to reconstruct last summer.
Stuhlmacher added businesses are concerned about the loss of parking during construction. The developers plan to stagger the construction and leave a portion of parking available at all times.
The proposed development meets most of the requirements for the current zoning on the site, but Mandel will go through the planned development process, which allows exemptions and flexibility to conventional standards. That process begins with an informal presentation and pre-petition conference before the Plan Commission Wednesday night.
The Plan Commission, CDA and Architectural Review Commission will continue to discuss the proposal and eventually make a recommendation to the Village Board for a vote.