Residents Split on Proposed Changes to JCC
With proposed increases to hours and traffic, some residents voiced opposition at a public hearing Monday, while others supported the JCC.
Residents were divided Monday night as they delivered passionate cases to village officials at a packed public hearing about proposed modifications to the Jewish Community Center.
Representatives with the JCC called the changes “minor,” but some neighbors were concerned about potential increases in traffic and noise, and one group hired a lawyer to represent them at the joint Village Board-Plan Commision public hearing.
Resident Scott Wirig said he worried the changes could be a harbinger of expanding use of the JCC as a regional center, bringing more traffic to the neighborhood. When Seth Meyers spoke at the JCC Jan. 21, Wirig said one car parked on his lawn when street parking filled up.
“That’s not a common occurrence, but as you start expanding this out, and you let more and more of these events occur, the possibility of all these things happening, becomes greater and greater,” Wirig said.
The modifications to the JCC’s development agreement include expanding operating hours, building two fences, and increasing the number of “special events” they are allowed annually.
However, James Madlom, who represented the JCC Monday, said the center did not have plans to schedule any more events than usual; rather, the greater allowance of 20 will give them flexibility in scheduling events that could require street parking (a "special event"). With their current cap of 12 per year, Madlom said it is difficult to plan an event several months in advance without knowing whether they will have reached their maximum number of special events by that point.
The expanded hours would be as follows:
- Open Monday through Friday at 5 a.m. rather than the current 6 a.m. opening.
- Open Saturday at 8 a.m., the same time the center opens Saturday.
- Permit up to 30 events annually to run until 1 a.m., rather than the current closing time of 11 p.m.
- Allow snow-plowing before 5 a.m.
The JCC is also requesting an allowance of 150 people for overnight "lock-in" events, such as teen events with BBYO. Currently the maximum is 40.
Many residents who supported the changes said the JCC was part of the reason they moved to Whitefish Bay and continue to value the community.
“It’s a community center in every sense of the word: open space, open heart," Michelle Lafferty, a resident and JCC member, said. "And I believe this place is and should continue to be a central part of this community."
However, others worried the JCC would become more of a regional hub that primarily serves members from outside the community.
"It's not a Whitefish Bay asset; it's a regional asset," Wirig said. “Eventually something of value becomes a liability.”
Currently, more than 1,600 Whitefish Bay residents are members, comprising about 20 to 25 percent of the total membership, Madlom said.
While the JCC does serve members outside of Whitefish Bay, supporters pointed out that it also serves many residents of Whitefish Bay who do not belong to the Jewish community. About 11 percent of residents are members, Madlom said.
"It’s technically called the Jewish Community Center but it serves a much broader community; it serves the entire community of Whitefish Bay and beyond," resident Joe Olson said. "And it would be foolish to stand in its way as it attempts to provide services to us.
"Instead of debating whether they should be allowed to do their service work in our community, we should ask ourselves whether we can afford to prevent them."
Also part of the proposal is two fences, for the back field around the retention pond, and for the front of the south building. The Plan Commission reviewed these plans Monday and referred them to the Architectural Review Committee.
Kathy Gutenkunst, a lawyer hired to represent a group of residents opposed to the changes, said the changes violated the spirit of a moratorium condition that was part of the development agreement agreed upon in 2003, after months of litigation, which stated the JCC would not make any "substantial" new development for 25 years.
"That moratorium makes it very clear that it’s a condition of the approval of the development agreement, that they wouldn’t be back for 25 years," Gutenkunst said.
However, others argued that the changes do not meet the definition of "substantial," and pointed out that the current board is not bound by this agreement.
The Plan Commission will take action on the JCC's proposal after the Architectural Review Commission considers the fencing plan. Once the Plan Commission has made a recommendation, it will go before the Village Board for final consideration.