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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Hundreds Not Satisfied with Wauwatosa Plan for Sanctuary Woods

Susan Bence
Wauwatosa residents were eager to share their concerns at Thursday's hearing.

More than 300 hundred people came out Thursday evening to view the latest iteration of a plan for 1200-acres in the southwest portion of Wauwatosa, but their focus was on a small parcel within the plan. Sanctuary Woods is located within what’s commonly known as the County Grounds.

Some see its 22 acres as an oasis within a hub of activity surrounding Watertown Plank Road: traffic and business; the medical complex and UWM’s Innovation Campus: a new apartment complex. Some of that development has swallowed up, what for decades, was green space.

Sanctuary Woods’ canopy includes aspen and hawthorn trees. Wildlife biologists also report plenty of life there - tree frogs and flying squirrels.

The Life Sciences District plan does not eliminate the parcel altogether. Instead, it suggests a swap. A chunk of existing parkland, west of the woods, would become “developable”. In turn much of the wooded area would be preserved.

Wauwatosa mayor Kathy Ehley says the plan increases parkland – from 60 to 88 acres - and reduces what can be built upon to 27 acres.

“It provides that balance, that compromise to have developable land, making sure that it is in an area that is not as I would say environmentally sensitive and then realigning the boundaries of the County Grounds park so that it included the ravine and woods area that we are hearing a great deal of concern about,” the mayor says.

Ehley says that despite the din social media has created, she believes most Wauwatosa residents are not up-in-arms about Sanctuary Woods, and are satisfied the plan is good for the city.

“Actually when I go out in the community and talk with people, I’ve been surprised how many people were unaware of this planning process and when I explained to them what was going on, they were pretty comfortable that we were taking this planning process so seriously,” Ehley said.

Credit Susan Bence

Yet, that’s not the impression you would have gotten from the crowd that gathered last evening.

Forty-year Wauwatosa resident Alfred Anderson was first up when it came time for public comments.

“How many people here would like no, or minimal development – stand up! So this is my sample, the vast majority of the 300 or so people here want no or little development,” Anderson said

Lifelong Wauwatosa resident Joycarol Sherard says she used to run through the County Grounds, now she walks it. Sherard calls the space both restorative and social.

“It’s an area where we can gather, where we can get to know each other, or dogs can get to know each other. There’s so little left. I live on 103rd and Wisconsin Ave. I watched the business park go up. I walk through there late at night, every night. I look at all of the signs of buildings that are for rent,” Sherard added, “Why do we need more?”

Dean Heuss expressed what came closest to support of the plan. He’s a member of a group called Wauwatosa for Good.

“It’s moving in the right direction. We still have concerns about the proposed high-density residential properties it has the potential to bring and how that would impact the natural areas. We are hopeful that the next iteration will take these and other concerns shared here tonight into account,” Heuss said.

Wauwatosa Mayor Kathy Ehley says comments gathered at the hearing will be considered.

But from the sounds of it, the motto is - full steam ahead. Ehley says, she expects the plan to go before the Wauwatosa Plan Commission next month.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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