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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Wauwatosa Residents Speak Out For Sanctuary Woods — Again

Susan Bence
Wauwatosa residents often walk their dogs and jog in sanctuary woods. And wildlife biologists have been surprised by the number of species found here.

City leaders are trying to do some long-term planning for its southwest corner, which is called the Life Sciences District. Although it’s dominated by a bustling medical complex, the attention of many has been on a small parcel, known by its fans as Sanctuary Woods.

The 52-acre parcel falls within what has historically been called Milwaukee County Grounds portions of which, particularly along its western edge, have been developed. But within Sanctuary Woods, biologists have found wildlife they never expected – tree frogs, long-eared owls, flying squirrels. Even an endangered bumble bee – the rusty patched – has been spotted there.

City planner Tammy Szudy laid out the latest version on Life Sciences District plan at an October Wauwatosa plan commission meeting. The plan proposes where commercial and residential development might one day rise, along with how to ease traffic and encourage biking and walking.

“The plan strongly talks about conserving the parks and environmental areas and adding the non-park county-owned land, also known as Sanctuary Woods, to this area and then permanently protecting it with deed restrictions or something. Also, protecting it through zoning change,” Szudy says.

READ: Sancturary Woods Debate Bubbles Up In Milwaukee County

Here’s where the Sanctuary Woods story gets complicated. While Wauwatosa has the power to zone, Milwaukee County owns the parcel and would have to agree to permanently preserve the greenspace. At the October meeting, Szudy says she reached out to Milwaukee County.

“We notified them that we were introducing this plan in the forum tonight. We will have a conversation, but I’m not sure where it’s going to lead,” she says.

Wauwatosa mayor Kathy Ehley has been buffeted with criticism from some residents who say they city has fallen short in protecting the unique woodland. She calls the proposed plan a guideline, but one the city cannot control or implement independently.

“Anything that happens here takes collaboration and private investment for development within the city’s guideline. But implementation would require multiple – the property owners, the city and stakeholders getting together to make these things happen,” Ehley says.

READ: Wauwatosa Plan Has Some Residents Concerned About Possible Loss Of Popular Natural Area

Credit Susan Bence
Barb Agnew testifies at October Wauwatosa Plan Commission meeting.

Barb Agnew has been steadily advocating for Sanctuary Woods and adjacent greenspace.

She’s urging city leaders to incorporate five points of preservation, including that nearby building heights remain low and, “Any new development or building that occurs comply with the dark skies protocol.  We have a lot of nocturnal animals and light pollution can severely affect these adjacent natural areas,” Agnew says.

She shared her list both at the October meeting and again Tuesday night at a public hearing.

Credit Susan Bence
Wauwatosa residents filled the meeting room at City Hall Tuesday night, most expressing their wish to preserve and protect Sanctuary Woods through signs.

While over 100 people were there, many chose not to speak – they waved signs that simply stated “agree” when Agnew and others spoke. Those who testified called for assurance that Sanctuary Woods will be permanently protected, and that neighboring development not diminish its biodiversity.

Signs waved when Wauwatosa resident Dain Maddox shared his thoughts about the plan. While the implementation section of the plan states “the plan intends to preserve and conserve the natural environment” and “through actions that may be undertaken by the city,” he says what’s intended doesn’t always happen.

“I intended to lose 20 pounds before December 1. It didn’t work out quite as I had planned, and I actually took actions toward that goal,” Mattox said. “Intentions are meaningless if they are not substantively followed by commitments, as several people have stated tonight.”

The crowd left the public hearing not sure how the debate will be resolved. The Common Council plans to take up the Life Sciences District plan on Dec. 18.

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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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