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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Oak Creek Development Atop Former Brownfield Could Create A Unique Community

Rinka +
Here's a rendering of Lakeshore Commons. If all goes as planned, the three-phased construction will begin in mid-2021.

Over the last decade, Oak Creek has been evolving and city leaders believe a new housing development will continue that trend.

Oak Creek’s evolution began when a former major manufacturing plant site was reimagined as a 21st century town square, with an adjacent restored wetland.

READ: Wetland Restored As Park Of Oak Creek's Main Street Development

Then to the east, north of Ryan Road and east of 5th Avenue, the city turned a portion of another old industrial site into Lake Vista Park. Its 30 acres fold in a whimsical playground and paved paths that wind through native plantings and woods, and lead to Lake Michigan at the base of the bluff.

READ: Oak Creek Transforms Industrial Brownfield Into Greenspace

Oak Creek is now working on a public-private partnership to create more than 600 housing units butting up to the park.

Credit Susan Bence
Developer Scott Lurie (center) discussing the Lakeshore Commons project with architects and Oak Creek officials. The first phase of the development would take place behind the group, just west of Lake Vista Park above Lake Michigan.

Milwaukee developer Scott Lurie, of F Street Group, describes the residential development planned along the park’s western and southern edges as a three-phase project. He says there's an estimated total of 648 housing units that will be for sale and for rent — ranging from single family homes to duplexes to one-bedroom apartments.

Lurie calls the parcel "southeast Wisconsin’s premier developable site" for its size — 66 acres — coupled with greenspace that spills into Lake Michigan.

But the site comes with challenges. Like most of Lake Vista Park, Lurie’s project will be built atop once contaminated land.

Oak Creek native, and retired city attorney, Larry Haskin says it was first used for industrial purposes in 1915.

“Newport Chemical Company developed basically a chemical city here. I mean there was multiple building and they manufactured dye. Dupont bought Newport out in 1930 and Dupont operated a chemical factory. You know, it was a time when there was no EPA or DNR, so whatever waste products came from the chemical operations went in the ground and contaminated this whole area," he explains.

Haskin was, and remains, actively engaged in bringing Oak Creek’s lakefront back to life.

"Dupont, they were ready in 2008, basically because of environmental conditions, to put a fence around the property and just not allow the public on here and the city said, 'You know what, this is, this is a great opportunity to open up the lakefront to our citizens,' " he says.

City leaders hoped by creating a welcoming greenspace would ripple into economic redevelopment. Haskin says first a long process of covering the contaminated area with two-feet-thick clean soil took place. "Three-hundred-fifty thousand cubic yards of clean soil was brought to the site to cap the site,” he says.

Credit Rinka +
Architect Matt Rinka says the Lakeshore Commons design is intended to create community and provide residents ready access Lake Vista Park and additional greenspace. Here's a rendering of the community.

Milwaukee architect Matt Rinka’s team designed the pavilion and bluff overlook shelters for the park created atop the cap. The developer then chose the Rinka team to draw up dense housing with smaller lots to hug the park’s west and south edges.

Rinka says the goal is to create community, not a subdivision. “We looked at a lot of other projects and projects like this around the country. You don’t see anything like this in the Midwest, but we feel like the excitement of projects like this where you’re creating a neighborhood and a community versus just a development is something that people are really thirsting for,” he says.

Both architect and developer say if all goes according to plan, they intend to move dirt and start construction in mid-2021.

Credit Rinka +
As seen in this rendering, Lakeshore Commons' buildings will not have basements and parking will be above ground. Its design is meant to encourage walking, biking and easy access to the outdoors.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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