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Capitol Drive traffic, business study needed

Corridor not as strong as Bluemound Road

Jan. 22, 2013

Changes in traffic patterns and real estate submarkets have made the time right for a revised Capitol Drive Corridor study, the Plan Commission was told Monday night.

Jason Williams, neighborhood planner for the city, outlined the plans for the study, which he estimated will take 12 to 18 months to complete.

The first study of land use along Capitol Drive was done in 1989, and a second version was done in the late 1990s.

"We just had a major reconstruction; it's a huge commuter route," 2nd District Alderman Rick Owen said of Capitol Drive, adding that a new study "is not a small undertaking. We need to revisit this."

Williams mentioned planned reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange and growth of Lake Country communities west of the city as factors influencing traffic patterns along Capitol Drive. Interchange reconstruction is scheduled to take six years, but reports have circulated that constraints on the state Department of Transportation budget could stretch the project over eight or nine years.

Dan Ertl, director of community development, later mentioned several trends in commercial real estate use that have generated some concerns about the vacancy rates for commercial and office properties along Capitol Drive.

"Bluemound Road is holding its own pretty well; it's healthier than Capitol," Ertl said, adding the study would compare development patterns along both corridors. He cited the retail furniture industry and healthcare as two examples where larger trends had impact on Capitol Drive property use.

About 1990, Ertl explained, Capitol Drive became a center of Milwaukee-area furniture retailing, as several stores located there. But, "the nature of furniture retailing has changed over the past 20 years," and some furniture stores have closed. Likewise, Ertl said, there are numerous small-scale office buildings in the Capitol corridor, and doctors' offices were often tenants.

"We built the 1999 plan on the assumption that that demand would sustain," Ertl said, but with a trend toward more medical offices locating adjacent to hospital complexes, "we have to revisit that."

Mayor Steve Ponto said he may consider appointing a citizen task force to join the Capitol Drive Corridor update effort.

In another matter, the commission voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on clarifying the city's commercial zoning code governing sidewalk sales and outdoor sale and display of products by retailers.

"A strict interpretation of the Brookfield zoning code would suggest that retailers could not display goods outside their doors," Ertl said. But, he added, "we're trying to be business-friendly, to a certain degree. We have allowed grocery stores to display live plants and seasonal merchandise without strictly enforcing the code. Now other retailers have been asking the same. It's time to legitimize some or all of these practices."

Finally, the commission recommended that the Common Council schedule a public hearing on a proposal to build a 144-unit apartment complex at 1300 S. Barker Road, just north of Greenfield Avenue. The 27-acre site is a one-time quarry that has been filled with construction debris for the last three decades.

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