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2000-02-13
Milwaukee, WI: Jewel/Osco Rezoning Found Invalid

Citizens have won an untimely victory in Milwaukee against a Jewel/Osco grocery and drugstore that has already been built. A state appeals court has reversed a 1998 ruling from a lower court that decided that citizens did not having standing to bring their case. The Appeal's court ruling ordered the lower court to void the rezonig that made the Jewel/Osco development possible. The point of law was over the issue of whether or not citizens were properly notified by the city about public hearings in the case. When the developer first came before the city, the case was heard by the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development committee. Public notice of that committee was properly handled. But when the Common Council switched the case to a second committee, it failed to give the public proper notice. The Council President switched the case to a second committee, says the Milwaukee Journal, because he did not have enough votes in the first committee to pass it. The second committee, Steering and Rules, had enough votes to OK the plan, and passed it along to the Common Council, where the rezoning passed 11 to 4. But the Appeals court ruled the city did not properly notify the public, and that the Steering & Rules Committee did not have jurisdiction over the case in the first place. "Under our system of government, the public has a right to know what its officials are doing," the Appeals court ruled. The lawyer representing two neighbors said the plaintiffs now need to "determine what specific remedy they would like to pursue". That could include asking the cikty to "abate or raze" the 85,000 s.f. building. The Assistant City Attorney who argued unsuccessfully for the city, admitted that theoretically the decision means that the store would have to be closed, but he said that was unlikely. Rosemary Oliveira, one of the neighborhoods who took the case to court, said "we were never given a fair hearing to begin with. Some people probably would ask for the store to be closed, some people would probably want an apology from the city." One of the city Alderman who opposed the project told reporters the court decision was "a tremendous victory for anyone who's ever fought on behalf of their neighborhood against City Hall or big business. Those members of the Common Council who dismissed objectors will be humbled." American Stores, which built the development, had no comment. If the city refers the case back to the first committee, and that committee does not vote to rezone the land, citizens could ask for the building to be torn down.

What you can do: Local residents in this case successfully pursued their rights in the courts, and there should be no hesitation to tear the building down if the city does not go back and properly rezone the land. The city's switch to a "friendly" committee appears capricious. The Common Council could have rezoned the land even if the Zoning Commmittee had recommended against it. Instead, the city created a flawed process, and residents lost. Now the courts say they have won. The question now is: what prize will they get for winning? An apology from the city will not restore the loss of character in their neighborhood, or reduce in any way the sprawling 85,000 s.f. monstrosity.










 
 
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