Revised museum proposal moves closer to final approval
Plan Commission approves preliminary plans to turn portion of building into apartments

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

Dec. 10, 2015

Plans for turning a portion of the Waukesha County Museum and adjacent buildings into an upscale apartment development have been revised to keep a 1938 connector building, which the developer initially planned to demolish and replace with a new, taller building.  
Rendering courtesy of AG Architecture

WAUKESHA - Revised plans that would turn a portion of the Waukesha County Museum into high-end apartments have netted preliminary approval from a second city commission.

The Waukesha Plan Commission voted 5-1 Wednesday night to approve preliminary plans for the site, subject to further evaluation of portions of the project that include the museum’s main entrance and its parking spaces.

Alderman Peter Bartels issued the lone vote against the project.

The plan initially sought to raze two buildings on the site to allow for additional parking, but the newly revised plans pulled the demolition of a 1938 connector building, which will instead be incorporated into the project’s designs.

“We’re pretty excited about the new design,” project developer Alan Huelsman said. “By retaining that building we are able to downsize the project a little bit and at the same time downsize the costs and the project still works.”

The proposed plans to turn part of the Waukesha County Museum and adjacent buildings into an upscale apartment development has been revised to retain the 1938 connector building and to reduce the size of the building by one floor.   
Rendering courtesy of AG Architecture

As part of the proposal, the Waukesha County Museum would sell the property at 101 W. Main St. to Huelsman’s development company, Historic Prairieview Limited.

The museum would then consolidate into the first two floors of the original Waukesha County Courthouse, and the third floor will be renovated into a banquet and wedding facility featuring a fully restored 1893 courtroom.

Under the revised proposal, one floor of the project has been eliminated, resulting in a four-level building. The total number of apartment units has also been reduced to 32.

While excited about the direction of the project, commissioners expressed concerns with the main entry of the historic courthouse - some felt it needed a canopy - and the ridgeline top floor of the building, which could see additional glass added to it.

Some commissioners also  wanted more details about the site’s parking plan. As it currently stands, the finished museum/apartment structure would have one parking spot per bedroom, plus some guest parking areas.

Huelsman said he has also spoken with The Freeman about leasing a portion of its adjacent lot for additional parking.

The new plans received preliminary approval from the Landmarks Commission last week. After Wednesday’s decision, the proposal will now move to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Huelsman said he intends to request some TIF funding for the project as well - which would require approval from the review board, the Redevelopment Authority, the Plan Commission and the Common Council.

“I think its a big improvement over what was presented over the summer,” Commissioner Paul Day said, referring to the project’s original proposal.

Lathers Property

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the commission voted unanimously to recommend the annexation of a 12.94 acre parcel of land known as the Lathers Property.

 The city formally purchased the land from the Town of Waukesha for $500,000 back in 2012, but officials are now hoping to annex the site in order to drill wells there should the city’s Great Lakes diversion application be delayed or denied.

Under the city’s “Plan B” scenario, shallow wells would be constructed on the land for pumping out additional water to meet a federally-imposed deadline to reach mandated radium compliance levels by June 2018.

Earlier this week, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced it will be forwarding the city’s proposal to a pair of regional bodies for review within the next 30 to 60 days.

The Common Council must still approve the land annexation.