Museum apartments net conditional approval 
Project moves forward, but still awaits final go-ahead from city commission

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

Aug. 6, 2015

Historic Prairieville Limited Partners drafted updated plans for a proposed apartment complex that would incorporate the Waukesha County Museum property at 101 W. Main St. 
Submitted rendering

WAUKESHA — A plan to replace one building at the Waukesha County Museum with a 41-unit luxury apartment complex received conditional approval Wednesday evening from the city’s Landmarks Commission.

Continuing a discussion that began in June, the commission voted 5-1 to approve a certificate of appropriateness for the apartment portion of the project, enabling the plan to move forward to the Plan Commission for preliminary approval.

The project still needs to be revisited by the Landmarks Commission before any final approval can be given.

Dennis Cerreta, the museum’s director of operations and a member of the commission, recused himself for discussion on the project.

“We very much enjoyed this opportunity to be working on this project ... we especially enjoyed the dialogue we had at the last meeting,” Gene Guszkowski of AG Architecture said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Guszkowski, who presented the project to the commission, said the developer has been in a “chicken and egg” situation between needing to provide more detail to city staff, while also requiring approval from the commission to begin some construction to finalize those details.

The site consists of three primary buildings which are all connected: the old courthouse built in 1893 on the east side of the site, the jail built in 1885 on the west end and the connector between the two.

Historic Prairieville Limited Partners plans to purchase the museum’s property at 101 W. Main St., raze the 1938 addition on the site and build the apartment complex in its place. The demolition was conditionally approved at the commission’s June meeting, pending approval of the apartment plan.

Community Development Specialist Jeff Fortin said city staff has met with the project developers four or five times since the June meeting, with revisions going back and forth from both sides.

The Freeman previously reported some of the changes to the renderings included a flat roof line on the newer building to avoid distracting from the peaked roof line of the historical buildings.

The renderings also show the new apartment building would be made from a light brick. In addition, the dividing tower between the museum building and the apartment building has been squared off, as opposed to its previously rounded exterior.

‘It is saving two very important buildings’

The development will feature two floors of underground parking for residents and museum employees. Included in the project are studio, one- and two-bedroom units, a board room and a banquet room with an adjoining kitchen.

As part of the deal, the museum would be able to lease a smaller space where it would consolidate its operations for 25-year periods at $1 per year.

“I do feel this is a very important project for the city of Waukesha,” Mayor Shawn Reilly said during public comment at the meeting. “It is saving two very important buildings ... I will ask you to try and work out something so there is approval so they can move ahead.”

Fortin said even after the revisions, city staff still had concerns, such as how the new building meets and interacts with the historic structures at various connection points. Some commissioners also raised concerns about windows on the building and the necessity of the top floor of the apartment complex. Those questions must be answered before any final approval is granted.

While commissioners seemed generally in favor of the new revisions, Andrea Nemecek said she did not want to approve the project just for the sake of moving it forward on what she called “arguably the most prominent structure in the city of Waukesha.”

Commission member David Smart, who offered the lone vote against the project, said he believed the connector building does not necessarily have to be razed, but could instead be reused or repurposed in some fashion.

He echoed Nemecek’s claim that the commission should not jump into any final approval.

“I certainly support staff continuing to look at issues and getting satisfactory answers to those as a process,” he said. “You picked the most prominent historical building in the community so I think having more than one or two meetings on this is certainly appropriate.”

<<EARLIER: More detailed plans for Waukesha County Museum apartments revealed