Social media has embraced a new word with sarcastic glee, but is the city really becoming...

By Ryan Billingham and Josh Perttunen -
Enterprise Staff

Oct. 9, 2014

 A Stop the Swap sign is displayed in a store window on Wisconsin Avenue.
Charles Auer/Enterprise Staff

OCONOMOWOC - A new word floating around social media has quickly become a popular way to immediately identify the sometimes controversial increase in condominium developments in the city: “O’condo’mowoc.”

For the past several months a heated debate about a downtown development project called Fowler Lake Village has generated dialogue among residents, some going as far as creating petitions and a movement called “Stop the Swap” complete with yard signs and T-shirts. They say enough is enough, that development should be more carefully measured, especially when it concerns public land and money.

It is a drama playing out, according to others, on the stage of a new dynamism in the development of Oconomowoc, a time of change that will ultimately lead to a more attractive place to live and work.

Others have a financial stake in the projects. Developers and bankers have motivations they openly admit will mean profits, but contend they are also community-makers concerned about the future of the city.

 Vespera, looking north on Silver Lake Street.
Charles Auer/Enterprise Staff

The city is involved in both the political machinations and the practical work involved in creating such projects. With taxpayer money on the line and what could lead to dramatic benchmarks in the city’s progress - or its unintended decline - it strives to balance the ideal with the practical.

Over the next month, the Enterprise will take a closer look at the people, places and politics behind the nickname “O’condo’mowoc” in a four-part series examining the complexities surrounding the current slate of development projects in the city.


More than just condos

Social media nomenclature is often imprecise.  Oconomowoc is not beset on all sides by condominiums. In fact, the city is dominated by single-family homes.

Still, the nickname serves as a jumping-off point for those who perceive the city’s changing downtown and its renewed development efforts at its periphery - including Pabst Farms - as ill-advised.

Oconomowoc’s City Planner and Zoning Administrator Jason Gallo said the citywide comprehensive land use plan calls for a ratio of 60 percent single-family homes to 40 percent duplexes and multifamily units.

“We have right now a greater percentage than 60 percent of single-family homes,” he said. “We are currently at 67 percent.”

The Glen of Oconomowoc and Fowler Lake Village are currently the only two condo developments in the process of becoming a reality.

 Two multi-family properties are on the shores of Lac La Belle.
Charles Auer/Enterprise Staff

There are two apartment projects currently underway downtown.

The Worthington Apartments are being built on the southeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Worthington Street. The five-story building has 60 residential units and one floor of below-grade parking with 100 stalls.

The Gateway will be a three-story 42-unit residential complex at the southwest corner of East Wisconsin Avenue and South Silver Lake Street, near the city’s roundabout. The complex will include about 58 underground parking stalls.

Pine Ridge Estates is a subdivision located north of Lisbon Road and west of Rosenow Creek. There will be a total of 78 single-family lots in the first phase of the development. Its second phase, Pine Ridge Estates II,  will contain 57 single-family units on 25 acres of land near the first phase.

In the past 40 years Oconomowoc has seen a 64 percent increase in population. Oconomowoc is still growing, as is Waukesha County.

The city has several plans to address its growing population, but the trunk of its planning tree is the comprehensive land use plan.


The big plan(s)

The city’s development is guided by the 2030 Citywide Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

In 1999, the Wisconsin State Legislature enacted a comprehensive planning law. The law required plans to be completed and adopted by cities and required it address a set of development categories.

In 2003, the city entered into a cooperative agreement with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and Waukesha County. The member communities collaborated and developed parts of comprehensive plans with a county and regional emphasis, and still do so.

The plan was approved by the Plan Commission and the council in 2010. Those bodies have also  approved several updates and amendments in the years following its drafting.

The plan is an outline for nearly every aspect of development through the year 2030.

According to its original mission statement, the plan is “intended to provide orderly development within the city, while still protecting the health, safety, welfare and morals of the general public.”

The city also approved a downtown revitalization plan that identified eight areas for redevelopment.

These plans have both been invoked by Mayor Jim Daley and city staff in reference to the current slate of developments, and particularly in the Fowler Lake Village discussion.

>>RELATED: Crowd again attacks Fowler condo project

>>RELATED: O‘condo’mowoc series wants you to be part of development discussion


Next week

Next week, “O’condo’mowoc” will further explore the creation of the comprehensive development plan and the downtown revitalization plan and the Community Development Authority’s role in making development happen. Developers and real estate professionals will speak about Oconomowoc’s residential market.

Series at-a-glance

TODAY Part 1:
The Enterprise embarks on a close examination of the current state of development in Oconomowoc.

COMING UP Part 2: The Enterprise explores the process through which developments emerge and speaks with developers and real estate professionals.

Part 3:
The Enterprise hears from citizens who oppose the pace and scale of current city projects.

Part 4: The Enterprise seeks the city’s vision for its future and puts the current developments into historical context.