Residents upset by proposed condo project in historic district

By Jake Meister - Freeman Staff

Sept. 17, 2017

Peter Renner of Milwaukee-based Renner Architects wants to develop a 13-unit condominium project in the 500 block of Oconomowoc’s North Lake Road. Renner hopes to have an older existing home razed at 517 N. Lake Road. If that project is approved, he wants to combine 517 and 525 N. Lake Road into a single parcel that would feature a 12-unit condominium, left, and a three-bedroom home.
Submitted rendering

OCONOMOWOC — A Milwaukee-area developer believes Oconomowoc’s Isthmus District deserves a condominium, but residents living in that area fear the proposed project clashes with the historic stretch of North Lake Street.

Peter Renner of Renner Architects wants to raze an older home owned by Jon Leverence — located at 517 N. Lake Road — and combine that lot with the vacant property at 525 N. Lake Road to create a parcel that would accommodate a 12-unit condominium development and a three-bedroom, single-family residence, according to city documents.

“We believe that there is a dire need for high quality condominiums in the heart of Lake Country, mostly to accommodate people who don’t want to maintain a high maintenance lake property,” reads the project summary and narrative Renner Architects submitted to the city.

When the Waterview Condominiums project was brought to the city’s Architectural Commission on Wednesday evening, a considerable group of residents and owners of North Lake Street property came to express their concerns with the project as it’s currently proposed.

District resident David Cullinane said he and his neighbors are mainly concerned with two things: the location of the condominium and the appearance of the structures, which he said presently have the vibe of something built in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

“I think there is a groundswell of anger of (the projects) destroying Oconomowoc’s architectural history,” Cullinane said.

An owner of four properties in the Isthmus District of North Lane Road, Cullinane said he and many of his neighbors have invested too much time, energy and finances into their properties to see something shake up the area.

Cullinane is also upset with the contrast between the proposed home and the proposed condominium complex. He said the home and complex are so architecturally different that they clash.

Design standards

An out-of-place residence is nothing new in the North Lake District. While the majority of the structures have the same historic feel, a few condominiums boast a much more modern design. However, those miscast homes aren’t permissible anymore under a move the city made more than two decades ago.

Under the Isthmus Design Standards of the city’s ordinances, the building scales, design, configuration, details, exterior material and color of any development, facade or building change in that area must reflect practices that were common between 1870 and 1930.

After reviewing what Renner Architects’ application proposed, the Architectural Commission determined the current plans do meet most zoning requirements but do not meet the design standards. Renner Architects, the commission suggested, would have to make significant changes to its plans for the project to advance.

Oconomowoc Mayor Dave Nold, who attended the meeting like many other city officials, said Friday that he doesn’t know whether Renner Architects will return to the city with another plan.

A call placed to Peter Renner Friday morning seeking information on the company’s plans was not returned.

Kristi Weber, a planner and community development specialist with the Oconomowoc Planning and Zoning Department, believes the largest hurdle the project currently faces is the proposed appearance of the building. She said people living in the community have come to the department’s office and said they’re not opposed to the idea of proposed structures, or even the size. What they seem to be concerned with, Weber said, is the architectural character.

Weber said the city would have no issue with helping the developers to conform to the standards in place. She said the city has done as much in the past, having successfully helped a proposed residence to meet the standards after it had initially come up short. However, she added this is the first multifamily project to be officially applied for in a while, so this particular project is unique.

Former Oconomowoc Mayor Floss Whalen wasn’t surprised to hear that such a project has met dissenting opinions, adding that Oconomowoc honors its history quite a bit.

“Anytime you’re going to tear down a house that someone thinks is historical, you’re going to run into opposition,” Whalen said.

In its project summary and narrative, which was developed a few weeks before the Wednesday meeting, Renner Architects said it planned to start the project as soon as it receives city approval, which it believed could be as early as late fall.

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