Group opposes potential condo development atop historic site
Plans to hold peaceful protest at meeting

By Jake Meister - Freeman Staff

Oct. 3, 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 — Oconomowoc citizens have formed a grass roots campaign that opposes a Milwaukee- area developer’s plans to tear down a well-known home on a historic property in favor of a 12-unit condominium.

The Isthmus Historic Preservation Society seeks to prevent the home located at 517 N. Lake Road from being demolished, the group’s executive director, David Cullinane, told The Freeman on Monday.

Cullinane said the society distributed more than 1,000 flyers spreading its message over the past weekend and plans to hold a “peaceful protest” at the next meeting of the Oconomowoc Architectural Commission, slated to take place Oct. 11 at 5:30 p.m. in the second floor of City Hall, 174 E. Wisconsin Ave.

Renner Architects wants to raze the older home, which the company recently purchased, and combine that lot with the vacant property it also owns at 525 N. Lake Road to create one parcel that would hold a 12unit condominium development and a three-bedroom, single-family residence.

Both of these parcels are within Oconomowoc’s Isthmus District.

“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 original project summary and narrative Renner Architects submitted to the city.

City documents show the 3,752-square-foot home home was built in 1920.

According to the “Quester’s Guide to Historical Oconomowoc,” one of Oconomowoc’s famed citizens, John Rockwell, owned a home on that property. However, there is no indication whether any part of Rockwell’s home is in the current home.

Cullinane called Peter Renner of Renner Architects a “rogue developer” for wanting to build the condominium development and home.

Cullinane said Renner demonstrates an “absoluete lack of willingness to respect and protect Oconomowoc’s architectural history and culture.”

“In addition we’re strongly expressing our voices as citizens to the disapproval of not only the architectural components but also the presence of a condominium complex which violates the amendments that were set for the historical Isthmus District.”

Though most of the structures have a well-aged look, a few condominiums in the district have boasted a more modern design. However, those types of new wave structures aren’t permissible anymore.

Design standards

Under the Isthmus Design Standards of the city’s ordinances, which were created more than 20 years ago, 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.

Renner Architects’ application for the proposed development was brought to the Architectural Commission during its Sept. 13 meeting. It was during this well-attended meeting that the commission determined the plans didn’t meet the design standards, and Renner Architects would have to come back with a revised plan for the project to be considered further.

Oconomowoc Mayor Dave Nold supports the group’s desire to back their beloved district.

“That’s all fine,” Nold said. “They’re a very passionate group and they have specific things they want.”

Oconomowoc Alderman Lou Kowieski said it’s within The Isthmus Historic Preservation Society’s rights to voice its opinion, but he said Renner also has the right to make the changes necessary to make the proposed project work.

Kowieski said the city is happy to see Renner’s interest in creating a development in Oconomowoc, but he added that building the right development in the right area is critical.

“If he can’t meet those requirements for that district perhaps he could examine another location that would be suitable,” Kowieski said.

The preliminary agenda for the Oct. 11 meeting won’t be available until Friday.

A call placed to Renner Architects Monday evening was not returned.

Email: jmeister@conleynet.com