Oak Creek, Wisconsin: Advisory Services Panel

OakCreekWisconsinDate: September 21 –  September 24, 2009

Location: Oak Creek, Wisconsin


Chair: Richard Reynolds

Subject Area: Metropolitan and Regional Strategies, Infrastructure and Transportation

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Background and Panel Assignment

Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a city of approximately 35,000 people, is located six miles south of downtown Milwaukee. In cooperation with WISPARK, the development arm of Wisconsin Energy, the city government is considering redevelopment ideas for the Lakeview Village site—approximately 250 acres located along the shores of Lake Michigan on the eastern extremity of the city. This site, which includes seven major and several minor properties, all separately owned, has a long history of use for a variety of older industrial purposes, including chemical and metals manufacturing. Although all such uses have long since ceased active operations, their residual effects still pose environmental issues for the reuse of the site.

The panel’s approach was to organize its recommendations in light of the following questions posed by the sponsor:

  • What are the highest and best uses of the land in the Lakeview Village area?
  • What is the best way to develop the site in a manner that maximizes its lakefront location?
  • How important is the presence of commuter rail?
  • What is the most appropriate street system?
  • What implications or impacts do the wastewater treatment plant to the north and the coal-fired power plant to the south have on the development potential of the site?
  • Can Bender Park add anything to the development of the site?
  • What properties to the west of the site should be incorporated into the redevelopment effort?
  • What is a practical time frame in which to undertake a development project of this scale?
  • What “catalytic” projects should be considered to spur development in the early stages?
  • What impacts do the environmental conditions have upon development?
  • What can be done to incorporate sustainable design practices into the development of the site?
  • What is the best approach to the development of the site?

History and Background

Because of its proximity to Lake Michigan and to the railroad, the Lakeview Village site has been used for a variety of industrial, commercial, and residential uses for more than 125 years. Called Carrollville, the area was the first part of the city of Oak Creek to develop with industry; its first industrial use was a distillery. In 1897, some 17 prominent tanners in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois decided to establish a glue works on the site that could process the leather offal that was the byproduct of their businesses. The company town of Carrollville developed around the glue works and the later development of the Hynite (high-nitrogen fertilizer) factory. Later, chemical and manufacturing uses located in the area because of the concentration of heavy industrial uses. Over time each of these uses declined, leaving 250 acres of contaminated land with unprecedented views of Lake Michigan.

Background Issues Considered

The panel feels that a number of on- and off-site issues, both physical and market related, will influence any redevelopment strategy and design. Those issues include the following:

  • Oak Creek is predominantly a middle-income community, with a median household income of $65,000 and a median housing value of $200,000.
  • Significant areas of developable land for single family residential exist west of Highway 32, and significant areas for industrial/commercial uses lie closer to I-94 than the Lakeview Village site.
  • Much of the site needs significant environmental remediation, which is costly and will limit both the total acreage for and the type of development.
  • Limited east-west roadway connections exist from the city business center and I-94 to the site.
  • Bender Park has not been activated and therefore does not draw people to this eastern portion of the city.
  • Implementation of the Kenosha-Racine-Madison (KRM) commuter rail line is still unclear; in the best-case scenario, it will not be in operation until 2015 or 2016.
  • Constraining topography and public access requirements limit the use of the lakefront for private, higher-value uses.

The influence of the planning constraints noted here leads the panel to suggest both a strategic process and a series of tactical steps for
the Lakeview Village site. The objective of the panel’s recommended approach is to redevelop the site in a way that is environmentally sensitive and focused on new technologies and living styles that are sustainable. Pursuing this goal would enable the city government to reverse the influences of many years of uses that degraded the site and to set an example for new, greener uses. The mayor’s description of Oak Creek as “where the country meets the city” would be expanded to “where the country meets the city in an environmentally positive way.”

Summary of Recommendations

After an intense three days of tours, presentations, interviews, and work sessions, the panel formulated the following recommendations:

  • Aggregate and put under control the various land parcels. Such control can be in varying formats, including fee ownership, joint venture, or alliance with existing landowners under development agreements.
  • Begin to think of the Lakeview Village area as two distinct, albeit connected sections, each focused on a different land use catalyst. The northern catalyst should be marketed for primarily nonresidential use; the southern catalyst should focus on a dynamic, mixed-use, transit-oriented development (TOD).
  • Complete the investigation of environmental conditions, finalize remediation plans, estimate costs to remediate, negotiate cost responsibility with the various landowners, and implement remediation (even to the extent of funding such remediation, with repayment through litigation or federal funding).
  • Actively promote the approval, funding, and implementation of the KRM commuter rail line, with a station stop near Ryan Road.
  • Work with the county to activate Bender Park.
  • Improve access to and within the area.
  • Create a redevelopment commission or corporation that focuses solely on the redevelopment of the Lakeview Village area, with sufficient funding and authority to implement recommendations.
  • Hire a project manager who is given the authority to carry out the commission’s directives.

Finally, although surrounding areas were not part of the direct assignment, the panel members believe that the successful implementation of the Lakeview Village project as well as the city’s future would be well served by actively pursuing the reuse of the Delphi facility for a mixed-use town center that would provide a walkable downtown area with civic, entertainment, office, and residential uses (possibly including housing for seniors). This would give the city an identifiable center that creates a sense of place, unlike the current strip-style business district, and enable it to control the reuse of a major land parcel in the middle of its commercial heart.


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