Posted November 28, 2004

milwaukeepreservationalliance] Urban Anthropology Inc. desperately needs advice from MPA members

Please bear with me on this email. It is of such importance to one neighborhood and to Milwaukee Renaissance in particular. As many of you know, we at Urb An are developing two settlement museums in Milwaukee—one on the South Side and one on the NW Side. These museums will focus on the cultural relations among the different cultural groups in these neighborhoods and will have areas replicating the rooms of some of the heroic families of the neighborhoods. We were so incredibly blessed when St. Joseph’s hospital donated a building to us on the NW side, the Rozga funeral home agreed to lease space to us on the SS for $1 a year, and the Milwaukee Public Museum donated a truckload of artifacts to us for these efforts. We have also been able to attract some meager grant money from the Bradley Fdn. for development.

But now our South Side project is in serious peril. Before I describe the peril, let me state that we conducted a two-year cultural study of this neighborhood, with a documentary (general area of Lincoln Village, Baran Park, Historic Mitchell Street, and Polonia neighborhoods). We unearthed incredible stories of the ways the cultural groups cooperated to keep this neighborhood viable, how families (like the Polish Rozgas, Latino Figueroas, Ojibwe Porters, Serbian Radicivechs) sacrificed beyond belief to help others in the neighborhood, and the ways that Neil White and the Lincoln Village Business Association drew the resources to keep the miriads of mom/pop businesses viable. This is not a “politically correct” statement here on our part. These are genuinely AMAZING STORIES. And this is why we will do whatever is humanly possible to make this museum come alive.

Here is our problem. (Realize that we are novices at things like zoning and codes and this is why we appeal to some of you for advice). We were to occupy the first floor of a wonderful 102-year old Polish home right next to the Rozga Funeral Home and the Basilica that looks out on Kozy Park. Upstairs are renters. When we went to get an occupancy permit, we were told that we needed to appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) to change the zoning from residential to commercial (for special use). Because our grant money was so tiny to do this entire museum we cautiously waited until all the inspectors had inspected the premises so we knew what we had to do before committing to move ahead on anything. The plumbing, construction, and electrical inspectors came. They all asked for changes that cost us and the Rozga family thousands of dollars, but we made them. (We had previously met with all the relevant aldermen, and were pretty well assured that our zoning issue would not be an issue—in fact we got very positive feedback from them.) Once all the inspectors had signed off on the property, we went ahead and sent in our application to BOZA, committed and spent our grant money, and brought in our collections.

Then about two weeks ago, I received a call from the City construction office. A construction supervisor told me that the construction inspector that had inspected the premises was wrong in what he had told us. This supervisor said that the inspector had misinterpreted the building codes. The supervisor now said that because we were moving from residental to commercial zoning for the property, that we had to comply with commercial buildings new construction codes. In his letter he states, “Per Comm 61.03(10) of the Wisconsin Commercial Building Code, no change may be made in the use or occupancy of any building or structure that would place it in a different group of occupancies unless it complies with the code’s requirements for the new division or group of occupencies.” (I don’t know exactly what that means, but I assume this means that we have to comply with codes for new construction.) Basically he said that now we must change all our ceilings (including the basement and first floor), add ADA approved bathrooms, change all our doors/doorways, change our floors, provide mechanical ventilation throughout the building, cover all side windows with siding (which would apparently include those that also belong to the renters upstairs), and on and on. As closely as we and the Rozga family could tell, the costs for all this would exceed the assessed value of the space itself. (Now realize that we had committed our money to add an ADA approved bathroom to our floor and a wheel chair ramp before we had to, just because we thought it would be the right thing to do). But all else is beyond the means of us or the Rozga family and we could not even legally apply for grant money for this because the work would be done on property that is not ours.

Something seems so amiss here. How do these little daycare centers and beauty shops and other mom/pop operations get occupancy permits when they decide to have a home business? How could anyone afford to do this? (We have been trying to schedule appointments with the relevant aldermen since this happened, but have not yet heard from them.) Can anyone in the know on this topic contact us? Is there something we can do to fight for this museum? It is our only offer of free space in the neighborhood and it was a perfect offer—the house is perfect as a replica of the neighborhood’s settlement and is in the most beautiful shape you can imagine. This museum must happen for this amazing neighborhood. We need advice.

Last edited by an anonymous user of Milwaukee Renaissance. Based on work by Godsil and anonymous users of Milwaukee Renaissance.  Page last modified on November 28, 2004

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