Tag Archives: construction

Wisconsin DNR: CAFOs could write own pollution permit applications

Large farms could hire experts to craft their pollution and construction permit applications under a reorganization plan the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced this week.

The agency has been working on reorganizing since July 2015 to deal with a growing workload and the state’s tight budget constraints. DNR officials issued a news release this week announcing the plan, calling it a “strategic realignment effort,” but the release contains very few details.

The cornerstone of the plan would allow concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, to hire qualified consultants to craft applications for manure handling and construction permits.

The idea, DNR Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede said, is to reduce the back-and-forth DNR staff currently engage in with farmers to get their applications up to speed, freeing up staff to perform more frequent permit compliance checks in the field.

Developers looking to perform shore stabilization work and pond construction also would be allowed to use consultants to help craft their permit applications as well. “They’re writing the information to help inform that permit,” Thiede said.

The plan mirrors a controversial approach DNR has used for wetland building permit applications for a decade — engineers and other consultants are allowed to help craft developers’ applications, said Jeffrey Voltz, deputy administrator of the DNR’s external services division.

The DNR plans to speak with stakeholders in the coming months to determine what qualifications CAFO and shore consultants will need.

A state audit in June found the DNR wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large farms and wastewater plants.

The audit also found that the agency had been extending permits without review for years and that staffers lacked time to thoroughly monitor large livestock operations. Environmental groups were outraged by the findings.

Amber Meyer Smith, government relations director for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, said it’s unclear how allowing outside consultants help with permit applications might change things for both farms and the DNR.

“There are certainly efficiency measures included in today’s announcement, but a lot of questions remain,” Meyer Smith said.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of government relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the move would reduce duplicative work for farms and the DNR.

“You’re hiring a licensed professional to do his or her job,” Zimmerman said. “Those licenses have to mean something. The idea is to free up staff time.”

The overall reorganization plan will affect about 5 percent of the DNR’s 2,549 full-time employees, according to the news release.

Changes will range from position descriptions, reporting structure and division assignments as the agency moves from seven operational units to five, including Forestry; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Environmental Management; Internal Services; and External Services.

The Bureau of Science Services’ remaining 19 researchers will join other programs as well as a new Office of Applied Sciences.

A new bureau will focus on real estate and property planning and staff working on water-related sediment cleanups will be combined with staff working on soil cleanups. Thiede said the move would allow managers to more closely monitor researchers’ work.

The state budget Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed last year eliminated 19 researchers from the Bureau of Science Services. The scientists had been working on a number of politically charged issues, including climate change, pollution and mining. Democrats blasted the cuts as political payback.

The reorganization plan also calls for shifting 33 ranger positions into warden positions. Thiede said rangers spend little time on law enforcement. The move would still leave more than 100 rangers in state parks but they wouldn’t have law enforcement credentials. Some of the 33 rangers whose positions would disappear could apply for warden jobs or elect to stay in the parks without law enforcement powers.

The news release said the plan would be implemented in phases with final changes anticipated by early 2018. Thiede said some portions of it may require legislative approval.

Cream City comeback: Milwaukee developers reveal old brick

It’s in swanky new condos and historic old buildings, and it’s a focal point in new construction and renovation: Milwaukee’s once-forgotten signature, Cream City brick, has made a comeback.

“Oh, yeah, it’s everywhere,” Tony Torre said, pointing out downtown buildings made of the clean, golden-yellow bricks that stand out from common reds nearby.

“It’s a cool look to it, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Torre has worked in Milwaukee for decades and remembers when its Cream City brick buildings were largely neglected, blackened by pollution or torn down with little regard. Today, prompted by developers inclined to work with old materials, Cream City brick is a prized find.

“There’s been a crescendo of interest in urban living,” historian John Gurda said. It’s led to a “rebirth of interest in older parts of town. The rebirth of interest in Cream City brick goes along with that hand in glove.”

Rows and rows of beat-up, yellowish bricks sit on pallets near downtown in a gutted, old brewery. They’ll be spiffed up and featured prominently in a massive renovation that will turn the old Pabst bottling plant into dorms.

The bricks have been recovered from crumbling hulks too rundown to save. They’ll be used for interior accents and highlights and exterior patches in the building, which Zilber Ltd. plans to restore to look much like it did in its heyday about 100 years ago.

Developers who want to use cream bricks turn to salvaged materials, in part, because “nobody in their right mind would make Cream City bricks for use today,” Zilber spokesman Mike Mervis said.

University Wisconsin-Milwaukee architecture professor Matt Jarosz agreed. “You can make a beige brick, but it won’t be a true Cream City brick,” he said.

“The industry has moved on from the process,” he added, explaining the history of what he calls “the specific building material of Milwaukee.”

In the early to mid-1800s, it was too expensive to import brick, so people made it themselves in small factories. These brickworks used clay soil from the Milwaukee River, and discovered it produced light-colored bricks, Jarosz said.

The soil was high in dolomite, a form of limestone, and magnesium, which gives the bricks their signature hue, Gurda said. It initially was a source of embarrassment, but it quickly turned to a point of pride.

By the late 1800s, the brick was all over Milwaukee — “the whole city, the whole fabric was this” cream brick, Jarosz said — giving rise to the nickname “Cream City.”

“Everybody thinks ‘Cream City’ refers to America’s dairyland,” Gurda said, referring to Wisconsin’s status as “The Dairy State.” “No, it’s the brick.”

He also mentioned Milwaukee’s reputation as the “Beer Capital of the World,” saying the city’s first brickyard went up in 1836, four years before the first brewery.

But as quickly as Milwaukee gained a reputation for beautifully constructed cream buildings, it was gone. Industrial coal burning left the city in a constant haze of black soot. The bricks, which turned out to be very porous, absorbed the pollution, leaving them filthy.  

“In the shortest amount of time, Milwaukee went from this beautiful beige city to this black polluted place,” Jarosz said.

It would take decades for the preservation movement to gain traction, and Jarosz says the overwhelming majority of Cream City bricks have been lost through demolition.

Remaining old bricks are increasingly on display as developers seek to use old materials to reduce waste and tie new projects in with the past.

Firms such as Continuum Architects and Planners have been working on building projects that include cleaning dingy old bricks with a chemical process that’s less corrosive than sandblasting.

“As old buildings get renovated,” Ursula Twombly, of Continnum, said, “what used to be a black brick is revealed as a Cream City.”

Developer Barry Mandel says building Milwaukee takes more than concrete

Donald Trump fancies himself the archetype of a successful real estate mogul, but fortunately Milwaukee’s Barry Mandel, president of Mandel Group, possesses nothing like the bombastic, attention-seeking missile of an ego that defines Trump. Quietly reflective and a “political agnostic,” in his words, Mandel has a vision of development that includes building a stronger and more prosperous community. His company has core values that include focusing on environmental impact and historic preservation, whenever possible.

But Mandel can be competitive, too. Consider the way in which he settled a $25,000 dispute with a construction contractor.

Mandel was 54 when he and Rich Lynch, president of the company that built University Club Tower — perhaps Mandel’s signature project — became bogged down in negotiations over $1.7 million in contested costs. The two men hammered their differences down to $25,000, but then their talks stalled. Rather than go to court, they agreed to settle the matter by swimming a 100-meter race, with the loser paying $25,000 to the winner.

Mandel, who hadn’t swum competitively since high school, didn’t realize at the time that the physically more imposing Lynch was a former co-captain of the UW-Madison swim team. When he found out, however, Mandel didn’t back out. Instead, he became determined to win. He trained vigorously for three months with Olympic swimmer Adam Mania and received what proved to be some very helpful advice from one of Mania’s acquaintances, Olympic gold-medalist Mark Spitz. 

Mandel won the race by 12-hundredths of a second.

Bringing people into the city

In many ways, Mandel’s success has been built on defying the odds. In 1988, when white flight from the city was still in full swing, Mandel developed East Pointe Commons on the Lower East Side, on land that had been cleared to make way for a freeway extension that was never built. To succeed, the $85-million project had to draw the kind of people who lived in the suburbs back into the city. Everyone thought he was crazy.

The project not only succeeded but also paved the way for Third Ward development and for the downtown residential renaissance that has made Milwaukee the city it is today, according to Mayor Tom Barrett.

“Barry’s not just moving people around the city, he’s bringing people into the city,” Barrett says. “He’s added to the city’s tax base, its livability and its sense of vibrancy.”

“He’s not someone who just parachutes in — he’s very involved in the community,” Barrett adds. “He’s very engaged. He’s very much an advocate of attracting business into the city, and he’s pushed the city on aggressively marketing itself.”

Mandel says a lot of responsibility comes with real-estate development, because it shapes not only the city’s skyline but also contributes to its culture and quality of life.

“I am particularly proud of the parks we’ve built and how those have made connections with the public to our developments,” Mandel says. “Our developments become broader than just the development itself — they become amenities to the general public.”

Changing the non-building environment

While he continues to enjoy building, Mandel says his focus is turning increasingly to the major underlying issues affecting Milwaukee, including segregation, education and economic development. He says a number of organizations and individuals are working on these and other local problems, but their efforts need to be more coordinated and less politicized. Mandel’s frustrated by the state’s politically supercharged environment, which prompts leaders to treat serious issues as ideological talking points rather than real problems affecting real people. 

“When I turned 60, it was a time of reflection, and I recognized that our company had built a great deal and has in part changed the landscape of metropolitan Milwaukee,” Mandel says. “At the same time I realized that unless I can help change the non-building environment in a very substantial way, all the buildings and communities we create will not be sustainable over time.

“The next chapter of my career will certainly be to continue to build, but also to focus on making significant impact on the unbuilt environment. What I mean by that is to focus on the major issues that confront the city of Milwaukee — economic development, jobs and education.

“In order to work on any of those issues broadly, you need to bridge gaps between diverse constituencies and bubble up shared values that are so compelling that one becomes agnostic to whether or not they’re of a political persuasion, but passionate about good ideas that move the city in a direction that’s consistent with making it a better place for all.”

Mandel thinks that Milwaukee still has “enough hope to create a 21st-century city, a city that provides opportunity for a diverse group of people.”

A number of strong proposals are on the table to move Milwaukee forward, Mandel says. Among them, he cites creating a renewable energy infrastructure (many of his buildings have green rooftops), developing a downtown streetcar system, expanding the convention center, building a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, undertaking new lakefront development and ratcheting up a program that converts foreclosed houses into owner-occupied homes. 

Mandel is also an advocate for “creative place making,” which means designating places to bring together people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise to generate spontaneous interactions that spark innovation. As an example, he points to a successful collaboration between General Electric and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design to create a more welcoming hospital environment for women with breast cancer. 

Mandel believes Milwaukee leaders need to nurture these kinds of creative relationships. 

Despite his achievements — Barrett says Mandel is one of two or three developers who have had the most impact on the city— Mandel acknowledges, “I wake up every day thinking I could have done more.”

“I don’t necessarily mean I could have built more or made more money,” he says. “I could have made more transformative changes by working with others to gain traction for initiatives that my efforts could have caused other people to build and make the city a better place.”

But he’s proud of the way his developments blend seamlessly into the city and add to its amenities.

“When I drive through the city, I feel that the developments we’ve done are so neatly knitted into the urban fabric that they provide a foundation and a substance for the city,” he says. “And that perhaps in some cases the architectural effort that we made enhances the city.” 

University Club Tower, where Mandel — along with some of the state’s wealthiest residents — also lives, is probably the development that gives him the most satisfaction, he says. 

“I get a sparkle in my eye with respect to something that’s very odd,” he explains. “One of the things we tried to enhance the (building) was to crush quartz into the pre-cast stone. As I drive east toward the building, I can see the sunlight shimmering on the west façade and the sparkling of the crushed quartz, which illuminates our building. And it does make me smile.”

Building history

Since East Pointe Commons, Barry Mandel’s first downtown residential development in 1988, he expanded the city’s higher-end residences with buildings that fit so well into the urban environment around them that it’s hard to imagine their absence. Unconvinced? Consider these iconic Mandel buildings:

Library Hill, 740 W. Wisconsin Ave. The 1990 renovation of this complex next to Central Library helped revitalize Westown, providing momentum for future developments by both Mandel and other companies.

Trostel Square, 1818 N. Commerce St. This mix of apartments and townhouses is just one of many developments on the Beerline, but it’s one of the most eye-catching, with an expanded riverwalk and open courtyard. The project was completed in 2004.

University Club Tower, 825 N. Prospect Ave. At 36 stories, University Club is Mandel’s tallest building yet — and the third-tallest in Wisconsin. The 2007 building is by far Mandel’s most luxurious, with dozens of high-profile residents including Mandel himself. 

LightHorse, 4041 N. Oakland Ave. Named to honor the site’s original use — a barracks and stable for the Wisconsin National Guard — LightHorse has already become an anchor in the heart of Shorewood, and an important expansion for Mandel. The first units were completed in September 2013, and the rest of the building was finished in February.

The North End, 1551 N. Water St. The Park East neighborhood itself is still a work-in-progress, but The North End has gone a long way toward revitalizing the area. The former tannery features eco-friendly apartments alongside the new performance venue Denim Park, a massive green roof space and, soon, a farmers market. Some units are open while others are still under construction.

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Philly developers plan groundbreaking for LGBT senior housing

Developers plan to break ground next month on a $20 million affordable housing project for elderly gays now that it has received the necessary state, federal and local approvals and funding has been secured, officials said this week.

The project, planned for a section of Philadelphia’s downtown affectionately known as the Gayborhood, had long been stalled before receiving tax credits earlier this year from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

The Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund, which is spearheading the project, said in a statement that the project has received all federal, state, and local agency approvals and building permits, and plans to break ground in late October.

Wells Fargo Bank also has signed on as an investor, tax credits have been allocated and all funding for the project has been secured, the group said.

The new six-story building, which will be on land bought from the city’s Redevelopment Authority, will include 56 one-bedroom units that will be available to seniors who are 62 and over.

“The project is moving forward very quickly,” Mark Segal, the group’s director and also publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, said in a statement. “The Redevelopment Authority vacated the building they were operating out of on the construction site, and clean up and plans for demolition of the building have begun.”

Anti-discrimination laws prohibit gay-only housing, but projects can be made friendly toward gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people through marketing and location. The nation’s first gay-friendly affordable senior housing facility opened in Los Angeles in 2007.

Experts say the need for such housing is great since many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors fear discrimination or disrespect by health care workers and elder housing residents.

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