South Side Alderman Decides Not To Pursue Eminent Domain
City planned to take Latino family land to sell to neighboring business for their 5.7 million expansion
By H. Nelson Goodson
July 2, 2009
Milwaukee- On Wednesday, July 1st, Alderman James Witkowiak who represents the 12th Aldermanic District sent out a statement saying he and the City of Milwaukee will no longer pursue using eminent domain to take property from Eligio Cetina’s family. The Cetina’s are now planning to develop the land as retail space and the city is letting them develop the land, even without submitting new plans, according to attorney Don Stinespring Jr. who represents the Cetina’s.
“From a legal and constitutional point of view, no one should be forced to build on property that is unblighted, without any violations and is not harming anyone,” Stinespring said. The Cetina’s have hired an architect to finalize their plans and submit them to the city.
The City of Milwaukee for years had tried to deny the Cetina family permits to break ground for a business. City officials led the Cetina family to believe that they would be granted building permits once repairs were made to an existing building in their property. They spend thousands of dollars for repairs of the building. Finally, since the city was not granting them a permit to open a Mayan Restaurant and bar, the Cetina family decided to spend another 30 thousand to remove the building. Once demolition began, the Cetina’s received a letter a week later from the city demanding demolition of the building, according to Eligio.
Cetina’s properties are located on 1443 and 1445-47 S. Muskego Ave. The two land parcels were blight designated to facilitate the acquisition of the land by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in late May. The Redevelopment Authority and the Department of City Development (DCD) have no record of ever citing the Cetina’s properties for any kind of violations that would actually classify them as blighted.
Alderman Witkowiak led the decision to take the Cetina’s properties and then sell it to Pete Tsitiridis, owner of Pete's Fruit Market at 1400 S. Union St. who wants to build a $5.7 million, 51,790-square-foot expansion of his business that would include Cetina’s property.
Witkowiak’s actions led to the forming of a Hispanic business group who then publicly opposed using eminent domain to take the Cetina’s properties. The group threatened to recall Alderman Witkowiak and to begin a local boycott against Pete’s Fruit Market, which depends on Latino consumers.
Pete’s Fruit Market proposed expansion was not included in the South Side Comprehensive Development Area Plan that was approved in May by the Common Council. The plan is considered discriminatory against Hispanic businesses, because it lacks to promote growth, and to build on existing Hispanic businesses along W. National Ave., W. Historic Mitchell St. and W. Lincoln Ave. corridors. The comprehensive plan also lacked a Spanish version before it was passed by the city. The city wants retail growth in those business corridors.
The planners of the South side Comprehensive Area Plan include the consulting firm of HNTB, Department of City Development planners, the Contract Management Team, and funding partners Maria Monreal-Cameron, executive director and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Dr. Tony Baez, executive director and CEO of the Spanish Speaking Council.
Both Aldermen Witkowiak and Tony Zielinski have been criticized for using the Comprehensive Development Area Plans approved in their districts to promote special interest growth.
Witkowiak during the Zoning, Neighbors and Development Committee in May, had said he or the city would never take land from residents of the South side, but in just three weeks after passing the South Side Comprehensive Area Plan, Witkowiak was using eminent domain to take the Cetina’s properties.
The plan controversy ignited back in December when the South East Comprehensive Plan approved by the Common Council was used by Alderman Zielinski to keep AK Food Mart in Bay View from getting a Class Malt license. At a License Committee hearing on December 15, 2008 they even brought Michael J. Maierle, Urban Planner from DCD to testify that it wouldn’t further the development plan, if a license was granted.
But a month later Ald. Tony Zielinski spear headed the approval of a liquor license to another business under construction called the Tonic Tavern in the 2300 block of S. KK without advising the neighborhood residents as required by law. Currently, Zielinski is a member of the License Committee.
"Words conveyed by wisdom and truth influence inevitable change" H. Nelson Goodson
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