A court ruling Friday cleared the way for the Couture development along Milwaukee’s lakefront, as well as the construction of a station for the lakefront line for the city’s long-planned streetcar.
In an oral ruling, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley agreed with arguments put forward by County Executive Chris Abele to justify redeveloping an underused Downtown Transit Center as part of the Couture plans. The decision came over the objection of activists who have argued that the Couture project would infringe on land that the state constitution has set aside for public purposes.
The developer of the Couture, Rick Barrett, has an option to buy the transit center — a hub for city buses — in order to replace it with the proposed 44-story, $122 million development. Abele said the project will prove to be part of a vibrant public space that improves access to the lakefront, creates thousands of jobs and adds a signature building to the Milwaukee skyline.
In February, Milwaukee County sued the parks advocacy group Preserve Our Parks, claiming the group’s actions had hindered the county’s ability to sell land on Milwaukee’s lakefront to the Couture developers.
Because the land sits on former lake bed that was filled in by rail companies, Preserve Our Parks has long claimed the sale would violate the Public Trust Doctrine, a provision of the state constitution mandating that lakes and rivers remain open to the public. But the state Legislature passed a law in March 2014 redefining the shoreline so the sale of the Couture site would not violate the doctrine.
In response, representatives Preserve Our Parks publicly stated that they would sue the county to halt the sale and redevelopment of the property — endangering the developer’s ability to get title insurance. The county countered with a lawsuit of its own meant to settle the dispute once and for all.
The lawsuit, filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, sought a declaratory judgment stating that the Legislature’s actions had established that the transit-center site is not subject to the public-trust doctrine.
“If Preserve Our Parks wants to continue to appeal this ruling, I hope they will do (s0) in an expedited manner” Abele said in a statement released Friday.
Because the court’s decision Friday was made through an oral ruling, no copy of it was immediately available, according to Nicholas Boerke, an attorney with von Briesen & Roper, one of the firms that litigated the case. A copy of the transcript likewise could not be obtained from Judge Foley’s court reporter Friday afternoon.
Previously, the county had petitioned the state Supreme Court to take up the case, but the justices denied the request.
The Daily Reporter staff writer Erika Strebel also contributed to this report.