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Parks Group Threatens Lawsuit Over Couture Site

Abele and Republican Legislature created a ‘fictitious lakebed’

Oct. 30, 2013
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The Couture
A parks group warned Milwaukee County supervisors it would head to court if the county proceeds with the sale of the Transit Center site for the development of the Couture, saying a portion of the building would be located on filled lakebed, which is reserved for noncommercial, public use.

Speaking on behalf of Preserve Our Parks, retired attorney Charlie Kamps provided a series of maps dating as far back as 1835 to show that roughly two-thirds of the Transit Center site had been covered by Lake Michigan and is now filled lakebed.

The Lake Michigan shoreline and filled lakebed are protected by the state constitution’s Public Trust Doctrine, which declares that the state’s lakes and rivers are public resources and cannot be the site of commercial development or private ownership. Developer Rick Barrett is planning to purchase the land from the county to build a 44-story mixed-used high rise on the site.

In January, the board passed a resolution that would allow the Reinhart Boerner law firm to find a legal resolution to the county’s title claim. Kamps said his group anticipated being part of that legal action.

“But that didn’t happen,” Kamps said on Monday.

In June, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele got then-state Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) to insert a last-minute provision into the state budget that solidified the boundaries of the lakebed according to a 1913 map, which allows the Couture to be built on that site. At the time, supervisors were highly critical of Abele’s effort and warned that it could lead to development in other areas of filled lakebed. Abele’s spokesman told the Shepherd the Legislature provided “clarity” on the issue.

On Monday, Kamps called this boundary a “fictitious lakebed,” and noted that Abele failed to provide public hearings on the matter before having the item inserted into the state budget.

He said it was a “curious way to amend the constitution” and predicted that the new boundary wouldn’t hold up to legal scrutiny.

“The Legislature acted without notice,” Kamps said. “I understand that even the county supervisors were not notified. There was no public notice. There was no public participation. There was no debate. There was no hearing. There was no testimony. There were no witnesses. There was no process whatsoever, much less any due process.”

Kamps said that his group would go to court and provide evidence to support their argument. He said he’d also welcome a public effort to draw the lakebed boundary with “a line that conforms to reality,” which could then be offered in court for a legal resolution.


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