It’s been a long time since I took any pictures for my Eminent Domain photo essay series, but my contact with the IJ a few months ago got me energized to do some more shooting. I was up in Wisconsin around that time, and while I was there I stopped by Hartung Quarry, which is the site of an emerging eminent domain story.
Here’s one picture I didn’t take, courtesy of Google Earth, to set the scene:
Actually, “quarry” is deceptive. This place used to be a quarry, but whatever they took out of there, they finished decades ago. Then they started filling it with trash. It’s really the Hartung Quarry Landfill, like the sign says:
That’s down at the south end by the entrance. Here’s an establishing shot:
As you can see, it’s not a big hole in the ground. That’s because the landfill is almost full. By January 2007, there won’t be any more room. At that point, the City of Milwaukee will convert it to a park.
In fact, the city has been pretty smart about all this. They’ve been planning the park since Hartung opened as a landfill, so they’ve been careful to dump only clean waste. There’s no need for a clay cap and monitoring of fumes. They can just cover it with soil, lay some grass over it, and it’s a park.
That’s not the eminent domain issue. The city already owns the land. Besides, landfills and parks are ordinary public uses for eminent domain. The city plan does include a few lots to be developed, and I wouldn’t be shocked if that involved some behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, but since the land has seen public use for decades, it seems unlikely that it’s all been a cover for a private land grab.
The motivation for the eminent domain buyout comes instead from local residents. According to a December 27, 2005 account in the Milwaukee Daily Reporter (not available free online):
The city-owned landfill is completely surrounded by a classic suburban single-family neighborhood. The Hartung Park Neighborhood Association wants the city to convert the landfill into a public park, but first it wants the city to acquire and rip down the neighborhood’s five remaining apartment buildings, located on North 99th Street. It also wants to see a cul-de-sac of owner-occupied houses built in their place.
They’re talking about a group of buildings on the northeast corner of the quarry. I’ve marked them here in this Google Earth image:
As I was planning my trip, I was half expecting to find some goofy bit of low-income housing with towering apartment buildings in the middle of a peaceful neighborhood. Instead, I found this:
Not a single-family home, but not a bad looking place. Well-maintained, with sculpted bushes and a smooth well-maintained driveway.
To be fair, that’s probably the best looking of the five properties. I think this is probably the worst looking one:
Here’s a closer look at the worst of the damage.
So some of the buildings are a bit unsightly, but a few maintenance problems are hardly cause for eminent domain action are they? Nope. This is something else.
“We know there’s all this crap going on up there,” said Margaret Silkey, president of the roughly 45-member association. “We just want to keep the neighborhood a decent, viable place and not have it become a run-down area.”
Whatever she’s talking about, it’s not the buildings themselves.
There’s really not a lot to see here. I mean, take a look at this place:
Yes, it looks unsightly because they’ve got all that trash piled out front. But when you step around that and take a look at the building, you see neatly trimmed lawns, a well-maintained facade, and sculpted bushes and trees.
Or take a look at the rear of one of the other houses:
Again, I’ve chosen an unflattering angle. The grass around the storage shed is a little unkempt, and there’s a box that didn’t fit in the trash cans.. On the other hand, the storage shed itself is well-maintained. Here’s a reverse angle to show how nice the place is kept.
There just isn’t much to see here. Even the eminent domain threat is mostly theoretical:
The local alderman, Jim Bohl, is sponsoring a resolution to order the Department of City Development to plan for a tax incremental financing district to pay for the new park. The plan includes acquiring the five, four-family apartment buildings around the landfill and redeveloping the lots.
Although the resolution orders DCD to make a “good-faith effort” to do that without using eminent domain, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he doesn’t want to touch the idea of acquiring the properties for redevelopment.
And that’s it. I took these pictures months ago and just sat on them, because I thought I’d try to go back to Milwaukee and get a better story, but I haven’t had the time and probably won’t. So, for now, it’s just some people living in rental apartments, and the remarkably unsympathetic Ms. Silkey’s desire to get rid of them.
I could show you the rear of some of the other buildings…
…or show you another smooth driveway…
But what would be the point? (Other than posting them just because I’ve got them, and I’ve already done enough of that, don’t you think?)
I figured I had the pictures so I might as well post them. There are a lot more pictures of the Hartung Quarry Landfill eminent domain area if anybody wants to use them.