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Open Letter (includes his View of the Performance of Village Board & Officials)From Tim Vargo, Former Resident of Apartments at the Now Defunct Sunrise Project

CDA, Housing, Sunrise, TIF, Village Administration, Village Board

Dear friends in the Village of Shorewood and Shorewood Village Trustees

Many of you have already informed me of Sunrise Senior Living's recent pullout from the property where I used to live and where the Riverbrook Restaurant was located.  For those of you who haven't, here's the story:

http://www.jsonline.com/business/34467754.html

My final words at the Village Board Meeting that decided this were: "I really hope I'm wrong on my concerns and that this development ends up being successful, butSunrise does not have the Village of Shorewood as it's primary concern, it has it's shareholders."  During discussions I had brought up several cases nationally where Sunrise did this exact same thing - bought property, pulled out and sold.  Someof you assured me there was more oversight and this wouldn't be the case.

It is distressful that a Milwaukee Landmark was closed and that many low-income and diverse families were forced out of Shorewood and this latest development rubs salt in that wound.

The reason I'm writing is two-fold: 1) to encourage you to watch this development closely and to keep pressure on the Village to make smart decisions on this valuable piece of riverfront property, and 2) to give you a final rundown on how I thought the players, our elected and appointed officials, handled this case.

Winners:  Trustee's Jeff Hanewall and Dawn Anderson

These two Board Members answered my concerns in a respectful and thoughtful manner.  I didn't always agree with them but I knew that they heard my concerns and addressed them.  Justice Hanewall actually spent a half-hour with me on the phone - very well appreciated. 

Trustee Anderson addressed the concerns about credit and finances of Sunrise at the Board Meeting - and I'm not sure her concerns, prophetic as they were, were adequately addressed by the others.

The verdict is still out:  Trustee's Margaret Hickey and Michael Maher, President Guy Johnson, Village Manager Cris Swartz

Trustee Hickey was the only other person to respond to my e-mail, which I appreciated, but I was disturbed by an incident that happened at the final Board Meeting.  After the public input session while the Board went into closed discussions, one "public" individual, who appeared to be a developer  very close to Village government, was allowed to speak.  When the apartment manager later tried to do speak, Trustee Hickey shot back in an angry tone "Public input is over!".   (But apparently only for some)

Trustee Maher and President Johnson were silent observers.  Neither replied to my concerns.  I reminded all the Board members, and this is also addressed to the new Trustee, Sean Cummings, It is infinitely better to get a reply that I don't like then no reply at all.

Village Manager Swartz was respectful throughout the process.  The only thing I didn't like was his periodic comment to the effect that "either you're getting Sunrise or you're getting a huge condo".


Most frustrating: Pete Petrie, Chair CDA, Trustee Ellen Eckman, Trustee Michael Phinney, Laura Hester, Sunrise Senior Living

Pete Petrie was by far the most frustrating figure to work with.  He produced these terrible ad-hoc "studies" that showed that 100% of the communities that Sunrise were located in benefited.  Of all the people he appeared most driven to plow this thing through - and I don't know what he had to gain.  His constant threat: if we don't get Sunrise in this property, it could be five years before another proposal came through.  Not the kind of forward-thinking and patience I want from a government official over a project that will be around for many years to come.

Trustee Eckman also did not reply to my e-mails, and after I called her and the others out at the meeting, I got a list of excuses but not an apology.  Please, just be honest and straightforward.  She was also frustrating at the CDA meetings.  Her response to our concerns: "The public brought up the same concerns over a development by Downer Woods and everybody ended up loving it".  Not sure what to make of that, are you saying the public shouldn't bring up concerns and just trust the board?  (By the way, I checked with many of you residents over that development and there are a lot of people that are still very bitter about the process and the development - I don't think we can count them among the everybody who loved it)

Of course Laura Hester, the representative at Sunrise was just plain awful.  In fact, her associate came to me after a meeting saying Sunrise is working out a compensation plan for the residents of the apartment - clearly an attempt to appease and quiet us as nothing was ever in the works.  When things didn't go her way at meetings, her ire would come out, threatening to pull out, and being appeased by certain members of government.


So there you have it.  I have sinced move from Shorewood, but I hope that something good can finally come from this mess.  I hope that all of the Village Board Members take my criticism in a constructive way and that in the future you do your best as elected officials to respect and acknowledge the people you represent.  If you feel I have been unfair or misrepresented the situation I will gladly discuss things further.

For those of you who supported me and the other tenants of the apartments - THANK YOU!  Thank you for coming out to the meetings, for writing letters, for helping to spread the word.  It meant a lot to us.

Sincerely,

Tim Vargo

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