West Allis - The city's 98th Street community is a textbook example of people not lying down and letting government do what it wants to do.
The neighborhood rose up and, with the help of the area's aldermen, successfully fought a plan to take 14 feet of their yards because of Zoo Interchange work affecting Interstate 894/Highway 45.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation had planned to put in a freeway sound barrier between Greenfield Avenue and the Zoo Interchange and then add a chain-link fence 14 feet closer to homes.
The DOT fully explained its plan at a Jan. 29 neighborhood meeting.
The only problem was that neighbors were told the meeting was about the barriers, not about taking a chunk of their yards. Word spread and soon calls for help were put in to aldermen Michael May and Gary Barczak.
"You've got to hand it to the residents," May said. "They came out strong."
They did not want to lose their land and they did not want their garages bulldozed.
May carried their concerns to DOT officials, who decided another meeting was a good idea.
By the time that meeting happened last week, "they were a little more lenient," May said.
There will be no fence. And the garages and most sheds within those 14 feet can stay, DOT officials said.
"We heard you," southeast freeways design director Roberto Gutierrez said. "We understand your concerns."
The plan the DOT unveiled is to buy those 14 feet and the garages or sheds on them. But the residents will still be able to use the land, technical services chief Claudia Peterson said. They just won't be able to build anything on it.
Structures will be allowed on a permit basis. If a building has to go, homeowners will have the money to pay for a new one. But the idea is for the project to have as little impact as possible on residents' properties.
"We want to let you use it as much as we possibly can," Peterson said.
"This is better," one woman said to Gutierrez after the meeting.
But such massive road projects still mean upset for some.
Jason Strankowski, for example, will lose a line of 10-year-old trees at the rear of his yard. He said he worries about his property value falling as those trees fall.
The next step is for authorities to choose whether the noise barrier will be right next to the freeway ramp or closer to homes. Residents attending the neighborhood meeting at St. Aloysius Church, Gonzaga Hall, 1235 S. 100th St., submitted comments on the issue. The DOT will forward those comments, along with other neighborhood input, to the West Allis Common Council, which will make the final decision.
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