Greendale — Commercial development, historic preservation and school security were three of several issues presented during a Greendale village trustee candidate forum Tuesday.
Seven candidates are running in the Feb. 18 primary election for two seats on the Village Board.
All candidates were invited to a forum hosted by the Greendale Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County at the Greendale Safety Center on Tuesday.
Candidate Jason Cyborowski was absent.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be there," Cyborowski said in a phone interview after the event. "I definitely wanted to go, but I actually had prior family engagements — and my family had to come first."
The first discussion item related to a proposed apartment complex that would be located in the downtown area on Parking Street.
"I've been very, very stringent on there being no kind of (housing) development in our historic downtown," incumbent James Birmingham said. "What we have left, historically, is really in that parking lot, and I do not think Greendale needs housing units of any type in the downtown, historic village. ... I will chain myself to historical buildings before they go."
"I, too, can't support apartments in that location," candidate Noelle Joers-Yanisch said. "I have a child in (Greendale) Middle School and I can imagine middle-schoolers coming out in the afternoon, running across the apartment's front lawn and it would not be a fun experience. I can't support that location, (but maybe) in other locations within the village or close by."
While all six candidates present at the forum opposed an apartment complex, some expressed an interest in other possibilities.
"I'm definitely opposed ... to residential units in the village, (but) I want to see some opportunities for what can be placed in the parking lot," incumbent Gregory Turay said. "Whether it be an entertainment facility, commercial properties or such ... (they should be projects) that provide adequate tax base to support things going on around the village."
Candidate Bill Kewan, a retired school principal, strictly opposed the apartments and other commercial property in the parking lot.
"We need the parking lot in order to keep the customers coming to the stores in Greendale," Kewan said. "That lot is not underutilized; it's full. No apartments, no commercial development ... we need that parking lot."
Fire and Police building
The forum then led into discussion about the historic Old Fire Station and Police Department Building, which has sat vacant for years but continues to be maintained by the village. Candidates were asked if they had plans to find a way to use the building, in one degree or another.
The village reported the building costs the village between $8,000 and $10,000 to maintain annually, but "I don't have a problem spending limited amounts of money to keep it there until we have some grand idea (for it)," Turay said. "It's not an eyesore of any sort, and I wouldn't want to tear the building down just for the sake of getting rid (of it)."
Several candidates argued that the purpose of the old building should be the decision of residents.
"Something needs to be done with it," candidate Donna Ouellette said. "I really feel that just seven trustees and the (village) president cannot make the decision. I think it should be brought to referendum, and I think it should be the people's choice. I don't think we're qualified to make this decision by ourselves."
The hose tower
Candidates also discussed the fate of the vacant Historic Hose Tower in the downtown area and whether it's worth the investment to maintain.
"We have to decide how long we'll keep that building in the state that it is in now and how much money we are willing to spend," candidate Ted Gurzynski said. "We need to make that building do something for us. It needs to generate some kind of revenue.
"I don't think there has to be a trade-off between historic preservation and income (production). I think we can have both ... otherwise, it's just a sink hole."
Kewan, vice president of the Greendale Historical Society, reminded the audience that, in addition to city funds, "the historical society has raised approximately $300,000 to move that building along. That hose tower is a community gathering center; we need something like that in our village."
"The hose tower is going to be fabulous for all of us to gather, and I would not object to giving (the historical society) a block grant at all," she said. "I do think we need to help the historical society with the hose tower and finish that project and think of different ways to raise the money; I don't think it has to be all taxpayer money."
Polls in schools
One of the final questions posed to the candidates addressed an issue that was only recently addressed at a Greendale School Board meeting in December: Can polling stations be moved out of the school buildings?
"I think it is absolutely time some of this is looked at," Birmingham said. "This is an issue that has just come up, and I absolutely support this being reviewed and looked at. ... We need to do it for the safety of our kids."
Candidates agreed that alternative locations — or new policies — should be implemented as soon as possible.
"The safety for our children is very important — and I feel very strongly about that — however, I don't want to disenfranchise voters and make polling locations more difficult to get at and vote, either," Joers-Yanisch said. "I'm confident the Village Board and the School Board will find a way to make it work."
"Let's not wait until there is a problem," Gurzynski said. "I would support voting somewhere else. As for the disenfranchisement of voting? We can handle that. The kids need to come first."