West Allis tries to clean up its image

Effort could involve neighborhood groups and code enforcement

Sept. 24, 2013

West Allis — In an effort to polish its image, West Allis would like to help its residents band together to promote community pride.

For its part, the city will crack down harder on property owners who don't keep up their properties.

City officials have decided to use some Community Development Block Grant money to encourage creation of more neighborhood associations, which would promote neighborhood pride and perhaps result in home and business owners taking better care of their property.

Neighborly approach

"I think some people stop caring if they don't feel part of a neighborhood," said Mayor Dan Devine.

To build a neighborhood sense, associations could promote Halloween events or Christmas round-robins at different homes, Devine said.

With neighbors getting to know each other, they might discover that the rundown house on the corner is owned by an elderly lady who doesn't have the ability to fix up her place, he said. Neighbors might band together to give her a hand.

"That's kind of what I envision," the mayor said.

Stronger enforcement?

While the city pursues more neighborhood associations, two aldermen pushed for more forceful action when the city has to step in on building code violations.

"Neighborhoods are falling apart," Alderman Michael May said.

May said the city's practice of giving property owners multiple extensions to do required maintenance makes the city seem soft on building codes. Instead, he suggested the city should set a firm deadline, then take the owner to municipal court if the deadline goes unheeded.

Alderwoman Cathleen Probst agreed that the city sometimes gives people too much time.

"Why should I suffer because others are not doing what they should do?" she said, though allowing that the city has to be sensitive to people who are in special circumstances.

Ted Atkinson, director of the building inspection department, said the city has a reason for giving repeated extensions. They enable his department to check back periodically with the owner to see that progress is being made, he explained, adding that the department works with owners all during the process.

The Safety and Development Committee was divided on whether more needs to be done. But in response to the concerns, Atkinson said he would tell his staff to turn up the heat on property owners who have to make repairs.

Varied public reactions

Probst noted the 36 residents from every aldermanic district serving on the city's Strategic Planning Committee seemed united in their aesthetic concerns, Probst said

"We look run-down," Probst said, and that hurts efforts to attract business to the community. "We have to improve our image. We have to look different."

To illustrate the difficulty, May said a building at 71st Street and National Avenue has looked bad for years. It's an eyesore on a street where the city is trying to bring in new development, he said.

But some Safety and Development Committee members thought the city is doing fine.

Alderman Vince Vitale doesn't believe the city is heading downhill. "We're strict already (on code enforcement)," he said.

Alderwoman Rosalie Reinke said inspection department is doing the best it can.

"I can't see that we're that negligent," she said.

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