History of Murray Hill Neighborhood Association

History of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association

By Cynthia Sommer

A healthy neighborhood can exist for many years with a diverse population due to mutual goals and respect for each resident.  The need for neighbors to formally organize into a neighborhood association is usually driven by a need – for the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association it was town and gown issues that impacted on the quality of life.  Noticeable changes occurred in the neighborhood when enrollment increased significantly from the 1980s to 2000s and UW-Milwaukee changed from primarily a commuter campus to a destination campus.  These University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) decisions occurred with little input and notification to the surrounding neighbors.

The driving force for neighbors to organize was triggered in 1997 by problems resulting from an outflow of a large number of students into the neighborhood and the problems and property damage that ensued following an event at the Student Union.  The UWM administration did not seem to recognize that the university is part of the neighborhood.  The frustration of neighbors not being heard led finally to a press conference on the steps of the UWM Student Union.  A subsequent meeting with the University administration resulted in over 100 neighbors attending and raising their concerns.  It became evident from the dialog that neighborhood associations needed to be formed to have a stronger voice.  The call went out to neighbors, groups of neighbors met, the name Murray Hill was suggested, by-laws were developed and approved, such that the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association became a reality in 2000.

Following several neighborhood meetings, initiatives were proposed to address some of the neighborhood concerns. Alderman D’Amato with the East Side Transportation Management Association (ETMA) and neighbors obtained City legislation in Oct 2000 to obtain grant money to study transportation issues on the eastside. Availability of donated bikes was offered free to students and alternative means of transportation were encouraged.  In addition, the Residential Preferred Parking (RPP) program was proposed to allow residents to have designated parking on streets (based on a previous Supreme Court decision precedent) and to encourage students to use alternative types of transportation, including parking at satellite lots, using transit (UPass) or bike programs. It took legislation (Senate Bill 462) at the state and similar proposals at the city level, multiple committee hearings presentations by neighbors, opposition by the Board of Regents, and several years of effort by many before the RPP was implemented in Sept. 2007. As the University made available 721 parking spaces in the Klotche Pavilion for commuter students, an equivalent number of parking spaces were made available for residents in the area surrounding UWM for homeowners with the required permits.

Another parking related issue that was not as successful was the Uniform Parking Program whereby ETMA with the strong participation of Murray Hill tried to clean up decades of spot parking regulations in the upper eastside resulting in over 30 different parking zones.  Many of these were individual requests for restricted parking on the applicant’s own block to solve a need they identified.  There was evidence in one block having 20 or 30 minute parking limit and the next block having the same housing type, density, and distance from UWM having a 2 hour limit.  After several years of study and much work with the surrounding neighbors and their associations, the plan was ready for presentation to the Common Council for consideration.  Unfortunately at the last minute one of ETMA’s representatives spearheaded a neighbor protest against the plan and it was shelved leaving the current potpourri of parking regulations spread out across the neighborhoods.

In addition, an effort to facilitate a collaborative dialog on the town and gown issues was pursued through a year long study managed by the City of Milwaukee Department of City Development through funds provided by UWM and included key stakeholders from the neighborhood associations, the City, the County and UWM.  A document entitled “A Partnership for Change” was published in June 2003 (see Section 1: Action Plan and Section 2: Supporting Documentation) that listed action strategies for the general concerns agreed upon by the participants; the four areas and their recommendations covered parking, transit & accessibility, housing and quality of life. To implement these recommendations and continue a dialog, the University Neighborhood Association (UNA) was formed with representatives from UWM (Administration, and students) The City of Milwaukee (MPD, DNS) Columbia-St. Mary’s and the leaders of the various neighborhood associations (Murray Hill, Cambridge Woods, Mariners and Water Tower Landmark Trust). A number of initiatives were undertaken including homeowner surveys by neighbors for code violations, DNS implementation of a nationally unique Landlord Sting operation to catch illegal renting by too many students, the City hiring of a neighborhood liaison, UWM funding overtime MPD officers in the spring and fall, Landlord meetings, discussion on walk-to-work programs, exploration of off-campus housing development, RPP, Bike program, UPARK satellite facilities and UPASS.  To insure accountability, the Neighborhood Association Representatives gave quarterly reports to the City.

Many of these positive efforts were countered by the continued increase in enrollment at UWM, passing the tipping point of density for the area.  The neighborhood association’s call for a cap in enrollment was not heard by the Board of Regents and UWM and an increasing number of freshmen were living off-campus because of insufficient on-campus housing.  Wisconsin’s number 1 ranking for binge drinking and an evident shift in the attitude of students that they deserved a “university experience” of partying and drinking further affected the quality of life in the neighborhood.  Other initiatives were pursued.

The inability of the University to sanction students living off campus resulted in a significant effort from 2007-2009 to broaden the code of student nonacademic disciplinary procedures (Chapter 17/18) for serious and repeated behavior by students living off-campus.  Significant time and energy was involved to implement these changes through research on programs at other universities, special meetings of the neighbors, meetings of MHNA Board members with the Regents, presentations by MHNA board members to neighborhood associations and police departments at other Wisconsin cities with campuses, meetings with legislators and the UWM Chancellor, letter writing campaign to the Regents, two hearings by the Wisconsin Board of Reagents at UWM with hundreds of neighbors attending and many testifying. The legislation was passed in 2009 with a change in wording that significantly weakened the bill.  A directive was issued by the Board of Regents that Chapter 17/18 legislation be adopted and implemented by each individual campus. To date, UWM has not published guidelines for implementing their code of nonacademic disciplinary procedures for off-campus behavior.

Through all of these efforts MHNA has tried to maintain a “sense of neighborhood” through activities such as block cleanups, new neighbor packets, plant exchanges, egg hunts and by keeping neighbors informed through three newsletters per year that are hand delivered to all residents as well as by provide monthly public meetings with speakers on important issues.   MHNA has further enhanced recognition by residents and visitors that they are in a neighborhood through obtaining a matching City of Milwaukee Community Improvement Grant in 2010 to pay for street signs designating the Murray Hill neighborhood.  In addition, the City Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) implemented in 2010 a pilot Residential Rental Inspection Program to evaluate and monitor the quality and safety of rental housing in the area in which many off-campus students live.  UWM has also built two dorms (Riverview in Jan, 2008 and Cambridge Commons in the Sept, 2010) outside the neighborhood and have recently required freshman to live on campus.

Since spring 2011, MHNA has focused its efforts to further address the still evident noise nuisances and other negative behaviors by developing a Report It/Record It program that works directly and more efficiently with the supportive Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) District 1 police. The MPD is also coordinating with the City DNS to identify residents/landlords with repeated citations.  The statistics on noise nuisance citations are being recorded and tabulated by MPD and MHNA to show patterns of incidences and to evaluate effectiveness of programs. MHNA has continued to focus on quality of life issues in its neighborhood but realized that at times a collaborative effort with other Neighborhood Associations would be an effective approach to addressing mutual concerns. MHNA joined with the surrounding neighborhood associations to form the Milwaukee Eastside Neighborhood Associations (MENA).  As a result, a collaborative agreement was developed with an incoming business (7-Eleven) and MENA regarding alcohol awareness and crime prevention.  Another ongoing collaboration agreement with UWM and MENA is in progress with a focus on the steps needed to maintain the quality of life in the neighborhood.

Commitment must be made by all stakeholders in the area – the neighbors, the students, the University, the City, landlords and hospitality owners – if a good quality of life is to be maintained in the Murray Hill neighborhood.  MHNA is committed to this effort.