Why did the Village Board establish the Downtown Strategic Plan Steering Committee?

The Village Board established the Downtown Strategic Plan Steering Committee for the purposes of creating a Strategic Plan for the Downtown in accordance with the Village’s Comprehensive Plan. The Village Board and staff recognize that the Downtown area hosts many community activities, contains historic buildings – both legally defined and of cultural significance, and that the Downtown presents many development and redevelopment opportunities.

The Steering Committee includes the current Economic Development Committee members and four additional voting members composed of downtown business owners or residents having an interest in participating in the creation if a Downtown Strategic Plan.

From Page 113, “The Village should establish a Downtown Strategic Plan Committee, comprised by a cross-section of Village officials, the Chamber, central area business owners and property owners, and other interested citizens. The Committee, over a short period of several months, would identify strengths and weaknesses and set priorities. The suggestions for improvements could be the basis for setting the implementation actions. After completion of the strategic plan, it would be the responsibility of both the public and private sectors to work together toward implementation.”


Why is public participation so important to this process?

From Page 111 of the Comprehensive Plan: “Revitalization of the central area requires a cooperative working relationship between the public and private sectors. The Village can implement plans, policies and programs except without the cooperation of the private stakeholders that comprise a quality central area, any efforts by just one entity will be unsuccessful. As the saying goes, “It takes a Village to raise a child”, similarly, it takes many cooperating entities to build a Village with the central area as its nucleus. Close associations are needed to establish the downtown strategic plan, expedite its efforts and guarantee the objectives are accomplished.”


Why is our Downtown important? 

From pages 105/106 of the Comprehensive Plan: “The overall goal for a sustainable central area of the Village of Mukwonago should be to create a viable, multifaceted downtown, an essential area which provides opportunities for a wide range of activities nourishing community life. A downtown is much more than a cluster of buildings. A downtown represents the social fabric of a community, a place where one can always go and feel at home.”

Page 83 “A strong effort toward balancing the social, economic and physical needs of the central area today provides a sustainable downtown that will survive for generations to come.”


What else does the Comprehensive Plan say about the Downtown?

There are over 120 references to the Downtown in the Comprehensive Plan and the Comprehensive Plan Update. Below is a snapshot of those references.

Page 9 – To preserve and enhance the Village’s quality of life including its historical identity, its small town atmosphere, its community events, and its traditional downtown..

Page 10 – To support the long-term economic vitality and viability of the Village’s downtown.

To promote a sustainable downtown that balances the need for public investment and a revitalized atmosphere of economic development taking advantage of opportunities to attract new businesses to underutilized storefronts.

Page 40 – Seek out opportunities for higher density housing in and around the downtown; to provide a diversified housing stock in the Village to meet needs of the Village for lifestyle housing; to provide the match of denser housing near municipal services; and to support the retail needs and businesses of the community.

Page 41 – Expand upon previous inventories of the Downtown Area that identify historically significant structures to create a list of options for redevelopment in the context of retaining the historical nature of the downtown.

Consider residential redevelopment in the downtown area that will be compatible with the existing residential and business uses in site design, architectural elements, and parking. Consider underground parking if possible. 

Page 56 – Create an opportunity for residents and professionals to further discuss traffic and ways to ease traffic flow along State Trunk Highway 83 through downtown without expanding STH 83 to four lanes.

Page 83/84 – Continue to support the redevelopment of existing buildings that are vacant or underutilized in the downtown. Continue promoting the development of specialty retail businesses in the downtown as identified as the location and type of business desired in the downtown. Continue to support the preservation of any historical sites in the downtown area. Promote businesses that support and are supported by a walkable, “pedestrian-friendly” atmosphere throughout the downtown areas. Encourage the retention of existing businesses through aiding business owners with desirable improvements to the individual property, building, and the downtown as a whole.

Consider creating a strategic downtown plan to guide and promote the redevelopment and reuse of existing buildings in downtown. Undertake recommendations to improve pedestrian crossings across STH 83 in downtown.

Consider funding strategies to implement a downtown plan. Continue providing thorough site plan reviews that will allow economic development and result in well planned and designed storefronts. Develop and implement an official Downtown Master Plan.

Coordinate a streetscaping effort through the Downtown Master Plan including pedestrian lighting, landscaping, walkways, etc. that will invite residents and visitors to the downtown. Work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Waukesha County to improve the traffic flow through downtown. Consider applying for the Wisconsin Main Street Program to receive assistance with redeveloping downtown and making the downtown a historic focal point for visitors.

Page 111 – Provide uniform signage throughout the Village directing potential customers to the historic downtown. This program could also involve wayfinding signage for the entire Village, benefitting all public and private entities.


Why does downtown Mukwonago need an overlay district?

What is a downtown overlay district and what does it do to shape downtown Mukwonago’s future?

The purpose of an overlay district is to guide downtown improvements. But it often is confused with other tools used by municipalities. This is an attempt to shed more light on what the overlay district is and what it is not. 

The outcome we hope to achieve with what follows is to offer some context to the downtown development discussion, including preserving and protecting the quaint nature of our downtown.

The approved overlay district provides downtown residents and businesses a single point of reference to understand what’s acceptable in terms of how a property can be used or improved. It consistently offers guidance on where a building can be located on a property, and whether commercial, industrial or residential is allowed. It also lays out standards for downtown as it relates to overall flow and activity patterns for that given district.

Without the overlay district, current property owners are unable to efficiently and confidently improve their properties. Right now each improvement requires a property owner to go before the zoning board of appeals. Think of it as if every decision in our country was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court for a decision. Nothing would get done. The overlay district gives consistent, efficient guidance to all property owners in the downtown district. This protects property owners and the downtown.

There’s a difference, however, between usage (residential, commercial, retail) and design (materials, colors, architecture). For the village to create architecture preservation standards, a district first must be defined to understand and develop design guidance that makes sense for an area like downtown.

Taken another way, we would not want to apply architectural design standards that work in the quaint downtown area to another more modern area of the village. One standard would not fit in another. The overlay district is the first step in allowing the village to specify standards that work to preserve the quaint feel of downtown.  

The Grand Avenue House across from Walgreen’s is an example of why we need an overlay district. Currently that building is zoned commercial. That means the village is legally obligated to allow a commercial building on that property, provided the proposed building meets village commercial zoning codes. With an overlay district in place, we would have a defined area to develop design standards to ensure whatever emerges on the Grand Avenue House property fits within the downtown.

Admittedly, this seems overly cumbersome. But it is a process that allows us to move forward systematically. Let me be clear. The village welcomes the conversation on establishing architectural design standards to ensure the quaint nature of our downtown. The overlay district allows us to define the downtown area, which is the first step toward establishing design standards for downtown.