Harbor District RiverWalk
The Harbor District Riverwalk Site Plan Review Overlay Zone (SPROZ) is primarily located along the west side of the Kinnickinnic River from the confluence of the Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic Rivers south to Lincoln Avenue, though it also extends along the eastern side of the river south from the Grand Trunk Wetland south to Lincoln Avenue. Within this Harbor District SPROZ, the Plan Commission must approve all projects located 50 feet landward of riverward property lines and property owners must construct a Riverwalk segment that complies with the design standards at the time of new construction or substantial improvement of a principal structure on the property. The Harbor District Riverwalk will extend the Milwaukee Riverwalk and invite the community to the water by establishing a public access network along the western shore of the Harbor District and along the banks of the Kinnickinnic River.
The Harbor District Riverwalk Design Standards, approved by Common Council in May of 2020, are unique to the Harbor District and provide both the overall aesthetic vision and the specific design requirements for this southern-most section of the city's Riverwalk system. The City of Milwaukee once again collarborated with Harbor District, Inc in the creation of these standards, just as they did for 2018's Harbor District Water and Land Use Plan.
The design standards aim to reflect the Harbor District’s “Gritty, Green, Real” identity as well as be responsive to the unique context of the area, which includes many working waterfront users who require waterfront access for their operations. While it once made sense to limit waterfront access to ships and factories to facilitate the growth of commerce in Milwaukee, the landscape of the economy and the city have changed dramatically. The Harbor District presents the opportunity to expand the Milwaukee Riverwalk system to develop a new type of working waterfront that helps to reestablish natural ecosystems, invites the public to explore and enjoy the water, and maintains the ability to utilize the waterways for commerce in the 21st century. The City of Milwaukee and Harbor District, Inc. aim to provide an active pedestrian realm within the Harbor District SPROZ while also accommodating the existing, and likely future, working waterfront that consists of many river-dependent uses.
The standards include a proposed Riverwalk network routing that is designed to connect with existing and planned bicycle routes, and also acknowledges that the Riverwalk will be developed in phases as new development occurs. For marine-based businesses or users that require active use of the waterfront, the standards call for Riverwalk segments to be designed to allow business operations along the waterfront in a manner that minimizes interference with public access to the Riverwalk and business operations. If business operations require temporary closures of the Riverwalk, they may include a proposal for circumstances requiring closure in their application to City Plan Commission and in areas where the development of a Riverwalk would create an undue hardship based on the safety, security, and operational needs of marine-based businesses. Riverwalk routing off of the waterfront and around a property or operational area may be considered for approval.
The standards provide multiple potential typologies that sites within the SPROZ may follow when developing their Riverwalk segments. The standards call for a Riverwalk Zone with a minimum dimension of 15’ or 25’, depending on whether the Riverwalk is adjacent to an active first-floor use, or a passive one requiring additional screening. Within the Riverwalk Zone, the standards provide required path widths and materials, and detail what elements can and cannot be placed within the Riverwalk Zone.
The standards include product specifications for lighting, benches, signage, and other site furnishings that were designed to provide a unique identity for the Harbor District Riverwalk and to reflect the aesthetic of the area. The standards require signage to be placed at primary access points to the Riverwalk and make recommendations for signage in a number of additional areas.
To advance the environmental and ecological goals of the Harbor District, the standards include landscaping and habitat elements that differ from the existing downtown Riverwalk. Within the Harbor District Riverwalk, at least 10% of the required square footage of the Riverwalk Zone must be landscaped area, plantings are required to be native species with no turf grass allowed, and one tree is required for every 40 feet of river frontage. Riverwalk segments are also required to include at least one upland animal habitat element, such as butterfly gardens, bat boxes, or birdhouses. Aquatic habitat elements are also encouraged, and property owners may elect to provide an aquatic habitat improvement in lieu of a land-based element.