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Scholars' Row
Once a collegiate free-for-all, the neighborhoods around UWM are growing up.
Nate and Tea Norfolk with their son. The three live within UWM's orbit. (photo by Adam Ryan Morris)

High school sweethearts Tommy Pecoraro and Leslie Stachowiak, both in their early 30s, bought their first home in July of 2013, a four-bedroom, two-bath Victorian dating to 1901.

“We both adored the unique hardwood floors,” Stachowiak says, as well as the house’s wood-burning fireplace and crown molding. “It just felt like a happy house.”

There was one catch: The stately home, near Downer Avenue, was just a beer bottle’s throw from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In years past, streets surrounding the university had been a hotbed for house parties, with beer cans and liquor bottles littering neighbors’ lawns. And there was another drawback: College students rented the duplex across the street.

But Stachowiak and Pecoraro were a sign of another trend – that of an increasing number of young families buying into the neighborhoods surrounding UWM.

“Over the last decade, we lost a lot of owner-occupants,” says East Side Ald. Nik Kovac. These days, however, “We’re starting to make progress in the other direction,” he says, bringing the rate of homes owned by their occupants up to about 60 percent, which is actually greater than the average for all of Milwaukee County (about 52 percent, according to U.S. Census estimates).

Couples are settling into single-family homes between North Oakland Avenue and North Lake Drive, enticed by rambling historic properties and easy pedestrian access to commercial corridors such as Downer Avenue. “It’s not like frat house row,” says Suzanne Powers, broker-owner of Powers Realty Group, a firm that’s planted more than a few yard signs in the 53211 ZIP code. “As long as [the house] is in the heart of the area, the values are pretty stable.”

Serene, tree-lined streets are what Stachowiak and Pecoraro say they found, not rubbish. “Everybody who comes to see us comments, ‘Wow, it’s really quiet over here,’” says Pecoraro, a Milwaukee firefighter. “We walk the dog every day. We never see beer cans.” And as far as he knows, no neighbor has yet called the cops on the students across the street.

To ease tensions between UWM’s student body and homeowners, Kovac has hosted regular town hall-style meetings to nip troubling issues in the bud. “All it takes is a dozen anti-social, aggressive drunks” to sour a neighborhood, he says. “On any given night, I’d like to think that most of them are studying or [engaging in] moderately illegal activity, like underage drinking, that isn’t bothering anyone.”

Milwaukee police seem to have adopted a similarly laid-back approach. If students at an underaged party are polite, the alderman says, officers issue a warning and move on to another noise complaint pending in the area.

In further support of homeownership, at least two city ordinances favor area residents over carpetbaggers. First, the Residential Preference Program, in force on streets near UWM since its creation 10 years ago, reserves parking space for neighborhood residents, and another rule mandates special inspections for new rental properties.

“Some of these houses that are subdivided into two or three units, these are proper mansions,” Kovac says. “You don’t want to have them fall into disrepair.”

Not all families enjoy the unbroken calm reported by Stachowiak and Pecoraro. Another young couple, Nate and Tea Norfolk, moved into a 2,800-square-foot property on North Prospect Avenue that’s located between two student duplexes, and when noise became a problem, Tea, a lawyer, resorted to writing a “nasty letter” to the neighbor.

The simple solution worked, and the offending party “knocked it off,” she says.  ■

This article appears in the July 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. 
Read the rest of July issue online here, or subscribe to Milwaukee Magazine.

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