CITY OF BROOKFIELD - It's deja vu for the Petawa Residence and Cultural Center and residents along Hillsdale Drive West. 

For the second time in less than a year, the city of Brookfield plan commission approved a proposal by the Corporation for Social and Educational Development that would bring the Petawa Residence and Cultural Center to the community.

Petawa first approached the city with the idea of moving to property at West North Avenue and Hillsdale Drive West in May 2016 and the proposal was eventually approved later that year; however, the proposal was delayed and later revamped.

“We withdrew our application for the purposes of redesigning the facility in a way that we think better accommodates the neighbors, as well as some of the goals of Petawa,” Petawa representative Bernard Kearney said. “What we’ve done now I think better helps the neighbors.”

Petawa is a Christian-based dormitory that houses approximately eight women who offer activities such as doctrine classes, theology lessons and guidance in spiritual direction. The residence is currently located in the city of Milwaukee. Petawa is inspired by Christian values and the spiritual and doctrinal formation is entrusted to Opus Dei, a personal Prelature of the Catholic Church. Despite that, Petawa officials say that the organization is fully open to non-Christians.  

Commissioners were unanimous in their approval of a conditional use permit and new plan and method of operation for the property following residents weighing in with their opinions Monday night, June 12. 

The city hosted a public hearing for the proposal prior to the vote and speakers were split in their views.

“I feel this is an unwanted first push of a domino effect creating more businesses on North Avenue at the loss of family homes. I do not want North Avenue turned into the likes of Bluemound or Capitol Drive,” resident Carol Yach said. “The decay of home neighborhoods leads to the decay of this city. Citizens have the right to determine the character of their neighborhood.”

Yach was joined by resident Mary Jo Lang in questioning the potential tax exempt status of the Petawa Residence and Cultural Center given the fact that it is based on religion. Lang also lamented the continuing development of larger, non-residential buildings along North Ave., but said that Petawa goes one step further.

“This has impacts, but it’s not generating any taxes," Lang said. "Milwaukee’s gaining because Milwaukee will now gain a taxable property.”

Brookfield Academy teacher Cindy Twetten was one resident who spoke strongly in favor of Petawa, noting her own past experience with the organization and her daughters’ involvement with its programs.

“I’m really excited to have this opportunity to welcome this really great not-for-profit organization to Brookfield,” Twetten said. “I’ve attended activities for the last 25 years. The aim of Petawa is to help ordinary people enrich their lives. They will be wonderful neighbors. We, in Brookfield, should be thrilled and be grateful that we have the opportunity to have Petawa in our presence.”

Petawa Board of Directors President and Brookfield resident Linda Pryor was also in attendance Monday and spoke of how the organization hopes to bring to Brookfield the same type of atmosphere and community presence that it has maintained in Milwaukee for approximately 60 years.

“Our presence will be an asset to the area. It really, truly will be a position addition to the city,” Pryor said. “As we move into our next 60 years, we would be proud and thrilled to call Brookfield home.”

Following the public hearing city staff said the size of the revamped proposal for Petawa had been listed incorrectly in past public documents and that the new proposal would measure 17,896 square feet, not the 19,575 that was listed in several previous agendas and meeting notices.

Alderman Gary Mahkorn, who serves the city’s 5th aldermanic district where Petawa plans to locate, spoke highly of the long process the organization went through to bring an improved proposal to the table.

“This has been a long journey. Alderman (Scott) Berg and I met with a lot of the neighbors last summer and there were some very legitimate concerns,” Mahkorn said. “The applicants wanted to desperately to work with the city staff, to work with the neighborhood to make it as palatable as possible, as acceptable as possible, to raise the comfort of the neighborhood. I watched the evolution and the process and I’m very proud of that.”

The plan commission voted 5-0 to approve Petawa’s requests. The proposal will next go before the city’s common council — a step that never took place during last year’s process — for final approval June 20.

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