P. O. Box 324 Milwaukee, wi 53201-0324

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Placement of buildings and building elements shall define the public realm, e.g., street edges, corners, walkways, open space, etc. Within the commercial district, buildings shall create a “street wall” of continuous facades, broken or modified only for the purpose of creating public open spaces.


  1. In general, all commercial buildings shall be built to front property lines to achieve a densely built-up urban setting. Exceptions shall be made for small patios, outdoor cafes, courtyards, entry areas, and other pedestrian-oriented uses.

  2. Build infill or replacement buildings to fill gaps (vacant or underutilized lots) along commercial corridors.

  3. As a method of intensifying use, locate stairs accessible directly from the street (or ramps where space permits) to stories above or below street level. (Handicapped access must be provided at a convenient distance from street traffic.)

  4. Buildings shall be located to minimize negative impacts on adjacent properties. For example, buildings requiring large setbacks should not be placed on commercial corridors where the setback interrupts a series of continuous storefronts.

    1. Commercial Building Design Requirements--Massing


Cluster uses along N. 27th St to develop a successful "SoHi" Main Street. The density and type of development will be organized by local businesses and coordinated with the Main Streets Milwaukee program.

Promote development on Wisconsin Ave. and State St. commercial and mixed-use corridors that intersect the Main Street. This will increase economic opportunities in the larger area more than any individual cluster of businesses could on its own.


  1. Mass new infill with existing buildings to build up and intensify uses and street activity within the commercial district.
  2. Use building elements (windows, canopies, columns, recessed entries) to create a pedestrian oriented street frontage.

  3. Where possible, emphasize street corners with elements that “turn the corner,” such as oriel windows and signage.

  4. Create dramatic elements on principal facades, such as balconies, bay windows, marquees, and canopied entryways.

  5. Where appropriate, create connections through buildings to secondary entries, open space, and off-street parking.

  6. Where appropriate, use massing to accentuate access to upper and lower stories, both visually and physically adding more levels of activity that are directly connected to the street.

  7. Employ rooftop gardens and patios as accessible space that can enhance the offerings of the district.

    1. Commercial Building Design Requirements--Facades


The series of “storefront” facades of commercial buildings that face the primary street shall present a continuous facade. Interruptions or gaps in these facades shall be minimized or avoided. The rear or alley side of commercial buildings may be more utilitarian.


  1. Building entrances shall be clearly visible from primary streets.

  2. Establish hierarchy between building elements, articulate the major parts of the façade—base, mid-section and top.

  3. Blank walls facing primary streets are not permitted. All facades visible from primary streets shall be modulated and articulated with bays, windows and openings.

  4. In no instance shall parking be placed between the street façade of the building and the street.

    1. Commercial Building Design Requirements--Materials


For commercial buildings, materials shall enrich and enliven street frontages that directly impact the pedestrian experience.


  1. All walls visible from public streets shall contain the most architecturally significant materials and fenestration. Significant building materials include wood, brick, stone, glass block, and architectural-finished metal cladding. They may also include stucco, tile, terra cotta, cast stone, and other materials used judiciously as part of overall design composition. Materials are subject to case-by-case review by the Redevelopment Authority.

  2. Use of exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) as exterior cladding is not permitted at street level or along pedestrian corridors.

  3. Windows shall be large (not divided into narrow, two or three-foot sections) transparent, and of storefront-type design on the pedestrian level.

  4. A minimum of 60% of the street level façade of commercial buildings (for example, retail, restaurant, tavern, theater) shall be transparent glass. Security measures such as steel grates shall be placed behind the glass and shall not be visible during business hours (hours that the establishment is open for business). Roll-up “garage door” panels that incorporate windows are acceptable for restaurants that have patio dining on the street. All storefront windows shall be clear and not tinted. Energy efficient windows are desirable as long as vision and transparency are not impaired.

    1. Commercial Site Design Requirements--Landscaping and Site Improvements


In commercial districts, a more active streetscape creates a more dynamic public realm. Urban landscaping provides identity, enhances and defines site and building elements, as well as provides relief and respite from the density of building and the intensity of uses in these districts. For example, hardscape design such as street furniture, sidewalk art, special paving patterns, planters, custom designed banners, landscape areas integrated with small plazas and pocket parks, enhance the identity of the district and the intensity of the pedestrian experience of it. Good design will often include the history, social and urban context of the district. Commercial streetscape elements such as planters and benches may be owned and/or cared for by their adjacent properties.


  1. All landscaping must meet the intent of Section 295-405 of the Zoning Code. The Authority on a case-by-case basis will consider exceptions that enhance the identity of the commercial district.

  2. Locate site elements to define street edges and corners. Locate site elements to extend the “street wall” of building facades where there are gaps in continuity.

  3. Encourage the use of landscape elements to establish a unique identity for the commercial district.

  4. Encourage “ownership” of specific streetscape elements by their adjacent owners.

  5. Use ornamental iron or architectural fencing and masonry piers or walls, in combination with clustered plant materials (trees, shrubs and ground cover) to improve the street edge of parking areas. Coordinate the materials of fences and walls with the architecture (design, color, material, style) of adjacent buildings.

  6. Enclose and screen dumpsters and recycling units.

  7. Screen loading docks and shipping/receiving areas from sidewalks and streets.

    1. Commercial Site and Building Design Requirements--Signage


Building signage shall fit the architecture of the building and the character of the district. Signage for commercial districts shall be pedestrian-oriented.


  1. Preferred wall-mounted signage is as follows: internally illuminated individual letters (no raceways visible); neon figures and script; figurative elements, symbols or icons that represent a business, a business owner, or a product sold on premise.
  2. Projecting signs must be artistically designed as figurative elements, or a composition of graphic elements, to reflect a use, product, name, or activity of the establishment that the sign advertises or promotes. Projecting signs shall be submitted to the Authority for review and approval prior to construction.

  3. Retractable canopies and awnings are desirable along street frontages, especially those that shelter storefront displays from sun and pedestrians from inclement weather. The slope of awnings must meet the city’s code, which calls for a slope of at least 30 degrees but no more than 45 degrees.

  4. Banners require review and approval by the Authority.

  5. Automatic changeable message signs require review and approval by the Authority.

  6. Billboards of any type require review and approval by the Authority.

  7. Rooftop signs of any type require review and approval by the Authority.

  8. Freestanding signs of any type require review and approval by the Authority.

    1. Commercial Building and Site Design Requirements--Lighting

Lighting must be carefully designed and located to create a safe and attractive district for shopping and nightlife. With the exception of the overheads required to light the roadway, lighting within the district shall be pedestrian-oriented and designed enhance neighborhood safety.

  1. Except for street and pedestrian lighting that will be specified as part of a district streetscape plan, lighting for individual building facades will vary with the uses and activities of each building. Building owners shall be encouraged to use lighting as another way to enhance the unique character of the “SoHi” commercial district.

  2. Lighting for alleys and parking areas shall be strategically placed to ensure security for pedestrians and parkers, but prevent glare onto adjoining properties.

  1. Site and Building Design Guidelines for Residential Development or Redevelopment (Infill)

1) Residential Site Design Requirements--Building placement

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