Welcome to the Village of Brown Deer Grapevine

The Village of Brown Deer Grapevine was created to address trending topics and correct misinformation spread throughout the Village via social media and by word of mouth. We appreciate our residents who seek to understand and learn.  We believe that great discussions of Village issues must be based on the facts and not assumptions, innuendo or false narratives.  If you hear something through the grapevine in our community that you believe should be corrected or would like verification of facts, please contact the Village of Brown Deer at or go to the Brown Deer website and click on “Report and Issue”.  Under the Manager’s Office section select “Village Issues / Questions for Village Manager”.

Below you will find common questions and answers.


Zoning laws regulate how land is used and how buildings are constructed.  Zoning is a powerful tool but limited.  Zoning can’t do everything, and it’s misused far too often.

Many community members think zoning legislation can be used to coax developers in a different direction and to address community complaints about lack of development.

Unfortunately, zoning codes are not a vehicle for forcing desired changes in a community.  Here is a breakdown of what zoning can actually do well and what it can’t do.

What zoning can do:


  • Zoning can regulate how land is used – zoning is most often used to separate different types of uses (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial) to limit the negative impacts of one use on the surrounding properties.
  • Zoning can regulate the general form of buildings – Zoning can effectively regulate a building size in relation to the lot it is located on, often referred to as the building massing.
  • Zoning can regulate the intensity of a use – Intensity refers to how much of a use is allowed in the zone.  Intensity is generally controlled by the building density, floor area ratio, or the number of residential dwelling units in an acre.
  • Zoning can guide the environment surrounding a building – These regulations contribute to creating an environment that is visually compelling to someone.  This can be lot widths, windows on building front, distance between building, or recessed entrances for example.


What zoning can’t do:


  • Zoning cannot force a certain type of business to show up – The local market and the demographics determine what kind of business opens up in the community.  If there are not enough customers to support something it does not matter the zoning.
  • Zoning cannot force an existing business to leave – If a business was lawfully operating, zoning cannot force it to leave.  The best approach for encouraging a business to leave is for that community to stop supporting it.  If a business cannot stay profitable in one location, it will find a new one where it can be profitable.
  • Zoning cannot stop businesses co-locating in the same area – zoning cannot stop multiple versions of the same type of business from setting up shop near each other.  A common criticism of development is that one neighborhood has too many of one type of store.  Zoning simply gives permission regarding what types of uses can be built in a certain area, it does not state how many of that use can be built.
  • Zoning cannot limit how many people are in one area – zoning cannot control people because people are not tied to the land.  Families grow and shrink, and people move in and out of communities.  People and population are too fluid for local governments to regulate through zoning.


Why did the Village Decide to Build a New Public Works Facility?


How does Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) work?

The best way to explain this complex issue is with an example.  Let’s suppose we create a Tax Incremental District (TID) of one property.  This one property is currently assessed at $100,000.  A developer proposes to develop this one property and build a new store.  After they complete the project the new value on the property adds an additional $900,000 to the assessed value.  This makes the assessed value on the newly developed property now worth $1,000,000.  Who gets the taxes from the newly developed property?  All the taxing entities (village, school, county, state, MMSD, etc.) would continue to receive taxes as if the property were assessed at $100,000.  This is called the “tax base”.  The new taxes that created an additional $900,000 in assessed value would stay within the TID.  This is called the “increment”.  What does the municipality do with this new “increment” tax? The municipality can use the money to make additional improvements within the TID or it can help the developer. If the developer requests funding to help them complete the project, then state law allows a municipality to help developers using this new “increment” tax.  The developer must sufficiently prove they would not be able to complete the project without TIF help because of higher than normal project costs.  The state calls this the “but-for test”.  This new development would not occur ‘but-for’ the use of TIF.  The municipality then uses the new “increment” tax to help the developer over the course of the life of the TID.  The maximum statutory life of a TID is 27 years.  The “tax base” taxes would continue to go to all the taxing entities.


What is the Village doing to try and attract business to Brown Deer?

This is a very complex question.  It requires the public to answer the following question.  What level of risk are the citizens willing to take and how much should local government get involved in the private market?

Here are the ways the Village has tried to get involved in the private market.

Economic Development Efforts

Marketing Efforts

Market Analysis of Brown Deer


Why did McDonalds close?

The Village has nothing to do with the decisions made by private business to locate or shut down their restaurants.  Private owners and developers make location decisions based on demographics, service radius, other franchises/competitors, and of course profits.  In fact, if a property is zoned commercial for a business the business doesn’t need approval to locate within the Village limits.  McDonald’s made a business decision based on economics to shut down this location.


What is going on with the Brown Deer Library?

This is a complicated issue.  The library is facing two essential problems.  The first is an aging facility in need of repairs along with outdated or nonexistent equipment.  The second is expenditures are exceeding the revenues.  The first issue can be addressed by borrowing more money to fix the building, upgrade the equipment, and add new equipment.   However, does the public want to invest an estimated $1 to $1.2 million dollars for these things or build a more efficient modern library for $2 to $3 million dollars?  The second issue is more complicated.  The Village can’t simply raise taxes and give more money to the library.  The state since 2011 has frozen municipal tax increases other than for capital expenses.  The Village can’t simply give the library more money.  The problems are complicated but they do not need to be solved immediately.  There is time to get input from the public.  Here is an article written by Mary Buckley and a PowerPoint presentation covering some of the discussion.


What is being built north of the Fox 6 building?

They are building a BP gas station and convenience store with additional first floor leasable commercial space.  The second floor will have offices for the owner of the gas station.  It will also have a car wash.


Why did the Village allow Walmart to locate in the Village?

The Village did not solicit Walmart to relocate into Brown Deer.  Walmart purchased the property from Lowe’s.  This was a private land transaction.  The Village can NOT regulate who purchases private land.  The land was zoned for commercial use (as it was for Lowe’s and other previous businesses) therefore there was no legal reason to deny Walmart the same use.  The Village can regulate building design, parking ratios, storm water management, and other codes which it did when Walmart sought to remodel the building/site.  As a part of the regulatory process Walmart agreed to repay a $1.7 million-dollar debt to the Village on behalf of Lowe’s, and guaranteed a minimum assessed value of $11 million in perpetuity for the site and improvements.


What is happening at 51st and Brown Deer at the abandoned gas station?

In July of 2017 a developer was asked to work in partnership with the Village to purchase the long vacant former gas station.  The Village drafted an agreement that provided financial incentive in exchange for input into what kind of development would occur on the site. The Village took $340,000 from the sale of a cell tower and then an additional $160,000 from hotel room tax to help the developer purchase the property. As part of the agreement, the Village mandated that a coffee user be established at that location. This requirement stemmed from a community wide survey and subsequent data analysis by Colliers International.  Colliers identified a coffee shop as the Village’s most glaring retail need and the retail use most requested in the survey. The developer is continuing to work with regional and national coffee companies to locate to this site.  If the developer does not secure a national chain it either needs Village approval for a similar alternate development or they would need to return the $500,000.


What is the difference between a Town Hall Meeting and a Village Board Meeting?

The purpose of Town Hall meetings is for elected officials to hear the community’s views on public issues.  There are no specific rules or guidelines for holding a Town Hall meeting. The format of the meeting can vary.  Usually, the elected officials, along with Village staff, will make opening remarks and presentations. Following the presentation and remarks, the floor is opened up to questions and comments from the audience.  Attendees generally present ideas, voice their opinions, ask questions of the elected officials and Village Staff.


In contrast, the purpose of a Village Board meeting is to conduct business of the Village.  It is a formal process with specific agenda items that must be followed and where motions are made and voted on.  There are limited opportunities for the public to make comments during a Village Board meeting.  It is not an open format like Town Hall meetings.