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Work begins on expansion at Institute for Torah Study

By Tom Held
of the Journal Sentinel staff

January 29, 1998

Workers have begun clearing trees for an addition to the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study, which apparently will meet the deadline on its city-issued building permit.

Neighbors, however, vowed to continue their legal fight to stop the expansion, even as the sounds of chain saws and earth movers reached their homes on N. Lake Drive.

"It is a horrible sight, what they are doing," said Lynde Martino, a member of the anti-expansion group, Citizens for North Point Historic Preservation.

"I can call it a lot of things," Martino said.

"They're basically raping the whole area."

School officials and area residents have been fighting for several years over the institute's efforts to build a 25,000-square- foot addition to the east of its existing historic buildings, 3288 N. Lake Drive.

The school won permission to begin construction of a dormitory and worship space in 1996 but struggled to obtain money for the project and failed to meet previous permit deadlines.

The latest permit extension was set to expire Jan. 31.

Building Inspector Lee Jensen said that someone from his office would check on the institute's progress before the end of the week, but that the clearing and digging described to him probably would meet the start-up requirements.

"It sounds like (an inspector) could go out today and find that they've started," Jensen said.

Todd Robert Murphy, a public relations executive hired by the school, said he was certain the building permit requirements have been met and the school's efforts to raise money for the project's completion have been successful.

A legal challenge to the project is pending, however, in the state Appeals Court.

Martino and other residents who filed a lawsuit to stop the project contend the city zoning code does not permit dormitories to be built in single-family residential areas.

Circuit Judge Michael Skwierawski ruled in favor of the city and the institute, prompting the residents to file their appeal.

Martino criticized the school for going ahead with the tree cutting even though the legal challenge may end the project.

"These trees are irreplaceable," Martino said.

Residents have argued that construction of the school's addition would leave the ravine and nearby lake bluff unstable.

The school provided information that refuted that argument and persuaded Jensen to issue the building permit.

Murphy said the project's opponents were a "small group of malcontents" who created a great deal of angst and animosity in the area.

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