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Southridge owner may ban county buses because of noise, other concerns

Jan. 12, 2012

Milwaukee County buses may be banned from Southridge Mall in Greendale starting next month, because of noise and other concerns raised by the Indianapolis-based owner of the mall.

Simon Property Group has told the county and Milwaukee County Transit System that the four bus routes that now serve the mall won't be able to use mall parking lots for picking up and dropping off mall-bound passengers.

That will mean a long hike to the mall entrances from buses that drop off passengers at stops along S. 76th St. and other surrounding thoroughfares. The four regular bus routes that serve the mall provide about 1,200 rides a day.

The only specific problem raised by the mall owner was bus noise complaints from mall neighbors, according to a county memo. County officials said they had no documents spelling out other concerns, but expressed skepticism that noise was the only issue.

Supervisor Michael Mayo Sr., the chairman of the County Board's Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee, said he found the complaint about bus noise odd.

"It's amazing if that's the case," Mayo said. "We didn't have any noise concerns in the past."

He wants to learn more from the company, as well as community members, about the threatened halt to bus service to the mall entrances at a hearing before the board committee Wednesday.

Mayo said if the mall owner holds firm on a bus service ban to Southridge entrances, that would likely violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Donald Natzke, the director of the county's Office for Persons with Disabilities, said in a letter to the mall's manager that the action would create problems for blind or visually impaired bus riders or others with physical limitations if they're forced to make the trek from the edge of the mall property.

Those bus riders would "face a significant risk to their health" by having to negotiate parking lots on foot or in wheelchairs, Natzke wrote.

The mall is obligated to assure "reasonable access" to people with disabilities, Natzke said.

Lloyd Grant, managing director of the transit company, and Jacqueline Janz, a transit firm spokeswoman, declined to comment Thursday.

Simon Property Group also made a pitch for a payment to the mall firm to continue to allow buses to use the mall's outer ring road, according to the county memo. No figure was listed.

The mall company also wants the county to sign a legal agreement absolving the mall owner from any legal liability linked to bus service, the memo said without providing any elaboration.

Les Morris, a spokesman for Simon Property Group, would say only that the firm hoped to resolve issues on the bus service with the county.

The company is the largest commercial U.S. shopping mall owner, according to Bloomberg News.

Southridge was built in 1970. With 1.2 million square feet, it is Wisconsin's largest mall.

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