Officials debate whether to allow mixed-use development on 44-acre site earmarked for residential
The proper uses for a 44-acre parcel of bluff land owned by the City of Port Washington was debated last week as aldermen were asked to consider an amendment to the community’s 2035 master plan.
The amendment would allow a mixed-use development on the property, such as the one proposed by Ansay Development or a neighborhood plan that includes retail and residential uses.
But Ald. Dave Larson spoke against the amendment, saying it would allow commercial and retail uses he doesn’t want to see outside the downtown.
“I am generally not in favor of anything but residential on that property,” he said. “I’m very leery about redirecting any commercial uses outside our downtown. We’ve worked so hard to redevelop downtown, and I don’t want to take anything away from that.”
Approving any other use should only be done if the “right project” comes along, Larson said.
“Why would we want to change it (the uses) unless we know what it’s going to be?” he asked, noting the master plan could be amended if and when the right project comes along.
A mixed-use development typically means a combination of residential and commercial uses, but it could also mean a mix of residential uses, such as low, medium and high-density housing, Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, said.
The Plan Commission and Community Development Authority strongly recommended the city change the land use to allow mixed use developments, Tetzlaff added.
“That doesn’t mean we just rubber stamp it,” Larson said.
The Plan Commission is expected to further discuss the proposal to change the master plan when it meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15.
A public hearing on the issue will be held during the Common Council’s Tuesday, Sept. 20, meeting, and aldermen could vote on the matter that night.
Ald. Doug Biggs argued that the mixed-use development allows the city to consider many different types of projects, including those that are residential.
“This gives us flexibility,” he said. “This could end up being entirely residential.”
Ald. Mike Ehrlich said that expanding the potential uses on the site would open the doors for another developer to consider the site, noting that right now it is only intended for low-density residential uses.
“It could hamper other submissions,” Ald. Kevin Rudser said.
But Larson said developers know the system and realize the city can amend the permitted land use if it likes a project.
“It just adds a layer of complexity for a developer that can only make it more difficult,” Biggs said.
Ald. Bill Driscoll said, “I think it’s important we don’t do anything that could possibility limit any ideas. We’re not smart enough to know what grandiose ideas might come to us.”
But Larson said developers are smart enough to know the city would work with them if they like a proposal.
If the city decides against allowing a mixed use for the land, developers might take that to mean that the city only wants a residential use, Ald. Dan Becker said.
“Some developers might say they had a kick at the cat and kept it residential,” Becker said, adding a mixed-use development could draw more people to the community and result in a higher tax base.
Ehrlich suggested that if the city doesn’t change the land use now, it could include a clause in its request for proposals saying officials would consider amending the master plan for the right project.
Mayor Tom Mlada suggested the city talk to developers to see how they would interpret that kind of clause and whether they believe it would keep someone from proposing a project.
“That’s an incredible piece of property and we want to maximize the impact,” he said.The city acquired the undeveloped land from We Energies more than a decade ago as part of a deal in which the community agreed to support the utility’s conversion of its coal-fired plant to a natural gas-fueled facility.
Eyed through the years as a prime residential site, officials held onto the property as the real estate market ebbed and surged but decided last year to look into the potential of selling it.
In December, Ansay proposed buying the land and developing a corporate campus there, and the city negotiated exclusively with the firm until July.
Officials again received a proposal from the firm last month, but decided they would seek proposals from other developers as well.