Opponents of proposed sale of parcel had enough signatures but request won’t prevent city from negotiating with Blues Factory developer
A petition seeking a referendum to determine whether the City of Port Washington should sell a waterfront parking lot for development has enough valid signatures to force a vote, but the document is deficient in other ways, City Attorney Eric Eberhardt told the Common Council Tuesday.
The end result, Eberhardt said, is that the petition doesn’t meet the requirements for direct legislation and the city doesn’t need to hold a binding referendum on the matter.
“The number of signatures would have been sufficient but the forms were insufficient,” he said.
The sale of the city-owned parking lot near the north-slip marina has been controversial, with opponents arguing that public lakefront land should not be sold and proponents saying that the sale of a small parcel for a development that could benefit the entire city is appropriate, given that there are several miles of public lakefront property in Port.
The city has authorized negotiating the sale of the lot to Madison-based developer Christopher Long, who plans to create a Paramount blues-themed entertainment complex there.
Pat Wilborn, who was one of the organizers of the petition drive, submitted documents to correct some deficiencies on Sept. 24, as well as nine additional petitions with signatures, Eberhardt said.
After review by City Clerk Susan Westerbeke, he said, it was determined that the petitions were signed by a total of 829 “countable” signatures, those that met the requirements of state law — seven more than needed to compel the Common Council to retain the lot or hold a binding referendum on the issue.
But there are other deficiencies, the most glaring of which is the lack of a proposed resolution or ordinance to be adopted by the Common Council, Eberhardt said, adding the deadline for corrections has passed.
Eberhardt noted that the documents submitted by Wilborn, an opponent of the parking lot sale, did not clearly state whether he was seeking direct legislation or an advisory referendum.
Wilborn declined to sign a document that would have clearly outlined his intent, Eberhardt said.
Wilborn said in an interview that the petitions were intended “to deliver a message from 900 residents that we don’t want the city to sell the parking lot.”
His group will continue to try and deliver their message, Wilborn said. He plans to distribute more than 100 more yard signs expressing opposition to the parking lot sale at Saturday’s farmers market and is considering erecting a billboard.
The group will discuss its strategy at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, at NewPort Shores, he said.
Even as Wilborn’s group moves ahead with its opposition, Long is moving ahead with his plans.
Negotiations with the city are expected to begin next week, Long said, and he is meeting with potential investors.
He’s also working on an equity crowdfunding campaign that will offer small investors an opportunity to buy into the Blues Factory.
In addition, Long said, he’s met with restaurateurs interested in operating a restaurant in the building and non-profit organizations that could operate a museum and cultural center there.
Long held a two-hour public informational meeting last week attended by about a dozen residents. Parking was again a major concern expressed, he said, especially when the Blues Factory would be constructed next year.
That’s the same time Port Harbour Lights, a condominium and retail complex on Franklin Street, is expected to be built.
“That’s a very legitimate concern,” Long said. “It will have to be addressed during the permitting process.”
Chad Biersach, president of the Port Washington Charter Captains Association, said parking is always an issue for the group.
“We realize it’s good for the city to have more of that (development), but it’s hard for us,” he said. “We have to be involved in the process.”
But Biersach said he was encouraged by Long and city officials at last week’s meeting, who said they are working to alleviate his group’s concerns.
SIGNS ASKING Port Washington officials not to sell a city-owned lakefront parking lot have been popping up around the community, and opponents of a potential sale are planning to distribute more of the placards this weekend. Photo by Bill Schanen IV