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City grants height exception for marina condos PDF Print E-mail
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Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 19:49

Port aldermen praise design of building planned for site of long-vacant grocery store in Port Harbor Center

    The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a special exception that will allow the owners of the Port Harbor Center to replace the vacant grocery store on the north end of the strip mall with 10 condominium units.
    The exception allows the building to be 42 feet tall, taller than the 35 feet allowed by right.
    The Port Harbor Center condo building is the fourth marina district project to receive the blessing of the council, setting the stage for what promises to be an unprecedented period of lakefront development in the city.
    The other projects are the Blues Factory entertainment complex to be built adjacent to the condos and two residential projects across Washington Street to the north.
   WATER LG The Port Harbor Center condo project will only exceed 35 feet in its center, where two third-floor condominiums will be located, architect Mark Helminiak told the council.
    “The majority of the project steps down to 35 feet,” he said.
    If he were to place a flat roof on the building instead of a pitched roof, Helminiak added, the structure would meet the 35-foot limit.
    “I think going forward with a pitched roof would make it more attractive,” he said, noting it is one of the features of coastal architecture that allows the building to fit into the area.
    Officials agreed, with Ald. Mike Ehrlich, an architect, saying “I think the design is very appropriate for this location. The pitched roof does make the building.”
    Only two people spoke during a public hearing on the exception.
    Amy Otis-Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St., said that while she does not dislike the design of the condominiums, she opposes the city’s use of the special exceptions to allow tall buildings.
    “It seems to me the exception is not an exception,” she said, saying developers are frequently proposing projects taller than 35 expecting they will be approved. “Thirty-five feet does not hold for any project.
    “You have a 35-foot limit and I wish you would start with that.”
    That comment was challenged by aldermen, who noted that the Blues Factory directly to the east of the proposed condo development and the nearby Lake Pointe townhouses being developed by Stephen Perry Smith both will top out at 35 feet when completed.
    The Pier Street Apartments being built by Ansay Development on the former Victor’s property kitty-corner from the Harbor Center received a special exception to allow the rooftop stair towers to be 43 feet tall.
    The condominiums will be built on the far north end of the shopping center, where the long vacant grocery store will be razed.
    Helminiak said the first floor of the building, which will be six feet below the sidewalk on Washington Street, will include pedestrian access and as many as 24 parking stalls.
    The second and third floors will each contain four condominium units with lakeside decks, and the top floor will have two units with decks in the center of the building.
    There is a great deal of interest in the condominiums already, said Don Voigt, who with Jim Vollmar and their wives owns the shopping center.
    “We’ve had people calling us,” he said. “But no one has sent us cash yet.”
    Voigt noted that all of the units have lake views, adding the project hinges on being able to reach an agreement with the Blues Factory to expand the alley just east of the center and create a public plaza there.
    That work will not just open the area to the public but also ensure the lake views needed for his project, Voigt said.
    “The value of this property is directly proportional to the views,” he said. “Views are everything.”
    The owners of the two properties have been meeting with city officials in an attempt to reach an agreement on the expanded alley and plaza, he added.
    Gertjan van den Broek, who is developing the Blues Factory entertainment complex, told aldermen he supports the height exception for the shopping center.
    “This is part of making it a viable project,” he said, referring to his discussions with the shopping center owners as “constructive.”
    “We’re talking about really impactful possibilities here,” Mayor Tom Mlada said. “We’re all at the table trying to bring life to this area. Our ultimate goal is two excellent projects.”
    Ald. John Sigwart noted that at one point a hotel was envisioned for the shopping center site, and asked if that was still being considered.
    No, said Voigt. Although the rest of the center has the potential for redevelopment, the owners are happy with the 25 commercial and office tenants that occupy the space, he said.
    Officials were enthused about the condo project.
    More important than the height is the idea that the building fit in with the area, Sigwart said, and the design for the shopping center does just that.
    “I think that’s the most important issue,” he said. “I think a flat roof (to meet the 35-foot limit) would be really ugly.”
    Ald. Mike Gasper concurred, saying, “I’m really glad to see something happening here. That current use is not a good use.
    “This is over 35 feet, but in this case I don’t think it’s egregiously tall. If you’re right at street level, it won’t look like a 35-foot building. It will look shorter. There are more things to look at than the pure height.”
    The design was also praised by Ald. Dave Larson.
    “To me, rooflines make the building,” he said. “The rooflines you presented here make the building.”
    Larson said the 35-foot limit isn’t set in stone, but instead is an indication that the council needs to discuss the appropriate height for individual structures.
    “There’s nothing magical about 35 feet,” Larson said. “It’s a trigger for us to discuss what the best way is to go.”

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