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Bluff land needs planning expertise PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 19:06

Hire a professional planner to create a plan for the development of an extraordinary tract of lakeshore land.

If that sounds like an obvious course of action, consider the context: The land is in Port Washington, a city that is forging ahead with development of some of its most sensitively located sites without a comprehensive plan to deal with the impact on the marina district.

That mistake must be avoided when the 44 acres of land along the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan south of the power plant are developed.

The land represents an opportunity of a community’s lifetime for the City of Port Washington. Few coastal cities anywhere possess a resource this valuable. The land would have been developed decades ago, probably in haphazard fashion, had it not been acquired in the early 20th century and guarded for future power plant expansion by the company that is now WEC Energy Group.

The land, given to the city early in this century as part of a deal in which city officials agreed to not oppose construction of a new gas-fired power plant on the waterfront, was the subject of a meeting of the Community Development Authority last week.

The CDA gathering was not even official—it lacked a quorum—but it may well prove to be one of the group’s most significant meetings. For it was there that the first inklings of an enlightened vision for the use of the land appeared and the recommendation that the city not proceed without the help of a professional planning firm was made.

The recommendation came from Jason Wittek, an adviser to the CDA. Without independent, professional planning, Wittek said, “I’m afraid we’re going to get four streets and 40 lots. I think we could aspire to more.”

As things stand, the Common Council intends to use the RFP (request for proposals) procedure—just ask developers to submit proposals for what they would do with the land. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is how the development of the north slip parking lot was handled.

Lacking the guidance of a comprehensive master plan, the idea of selling the publicly owned marina district land for commercial development rose out of a brainstorming session along with the bewildering notion that the property should be used as a site for a brewpub. RFPs were sent out. Only one proposal was returned, not for a brewpub, but for an equally dubious use of public lakefront space—a blues music complex. The Common Council accepted it amid a polarizing controversy that shows no signs of abating.

Decisions on how the lake bluff land will be used should not be left to developers, whose interests rarely align with those of the public. Some promising general ideas for its use were voiced at the CDA meeting. It should be residential. The location and character of the land support that use and it be would the most reliable tax base generator. It should be creatively designed as a city neighborhood rather than as an off-the-shelf suburban subdivision.

The land comes with some challenges. Though it is only about half a mile from the downtown, it is still quite rural in character. Because the massive power plant and its extensive surroundings stand between the bluff land and the downtown, the area will never seem physically joined to the city.

Wittek, a disciple of the urbanist school of land-use planning, suggests a compact urban neighborhood with an eclectic mix of single and multiple-family housing.

There much to be admired in that approach, but the bluff land should not be treated as though it were 44 acres of inland space. The proximity of the lake cannot be ignored, and larger lots for upscale houses taking advantage of the water views should be part of the mix. So too should natural areas for public use.

All of this can be sorted out in a proper master plan. If the city has no money in its budget to hire a planner, then it should put action on the bluff land on hold until it does. There is no rush. But there is a need to get this development right.

Then, by all means, send out some RFPs—not to developers, but to planners who can propose how they will guide the city in taking advantage of this once-in-its-lifetime opportunity.

Perils of police work in an armed society PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 18:13

Police officers and firefighters of the City of Port Washington got a deserved pat on the back last week in a letter praising their good work signed by every member of the Police and Fire Commission and published in Ozaukee Press.

It was a gesture of support at a time of appalling violence involving law enforcement personnel—a time when in some American cities police officers have been murdered just because they were police officers and police officers have been accused of murdering citizens. 

Port Washington and the other small communities of Ozaukee County and the surrounding area are far removed geographically and socially from this uncivilized mayhem, and yet even here a heightened sense of anxiety shadows service in police departments.

One of the reasons these are trying times to be a police officer in America is that more Americans than ever before are carrying guns. Increasingly permissive state laws loosening concealed-carry regulations and allowing open carrying of firearms have given every interaction between police and citizens, no matter how minor or apparently peaceful, the potential to be an armed encounter.

Even in quiet Port Washington, police officers have to be aware that in any traffic stop, response to a domestic argument or confrontation with a drunken or disorderly person they could be dealing with an individual legally armed with a deadly weapon.

A study reported in the American Journal of Public Health found that police were more likely to be killed in states with a high rate of gun ownership.

Using data from the F.B.I. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found a substantially higher rate of homicides of law enforcement personnel in the states with the highest gun ownership compared to other states.

“We see that the same states that are the top gun-owning states are also the top states for officer homicide,” said the report’s lead author.

(Wisconsin has the 12th highest gun ownership rate in the nation.)

The aftermath of the sniper-killing of five Dallas police officers guarding a demonstration and the worries voiced by Cleveland police ahead of this week’s Republican convention drew attention to yet another alarming consequence of the relentless push by state legislatures to extend gun rights to extremes—the threat to the safety of the public and police posed by so-called open carry.

The term refers to laws in a number of states that specifically permit openly carrying loaded sidearms and rifles intended not for hunting but for shooting people when deemed necessary for self-defense.

The Dallas demonstration attracted a number of gun owners openly carrying pistols and AR-15-style assault rifles. Some wore camouflage clothing; some carried gas masks and other military-type paraphernalia.

It was obvious this was intended to be an in-your-face flaunting of Second Amendment rights, but it was described by spokesmen for the gun toters as an example of armed citizens standing by to help police deal with armed bad actors.

According to police officials quoted in news stories, when the shooting started the gun-carrying would-be vigilantes fled with the rest of the crowd, leaving police, who were desperate to find the source of the shooting that was killing their fellow officers, trying to discern whether these armed and dangerous-looking people were shooters or just citizens running for their lives.

In Cleveland, open-carry zealots have promised to turn out in large numbers for the presidential nominating convention, where demonstrations are expected. Several gave a preview to news media on Sunday, with assault rifles hanging on slings over their shoulders and handguns in holsters strapped on their legs gunfighter style. Cleveland’s police chief has been articulate in expressing his dismay. The president of the police union asked the governor of Ohio to rescind the state’s open-carry law during the convention. 

Situations like these help explain why law enforcement organizations have become ardent opponents of proposals to make laws regulating where and how firearms may be carried even more permissive.

Those who support further widening of gun rights are wont to resurrect the gun lobby mantra that society is safer when the citizenry is armed.

There is no credible evidence to support that, but there is plenty of evidence that the progressive easing of gun-carry laws has made those citizens working as law enforcement officers less safe.

Answer Union Cemetery’s call PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 July 2016 17:20

If by some time-travel magic Port Washington residents dating back to the 19th century who buried their loved ones in Union Cemetery could see the haunting photograph on the front news page of last week’s Ozaukee Press, some would surely be moved to tears.

The picture shows the rolling grounds of the west-side cemetery, once a carefully tended landscape emblematic of peace and dignity, in a forlorn state, so overgrown that grave markers are obscured by weeds and uncut grass.

This is sad not just for the families of those interred in the 162-year-old cemetery, but for the entire community. As institutions of civilization that express respect for the contributions of those who have passed through this life, cemeteries are intrinsic threads in the fabric of a community—and communities should not abide their neglect.

Among the graves in Union Cemetery are those of generations of Port Washington area families, including the city’s builders and history makers, of veterans of many wars, including the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and even some of the victims of the most deadly shipwreck along the Port shore, the sinking of the steamer Toledo in 1856. 

The sad state of the cemetery just a block off the main thoroughfare to the downtown, Grand Avenue, is a call to the city to take responsibility for its care. 

The Port Washington Cemetery Association has for ages carried that burden. But the organization, with little income from families buying its few remaining plots, is broke and unable to provide the care it promised those who bought grave sites in the past. 

The burden of managing the organization’s dwindling financial resources and tending to its maintenance is borne by Craig Heatwole, who describes himself as “president, secretary, treasurer and chief groundskeeper” of the association. Heatwole has been spending hours each week dutifully trying to carry out an impossible mission for one person—maintaining eight acres of cemetery grounds.

The cemetery needs a short-term fix—a thorough clean-up by city crews. Then it needs a long-term plan to ensure its care into the future. Volunteers could certainly play a role in this; already some have come forward in response to last week’s Press story about the cemetery’s plight. But the plan needs the structure and dependable organization that only the city can give.

It’s not at all uncommon for municipalities to care for, or even own, cemeteries within their borders. A nearby example is the Village of Grafton, which owns and maintains Woodlawn Cemetery.

Yes, this is counter to Port Washington’s trend, as in other municipalities, toward off-loading some services normally provided by government to volunteers and civic organizations, but Union Cemetery deserves to be an exception. 

Its ranks of stone markers, even those corroded and tilted by the years, speak to the history of Port Washington, and they, and the people they represent, deserve the honor of proper attention by this community.

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