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Editorials
When land preservation is good business PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 16:13

County’s purchase of lakeshore land for a nature preserve comes with a bonus–it’s a key to desirable development

The vote by the Ozaukee County Board last week on funding for a nature preserve was a tonic for a public jaded by the recurring spectacle of legislative bodies rendered dysfunctional by partisan rancor and entrenched ideology.

    Though technically non-partisan, the County Board has pronounced divisions between conservative and liberal members that are evident in debates on a number of issues. Yet on a measure that will mean spending up to $1 million of taxpayer money on an initiative that expands the reach of county government, the board came together to vote yes by an overwhelming 18-4 majority.

    The impact of the vote will be enormous: It will save 101 acres of lakeshore land from private development, make more than a mile of Lake Michigan beach and bluff and adjacent forest land available for public use in a new county park and pave the way for a desirable conservation subdivision.

    The City of Port Washington is expected to match the county’s investment in the park land, which will facilitate a development along Highway C called the Cedar Vineyard, consisting of 73 modestly-scaled homesites next to the nature preserve and an associated vineyard and winery.

    The fact that the nature preserve is a key to the development enhanced the appeal of county ownership of the lakeshore property. In praising the move to protect the land for public use, Supr. Dan Becker noted that it was also “an opportunity to make a real difference and be a catalyst for growth in Ozaukee County.”

     The relationship between land preservation and growth is more direct than usual in this instance, but environmental benefit and economic benefit frequently go hand in hand in conservation efforts. Many of the natural areas protected in Wisconsin are popular recreational attractions and thus important assets for the state’s tourism industry. Natural areas are so appealing as contributors to the quality of life that in many cases they stimulate nearby development—people like to live near the beauty of nature.

    All of which underlines the mistake Gov. Walker is making in calling for a moratorium on land acquisition by the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund. The fund was expected to pay for most of the cost of acquiring the Cedar Vineyard nature preserve, but now that is unlikely. Had the county not stepped up, the opportunity would have been lost.

     The City of Port Washington should know all about the value of park land as a stimulant to economic development. Its protection of water views and access around the marina in the stunning Rotary Park and harbor walk fostered the revival of the downtown and the growth of its thriving tourism economy.

    It is no wonder, then, that so many Port residents doubt the wisdom of the city government’s ongoing effort to sell publicly owned land at the north end of the downtown marina for commercial development.

    Which prompts the question: What’s wrong with this picture? While Ozaukee County is buying land to give the public access to Lake Michigan south of Port Washington (with the city likely to match the county’s investment in the land), city officials at the same time are trying to sell public lakefront land and views downtown for business use.

 
Lakefront development blues PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 March 2015 17:48

A promising proposal for a blues music-themed building deserves encouragement from the city, but not on a cramped site where it would block lake views

To put it mildly, City of Port Washington officials are enthused about the lakefront development proposal du jour, an imaginative concept for a building that would combine a blues music-themed museum, restaurant, performance hall and banquet facility.

    Judging from the glowing comments at last week’s Common Council meeting, they are even more smitten with the blues complex than they were with the previous front-runner for a choice piece of public land at the north edge of the downtown harbor, which was a brewpub.

    That’s progress of a sort. Exchanging public water views and access for a brewpub would be such an absurdly unbalanced trade that even officials who are bound and determined to sell the harbor site for business development might feel a qualm.

    The blues complex is a step up. Unlike the brewpub notion, which is based on a whim that fluttered out of a brainstorming session, the development called the Blues Factory is a coherent proposal. It derives credibility from the stature of its creator, Christopher Long, a respected project management consultant from Madison. The plan has appealing cultural and historical aspects in its theme embracing the story of Paramount Records, which recorded classic blues music by renowned artists in Port Washington, starting in 1917, as part of the Wisconsin Chair Co.

    The proposal has a flaw, however, and it’s the same one that makes the brewpub idea unacceptable: It’s planned for the wrong place.

    The two-story Blues Factory would take up virtually every inch of what is now an open parking lot at the edge of the harbor. The building would obscure the marina and lake views that are part of Port Washington’s distinctive signature.

    The site was chosen because the Common Council, backed by the Plan Commission and the Community Development Authority, is pushing it for use as private development.

     Even without considering the lost lake views, the site is not well suited for a development as ambitious as the blues complex. Cramming the blues building into the confines of the parking lot site would seem to limit the potential of the project, with its need for space to accommodate its performance and banquet features.

    There is some logic in the choice of the parking lot as a site for a Paramount memorial in that the Chair Co. once occupied part of it, but the company’s manufacturing buildings sprawled over many acres of land around the harbor and the historical connection with blues music could be made at another location.

    Long, the developer, has a strong background in environmentally sensitive projects, and one can imagine how, with enough land in a lakefront-area location, he could incorporate water views and outdoor space from which to enjoy them in his project. That’s not an option in the parking lot.

    The city’s handling of the proposed harbor land sale, which has gone forward at a remarkably fast pace in spite of strong public opposition, suggests that its appointed and elected officials want to make this easy—put the land up for sale, get proposals from developers and then let the buyer take care of the rest.

    The intriguing Blues Factory initiative exposes the truth that smart lakefront development isn’t that easy. The proposal from Long and his business partner, local developer Gertjan van den Broek, has the promise of elevating community culture along with enhancing the city’s appeal to visitors and should certainly be encouraged, but not at the expense of the public’s visual and physical access to the lake, which is widely appreciated as Port Washington’s most valuable asset.                 City officials should be working with the developer to find a better site. That would not be as easy as just selling a parking lot along with some of the public’s prized lake views, but it would be the right way to develop the lakefront area.


 
Beep, beep, get moving PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 17:47

The legislature should act so that Wisconsin stops being one of the few states plodding along with a 65 mph speed limit

You know the type. You see them everyday on the freeway. They’re in the passing lane, but they’re not passing—they’re blocking. Clueless, stubborn or intent on making a statement about the virtue of careful driving, they insist on keeping their vehicle dawdling at a speed so much slower than surrounding traffic that it causes congestion and frustration, not to mention risky tailgating and right-lane passing.

    Among the states, Wisconsin is that pokey, oblivious, self-righteous squatter in the fast lane. Wisconsin is the only state between Connecticut and Oregon, and one of only nine in the continental U.S., that clings to a 65 mph speed limit on interstate highways.

    The state Assembly voted to up the limit to 70 mph last year, but the Senate refused to go along. Opponents played the worn-out “speed kills” card.

    The notion that raising the speed limit by 5 mph makes highways more dangerous is not supported by research or the experience of states that have made that sensible move.

    A number of studies have shown that the drivers on heavily traveled roads who are most likely to be involved in crashes are those moving significantly slower than the average speed on the highway.

    A study sponsored by the National Motorists Association found that it is the difference in speed among vehicles on the highway, rather than speed itself, that is the more frequent cause of accidents in heavy traffic.

    The study showed that when a speed limit was raised to the speed traveled by 85% of the vehicles, accidents did not increase. Based on the study, the NMA went so far as to claim: “If a speed limit is raised to actually reflect real travel speeds, the new higher limit will make the roads safer.”

    That may be subject to debate, but one thing is certain about Wisconsin’s interstate highways and other four-lane or wider limited-access highways: Most drivers are not observing the 65 mph speed limit (and, we might add, are not being ticketed for it).

    It is also obvious that the differential between the faster-driving majority and those who carefully comply with the outmoded speed limit is a road hazard.

    Safety is not the only consideration in Wisconsin’s speed-limit backwardness. Interstate highways are designed to move a high volume of traffic at a reasonably fast speed. These roads do not exist merely for convenience; they help drive the economy.

    While Wisconsin is stuck with a speed limit that was enacted before seat belts were mandatory, motor vehicle safety has advanced at remarkable speed. Today’s vehicles, even basic family sedans, have sophisticated anti-lock brakes, traction-control systems and a plethora of safety features that make them safe to drive fast. The freeways themselves, engineering data attest, are designed for speeds in excess of 80 mph.
  
 Last week Rep. Paul Tittle (R-Manitowoc) introduced a bill that would direct the Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit to 70 mph on roads it would approve for the higher speed.

    Republicans should use their big majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate to sound their horns and signal the legislators holding up traffic in the passing lane to get out of the way.

 
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