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Port Washington

Residents, city clash over Port sidewalk plan PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 18:57

Homeowners say walkways aren’t needed, wanted in north bluff area, but policy is to install them when streets redone

    The overwhelming majority of those attending Tuesday’s public information meeting regarding street projects slated for next year in Port Washington had one message for the city — don’t add sidewalks to our streets.
    Most of the residents live in the north bluff area near Upper Lake Park, and they told officials that sidewalks are not needed in their neighborhoods.
    There isn’t enough traffic to justify the walkways, they said, adding that since not all streets in the area have sidewalks, the new walks wouldn’t necessarily connect, making them inefficient and unnecessary.
    Sidewalk is also costly and difficult to maintain, especially for senior citizens, they said, and it would take away from the look and appeal of their neighborhood.
    “A lot of us purchased there because it didn’t have sidewalk,” Diane Burkhalter, 409 Briarwood La., said. “We wanted a non-city look. When we purchased our house, we looked for that. Sidewalks aren’t a country thing.
    “And it goes nowhere. A sidewalk that goes nowhere — dumb.
    “Are any of us for sidewalks? There’s not one of us.”
    Anne Davis, 920 Crestview, said, “I don’t want to pay for them. I feel my street’s quiet enough I don’t need them. I’m concerned about what it’s going to take away from my front yard.
    “And I do understand zoning requirements, that things have changed since our house was built in the late 1970s.”
    Aurie Cosentine, 518 Brentwood Ct., noted that when she and her husband purchased their house more than 40 years ago, it was “with the idea it wouldn’t be developed that way (with sidewalks).
    “We don’t see the purpose of it,” she said.
    While the vast majority of the roughly 40 people attending the two-hour open house opposed adding sidewalks, there were a few exceptions.
    “I want a sidewalk from my house down to the park,” said Lori MacRae, 238 Hales Trail. “When I walk my dog, I’d like to walk on a sidewalk.
    “It is a cost, and a pain in winter. I understand why they object, but I want sidewalk.”
    Abby and Eric Kirchen, 337 Whitefish Rd., also said they want the city to install sidewalk in the area.
    “I don’t really like walking in the road with a toddler and a stroller,” Mr. Kirchen said.
    “I hate that,” his wife added. “I get  that there’s an initial cost and the maintenance, but I feel I get every bit of that out of the sidewalk.”
    She advocated the city extend the sidewalk beyond the construction zone to Upper Lake Park, saying, “That park is awesome.”
    Tuesday’s meeting was intended to not only get residents’ feeling on sidewalks but on the road projects in general, including the fact many of the streets will be narrowed.
    But the topic that captured most people’s attention was sidewalks.
    Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said the preliminary plans for the streets include sidewalks because the city’s policies and codes call for the walkways to be installed wherever streets are being rebuilt.
    Where streets are merely being resurfaced, sidewalks aren’t called for because the curb and gutter isn’t being disturbed.
    Residents are charged for sidewalk when it is installed, but after that the city will pay to repair it, he said.
    Sidewalks, he said, are important for numerous reasons, including the fact they provide a safe place for pedestrians, create a sense of community and add value to property. They are an amenity many people seek out when buying a home, he added.        “Near schools, where kids have to walk, yes, I see it,” Larry Boothby, 819 Noridge Tr., said. “I can count on one hand the amount of traffic that goes by my house every day — the trash man, the mailman, and a few people heading home. When there’s almost no vehicular traffic, I don’t see a purpose for it.”
    Julian Rogers, 1121 Crestview, said the cost and maintenance of sidewalks would be difficult for elderly people like himself.
    “People like me, you put in sidewalk, you’re giving me more work to do in winter,” the 86-year-old said. “This is going to make my life more difficult. I can’t risk falling (when clearing sidewalks).
    “In my neighborhood, I don’t see why we need sidewalks, irrespective of city codes.”
    Rogers also questioned why the city would install sidewalks and charge residents for the work at the same time it’s considering a wheel tax.
    The wheel tax would not pay for sidewalk installation, Vanden Noven said, but for street work.
    Ald. John Sigwart asked one man if he would be willing to pay for a pedestrian lane instead of sidewalks, but added that he believes the walkways are important.
    “I think there should be sidewalks throughout the city — on one side of the street,” he said.
    Sidewalks were installed on both sides of Theis Lane, where he lives, several years ago, Sigwart said, noting residents there opposed having walkways on both sides of the street. Now, he added, people are beginning to use them.
    The design for the 2018 street projects will be discussed by the Board of Public Works when it meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19. The matter will also be on the agenda for the Common Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. that night.
    The street projects include work on:
    n Crestview Drive from Noridge Trail to Briarwood Lane.
    n Brentwood Court from Crestview Drive to the cul de sac.
    n Noridge Trail from Sunrise Drive to the south end.
    n Whitefish Road from Lakeview Avenue south to Lakeview Avenue north.
    n Hales Trail from Whitefish Road to Kaiser Drive.
    n Lakeview Avenue from Douglas Street to Whitefish Road.
    The projects include sanitary sewer lining, storm sewer improvements, water main replacement and reconstruction work.

Cedar Vineyard developer says he’s reached deal to buy land PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 December 2017 20:18

Purchase of property for subdivision, nature preserve expected by Christmas

    The developer of the proposed Cedar Vineyard subdivision on Port Washington’s southeast side said he has again reached an agreement to buy a 240-acre parcel along Highway C from Waukesha State Bank.
    Tom Swarthout, president of the Highview Group, said he expects to complete the purchase before Christmas.
    “We have a lot of coordination to do with grant funds,” Swarthout said, noting he is working with city and county officials as well as the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust to complete the deal.
    “A lot of people are moving heaven and earth to get this done. All the documents have to be coordinated. We have to have everyone at the table.”
    Swarthout and the bank had previously reached a purchase agreement for the land but that expired and bank officials had been actively marketing the property.
    The Cedar Vineyard development has been in the works for almost three years, and has been widely anticipated by the city.
    It has been touted as a unique opportunity for the public, since a 101-acre swath of environmentally sensitive land, including Cedar Gorge, in the center of the development will be purchased by Swarthout and almost immediately bought by the Land Trust.
    In addition to the nature area, the Land Trust would also purchase land along the Lake Michigan bluffs and beach. These properties, along with the preserve, would then be deeded to Ozaukee County to be maintained as public land in perpetuity.
    The Land Trust and county are using grant funds to buy the land.
    The development also includes 82 single-family lots with a vineyard planted along Highway C. A winery would be developed on the southwestern corner of the highway and Stonecroft Drive.
    The winery and vineyard are to be run by Steve and Maria Johnson, who own Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee and Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay.
    Swarthout said a conservation easement will be placed on the vineyard, ensuring that land will never be developed.

Residents may be asked to weigh in on wheel tax PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 19:15

Port officials consider meeting to present mayor’s proposed $20-per-vehicle levy to fund road repairs

    A wheel tax proposed for the City of Port Washington will likely be discussed at a public information meeting next month, but a date has not been set yet, Mayor Tom Mlada said Tuesday.
    Originally the city had talked about holding an informational meeting on the wheel tax in conjunction with a Tuesday, Dec. 12, public meeting on the 2018 road repairs, but officials last week suggested there may not be adequate time to cover both topics.
    “We want to have the meeting,” Mlada said. “We’re hopeful of a good conversation, good input.”
    And the Board of Public Works, which discussed the proposed tax when it met last week, did not make a recommendation on the plan.
    Members spent a significant amount of time discussing whether the $20 annual wheel tax was the best way to finance road repairs or whether a referendum should be held to instead increase the tax levy to increase the road reconstruction budget.
    Right now, state levy limits and expenditure restraint limitations “essentially prohibit budgeting to cover these costs,” Public Works Director Rob Noven said. So the city borrows for road repairs instead.
    “This is a way to lessen that cycle of borrowing,” he said. “It  would be meaningful revenue.”
    But Ald. Mike Gasper, a board member and transportation engineer, argued that it would be better for the city to hold a referendum to increase the tax levy.
    “To me, this should be more of a last resort,” Gasper said. “We’re never going to run out of roads to fix.”
    And because levy limits increase only by the rate of inflation while the cost of fixing roads increases by more than the rate of inflation, Gasper said, “we’re always going to be in a hole.”
    Mlada proposed the wheel tax on Nov. 7, saying it would provide the city with a way to fund improvements to its streets.
    The $20-per-vehicle fee, collected by the State Department of Transportation when drivers renew their license plates each year, would not supplement the funds currently budgeted and borrowed by the city for road projects.
    The $200,000 Mlada estimated the city would collect annually would pay for resurfacing two-thirds of a mile of street, resurfacing and replacing the curb along one-third mile or completely reconstructing almost two city blocks.
    Everyone acknowledges that street repairs are a priority, Mlada said, but costs continue to increase while the city’s budget is lean, state aids are declining and levy limits mean the city can’t tax more for roadwork.
    “It’s not meant to be the total solution,” Mlada said.
    But Gasper said increasing the tax levy is a more prudent way to address the issue, because borrowed funds result in interest charges.
    If residents were to reject the idea of increasing property taxes to increase the road repair budget, Gasper said, then a wheel tax should be considered.
    But board member Eric Ryer said increasing taxes is an unpopular solution to a problem everyone agrees is out there.
    “Just about everybody has a car and uses the roads,” he said. “Everybody can agree that there are roads that need to be fixed. But people don’t like taxes.”
    Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the board, said he had received seven calls about the wheel tax, all of them from people against the tax. Five of these people said they preferred increasing property taxes instead, in part because the wheel tax is regressive.
    But Mlada argued that getting people to approve a referendum to increase the tax levy for road repairs “would be an uphill climb.”
    “No one is going to say these are popular or that people are excited to pay more in taxes,” Mlada said.
    Something needs to be done to ensure the city has enough money to adequately address its road situation, he added.
    “We don’t want to kick this down the road for the next generation,” Mlada said. “It’s an investment.”  
    Officials are elected to make these sorts of difficult decisions, he added, noting the wheel tax amounts to five cents a day over the course of a year for each vehicle.   

City backs idea of tweaking Blues Factory plans for condos PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 19:16

Commission likes proposal to change design of lakefront entertainment complex to accommodate adjacent project

    The idea of an expanded public space between the proposed Blues Factory on Port Washington’s north marina slip and a 10-unit condominium planned for the vacant grocery store just west of it excited members of the Port Plan Commission last week.
    “There’s been such a huge concern about green space there,” commission member Brenda Fritsch said. “These pocket parks are essential.”
    Not only does the expanded space between the two buildings provide a space for people to linger, she said, it also creates a place for people to enjoy the waterfront and views.
    “A view only exists if you go down there and sit,” Fritsch said. “And there’s an intimacy about this as well.”
    The commission concurred, directing city staff to work with developers of the two spaces to try and make such a space a reality.
    “This entry to the harbor is pivotal,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, an architect and member of the commission, said. “I don’t think it’s 100% workable the way they got it laid out, but I really like the idea.
    “If we can facilitate that discussion, it’s going to make the whole area better.”
    The discussion came about as the commission got its first glimpse of a plan to convert the vacant grocery store at the Port Harbor Center into a 10-unit condominium development.
    The plan, which was recommended by the Design Review Board, calls for a three-story structure to be built with underground parking, four condo units on the first two floors and two on the third floor. The units would range from 1,800 to 2,100 square feet.
    The building itself would be 35 feet high, but the peaked roof, which steps down to the north and south, reaching 45 feet.
    Architect Mark Helminiak proposed widening the alley between the condo and the Blues Factory to as much as 30 feet, perhaps slicing a corner off the Blues Factory structure, to create a public gathering space there.
    As these projects and two others already proposed for the marina district take shape, these public spaces are important, both for pedestrians and motorists alike.
    “I think it’s a really important feature,” Fritsch said.
    When the Blues Factory was proposed, Fritsch added, the north end faced a brick wall, so its current design made sense.
    That’s changed.
    “I’m glad we’re talking about it,” she said.
    “It’s phenomenal,” commission member Tony Matera added.
    Matera said the only thing that concerns him about the plan is the loss of retail space, particularly since the city is facing the potential loss of its only grocery store.
    A small market, he said, “would thrive down there.”
    But Mayor Tom Mlada noted that the owners of virtually every grocery store the city has talked to have said “we don’t have the density for that, we don’t have the critical mass.
    “What we’re hearing is the residential has been such a missing piece of downtown ... what we’re planning isn’t enough.”
    Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, noted that Port Harbor Center owners Don Voigt and Jim Vollmar have talked to grocers and other commercial developers for years in the hope of renting the building.
    “It has been commercial for 25 years, and it’s still vacant,” he said.
    Although the plan for the condominium building wasn’t formally presented to the commission, members took the opportunity to weigh in on the preliminary plan, with many members praising it.
    “I do feel the architecture fits well,” Ehrlich said.
    “I think it’s fantastic,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a member of the commission and chairman of the Design Review Board, said. “I love the architecture.
    “I’d rather look at this than what’s there now.”
    Vanden Noven said he believes the building will spur further development in the area, particularly at the former Dairy Queen building across from the shopping center on Washington Street.
    “I can’t wait to see this get built,” he said. “I hope we can work with the Blues Factory developer to create something like this (public space).”
    Commission member Amanda Williams noted that all the proposed development along the lakefront will change the area, and that causes some concerns.
    And there are still questions with some of the plans, she said, noting there’s still a question whether the Blues Factoy will proceed.
    “There are a lot of things up in the air,” she said. “I think part of the struggle we’re having is there are so many variables. If a few of those buildings were there and you could assess how they fit ...”
    But, Williams added, it’s a good thing the discussion about these projects is occurring now, when officials can consider them together.

After a bit of bluster, board agrees to parks director plan PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 15 November 2017 19:29

Park and Rec officials sign off on proposal not to hire new department head

    Just weeks after two board members fervently opposed the idea of not hiring a new parks and recreation director, the Parks and Recreation Board on Tuesday unanimously endorsed the idea of promoting two current employees to handle the director’s duties instead of hiring a new department head.
    The change — which will mark the first time in recent history when the department won’t be headed by a single director — paves the way for Recreation Supr. Kiley Schulte and city forester Jon Crain to take the reins of the department and replace former director Charlie Imig, who resigned Nov. 8.
    Board members approved the recommendation subject to the city hiring adequate support staff to help the two, particularly Schulte, who will be in charge of the parks and recreation office.
    “As long as we give Kiley and Jon the support they need, I think it’s something we should try for 2018,” Ald. Jonathan Pleitner, a member of the board, said.
    City Administrator Mark Grams, who suggested the reorganization, said it is expected to save the city as much as $50,000 next year while placing qualified candidates in jobs where they can shine.
    “You’ve got people who can do this,” he told the board.  “In talking to Kiley and Jon, they both feel they can handle it.
    “I’d like to at least give it a shot. If I’m wrong and you need a parks and recreation director, we can look at it next year.”        Schulte will be in charge of the recreation programs, duties she is already largely handling, Grams said, while Crain will be in charge of maintaining the parks.
    “The biggest thing to making this all work is communication,” Crain said. “I know this is a big challenge. I’m open to it.”
    Schulte said she, too, is ready for the challenge, noting her focus in the first year will be on staffing the department well.
    “I feel as though there will be a lot of hurdles to the job,” she said. “But I feel confident in this position, if you guys are supportive of me, we will be successful.”
    Board member Aaron Paulin said he was concerned about the change, especially considering how rapidly it is occurring.
    “I’m concerned for the success of our department,” he said. “I feel uncomfortable.”
    However, after hearing from Schulte and Crain, Paulin voted in favor of the change.
    “The important thing is we all want the same thing, to have a really great park system and a really good recreation program,” board member Patty Lemkuil said.
    The board recommended the reorganization contingent on the city hiring a three-quarter time administrative assistant for the recreation supervisor and approval of a revised job description for Schulte.

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