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Port Washington

Petition can’t force referendum on parking lot PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 October 2015 20:12

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.

Image information: 

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

Port police crack down on scofflaw park fishermen PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 20:00

Out-of-town anglers catching tickets for fouling  public lakefront land 

Port Washington Parks and Recreation foreman Bob Poull was cutting the lawn near the city’s fish cleaning station across from Coal Dock Park recently when he smelled something rank.

When he looked around, he found a couple fish near some bushes, Parks and Recreation Director Charlie Imig said. Poull cleaned up the fish, but the smell remained.

When he looked closer, he discovered roughly 50 fish, the roe stripped from their decaying bodies, in the bushes.

While that may be an extreme case, it’s not the only case of fishermen — many of them from out of the area — fouling the park, Imig said. 

“It’s just disturbing. They’ll slit the necks (of fish) and let them bleed out on the sidewalks,” he said. “They’ll fillet them on the benches. They leave their gear on the sidewalk.

“They just have no regard for people walking through the park. It doesn’t make the park a friendly place for residents or visitors or anyone. It’s horrible.”

In response to complaints like these, the Port Washington Police Department is stepping up enforcement along the lakefront, targeting those who are ruining the area for others.

“We’re trying to just clamp down as much as possible,” Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said. “We are strictly enforcing the laws that are in place.”

That means preventing people from entering the park outside of the official hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., he said, and ticketing those who leave carcasses behind.

“The big one we’ve been applying is curfew violations,” Hingiss said. “There have been fishermen going in there all night or very early in the morning.”

So far this month, officers have issued roughly seven tickets and referred other cases to the Department of Natural Resources for citations, he said.

“These are just the ones we’ve caught,” Hingiss noted. “We’re shorthanded, but we’re doing the best we can.”

The people who have been ticketed by the department so far have one thing in common, Hingiss noted — they don’t live in the area.

“All the violators so far have been people living south of here,” he said. Most are from Illinois, some from Kenosha and Racine.

Just as it did last year, the department is working with DNR Warden Tony Young to patrol the fishermen, Hingiss said.

Young said that last fall, he issued between 50 and 60 citations in October.

“Two a day on average is a ton for me,” he said.

Many of the citations are for fishing violations — snagging fish, keeping a foul hooked fish and violations of fishing hours, he said. After Sept. 15, fishermen on the tributaries of Lake Michigan are only allowed to fish 30 minutes before sunrise or later and 30 minutes after sunset or earlier.

He also deals with littering, something Young said he abhors. 

“It’s a problem, and it’s hard to enforce because it’s a lot of little stuff. It adds up and it gives fishermen a bad name,” he said, noting fishermen leave behind small spawn sacks, mesh netting, fishing line, papers and cigarette butts that give the parks a messy appearance.

Young said he also deals with quarrels between fishermen who feel others are encroaching on their space.

“There’s no right you have to be five feet from the next fisherman,” he said. “People fight and say, ‘Give me my spot.’ We’ve had disorderly complaints going to Port police over that.”

The small stuff, such as littering, is the biggest problem, Young said, although the large problems such as carcasses left behind are more visible to the public.

Young noted that the season for complaints is really just now heating up, adding it runs through spring and is worse when there is a significant amount of rain to spur a run of fish.

Hingiss concurred, saying the problems caused by fishermen are generally chronic and seasonal, peaking when the salmon spawn in fall. Most of those violating the laws aren’t after the fish as much as the roe they carry, he said.

“I’ve been told there’s a big market for it in Chicago and Illinois,” Hingiss said. “But if that’s all they (the fishermen) are here for, we’d rather they went someplace else.”

The department doesn’t have a problem with fishermen using the park, he stressed.

“They can fish here as long as they obey the law,” he said.

Young said, “I’m pro-fishermen. I want fishing to thrive in the city. But this makes all fishermen look bad.

“There’s a big group of fishermen and women who obey the rules and leave the area cleaner than when they come.”

But the small group of violators make everyone look bad, Young said.

The violators, Hingiss said, are causing big problems for the city.

“Look at all the money the city has spent on the park. People want to enjoy it, and there are fish carcasses everywhere you want to walk. You can see where people have gutted the fish on the sidewalk and boardwalk. 

“It’s a big problem.”

Blues Factory foe, Main Street clash over signs at farmers market PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 23 September 2015 21:03

Vendor says he has a constitutional right to distribute placards opposing sale of land at event held on city street

    An outspoken critic of the City of Port Washington’s decision to sell a lakefront parking lot as a site for the Blues Factory entertainment complex said he plans to distribute yard signs opposing the land sale at Saturday’s farmers market despite a notice from the organization that manages the market stating that he cannot do so.

    “The farmers market is a public event on a public street managed by a government entity using public money and the constitutional right of free speech applies: You can distribute any sort of political statement you like, no permission needed,” Pat Wilborn, whose company PortFish operates a stand at the market, wrote Tuesday in an email to Port Main Street Inc. Executive Director Lauren Richmond.

    The email was in response to a message Richmond sent to Wilborn last week stating: “We also wanted to remind you that the distributing or soliciting of any non-approved or stand-related materials is prohibited at the market.”

    During an interview Tuesday, Richmond softened the position of Main Street, which organizes and oversees the popular farmers market held on Main Street.

    “Technically, according to federal law, it (distributing signs) is allowed, but we have final say on what is distributed at our market,” Richmond said. “We can remove a vendor for any reason we see fit.

    “That said, we absolutely don’t want to do that. We don’t want to take away anyone’s constitutional rights.”

    Richmond said Main Street won’t object if Wilborn makes the signs available at his farmers market stand.

    “As long as people are not being harassed or being forced to sign something,” she said.

    The sign dispute is playing out in the context of a community deeply divided over the Common Council’s unanimous decision Sept. 1 to sell land at the end of the north slip marina along Washington Street to Madison developer Chris Long, who plans a Paramount blues-themed entertainment complex designed to evoke the Wisconsin Chair Co. factory that once occupied the property.

    And now the debate threatens to spill over into the area of constitutional rights.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged there are limitations on where First Amendment rights can be exercised, but it has been clear that the rights of free speech and assembly in public parks and on public streets are essentially unfettered.

    In its 1939 decision Hague vs. C.I.O., the court explained, “Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens and discussing public questions.”

    Richmond admitted regulating signs and other material that express opinions at the farmers market is a delicate issue.

    “It’s a little sticky,” she said. “We understand the market is on city property, but it is our farmers market.”

    Richmond said her email regarding the signs was triggered by complaints she received about the manner in which Wilborn was soliciting signatures on petitions opposing the parking lot sale at the farmers market.

    “I did get complaints from people who were a little offended about how they were approached,” she said. “The farmers market is supposed to be a social event intended to promote local shopping. Once I start getting calls in the office, we have to start taking a look at what’s going on.”

    Richmond said Main Street’s farmers market committee discussed the issue briefly, but the organization’s board of directors has not.

    Wilborn said any complaints about how he collected petition signatures at the farmers market were unfounded.

    “I certainly wasn’t rude to anyone,” he said.     

    Aside from clarifying whether people were city residents, Wilborn said, he asked shoppers two questions: Are they aware the city intends to sell the lakefront parking lot  and would they be willing to sign the petition opposing it?

    Wilborn, who noted that he organizes the winter farmers market in Port, said he understands the value and charm of the summer market and has done nothing to diminish that.

    “I certainly don’t want to create an adverse situation,” he said.

Aldermen agree to consider allowing pet pigs PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 19:23

Council authorizes draft of law after resident asks to keep pot-bellied animal in city

    Port Washington resident Becky Casarez was halfway to hog heaven Tuesday night after the Common Council authorized City Attorney Eric Eberhardt to draw up an ordinance that would allow her to have a pot-bellied pig as a pet.

    “Thank you,” Casarez told aldermen. “Pigs are great. They’re really lovable, caring and a great pet.”

    Casarez, who lives at 126 Woodruff St.,  asked aldermen in June to consider allowing pot-bellied pigs just as they currently permit dogs and cats.

    She had considered getting a more traditional pet, she said then, but she is allergic to cats and hasn’t found a dog she likes.

    But when a friend told her about potbelly pigs, she knew she had found the pet for her.

    Port Washington officials wouldn’t be the first in the area to allow pot-bellied pigs to be kept as pets if they pass the proposed ordinance.

    City Administrator Mark Grams noted that the Village of Grafton allows residents to have one Vietnamese pot-bellied pig as a pet.

    Just as with dogs and cats, the animals need to be kept on a leash in public and their owners must clean up after them, he said.

    “The only problem they had was a couple of residents trying to pass off some other kinds of pot-bellied pigs for Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs,” Grams said.

    Noting that the city allows residents to have two dogs and two cats, Ald. Kevin Rudser questioned why it would limit the number of pigs to one.

    “Is there any reason we would not allow two pigs?” he asked. “They might like a friend.”

    Grams said he suggested it so officials could determine if there were any issues surrounding pot-bellied pigs.

    “You might want to take it slow,” he said.

    Ald. Bill Driscoll said he asked his sister-in-law, who has had two pot-bellied pigs as pets, what negatives there are in keeping the animals.

    “She said ‘I can’t think of a single one. In every way, they’re as good or better than a dog,’” Driscoll said. “She said they’re cleaner and easier to train.”

    She also recommended the city allow a maximum two pigs per household and that it prohibit breeding the animals, he said.

    Only Ald. Doug Biggs voted against the move, saying he had serious concerns about spending taxpayer money to allow one person to obtain the pet they desired.

    Biggs, a member of the city’s Finance and License Committee, estimated the cost of drawing up and implementing an ordinance to be between $1,500 and $2,000.

    “We’re going to be spending taxpayer money for effectively one person. That seems fiscally irresponsible,” he said.

    While Biggs said he “didn’t care one way or the other” about whether pot-bellied pigs should be allowed as pets, he noted that there wasn’t a hue and cry for the measure.

    Driscoll asked if the city could eliminate some of the cost by approving the measure when it recodifies its ordinances, but Eberhardt noted that process won’t be completed until spring or summer.

    “Let’s just get it done,” Rudser said.

    Eberhardt told aldermen he would present an ordinance with a “Whitman’s sampler” of conditions to keep pot-bellied pigs. Officials can decide when they initially review the document which of these rules they want to keep.

    The city is expected to consider the ordinance before the end of the year.    

    Casarez said she is determined to get a unanimous decision in her favor.

    “Ald. Biggs, I will win you over,” she said. “I am determined.”

    This is the third time in the past four years that aldermen have been asked to allow an unusual animal in the city.

    In 2012, they approved beekeeping in the city and in 2013 they turned down a request to allow chickens in the community.

Image information: PORT WASHINGTON OFFICIALS agreed Tuesday to consider allowing residents to have a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, a decision prompted by one woman’s quest for a pet.                  

Inspection to pave way for lighthouse deal PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 September 2015 20:52

Condition will help Port officials decide if they will try to acquire landmark also sought by Michigan group

    An inspection of the Port Washington lighthouse by the National Park Service will be done sometime in September, marking the start of a 90-day window for city officials to make an application to acquire the landmark, Mayor Tom Mlada announced last week.

    “The clock is ticking,” Mlada said. “We’ve got a lot to learn about it (the condition of the lighthouse. And there’s a lot of work to be done.”

    The Coast Guard has decided to divest itself of the Port Washington lighthouse, and earlier this year published a notice to discern if anyone is interested in acquiring the structure.

    Both the City of Port Washington and the Michigan-based Geek Group sent letters of interest to the General Services Administration saying they would like to acquire the lighthouse.

    Mlada said he initially hoped that a partnership could be forged with the Geek Group that would ensure the city had control of the structure, but that does not seem likely.

    The city has formed a committee of interested people to explore the acquisition and application, and one of those members recently went to Michigan and spoke to a Geek Group representative who said they believe they will be successful in acquiring the lighthouse on their own, Mlada said.

    “He said they have no interest in a partnership and they emphatically believe they will be granted conveyance,” he said.

    “Now, it’s up to us .... to submit an application, a robust one.”

    The lighthouse is a defining feature of Port Washington, Mlada said, one the city has to work to protect.

    “It speaks to who we are,” he said.

    Mlada asked that anyone interested in joining the lighthouse committee contact him.

    “We have to tell our story, what it means to us,” he said. “It’s important.”

    City officials agreed last fall to consider acquiring the distinctive lighthouse, but said then that the need to ensure the iconic structure remains in the harbor must be weighed against the cost of renovating and maintaining it.

    The lighthouse, which was built in 1935, consists of a metal Art Deco tower that rests on a 20-foot-square cement base that has large arches on each of its faces so it doesn’t obstruct the view of mariners using the harbor.

    Since it was built, the distinctive lighthouse has been a symbol of Port Washington, used on everything from the city’s logo to postcards.

    A trip to the breakwater and lighthouse is part of the tourist experience in Port Washington, and images of the lighthouse are captured by hundreds of photographers each year.

    The fact that the city is currently working to stabilize and improve the breakwater on which the lighthouse is located makes it even more important that officials ensure it is maintained, officials have said.

    The federal government has placed 154 lighthouses throughout the country on the market since it began divesting the structures in 2001, according to the National parks Service website.

    Ten of those, including Port Washington’s, have been in Wisconsin and 43 in Michigan.

    Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, lighthouses are first offered to governmental units, non-profit and educational agencies and community development organizations.

    They are conveyed to these groups at no cost, but these groups must maintain the lighthouses while the Coast Guard continues to maintain the lights.

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