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Port Washington

Seawall fix for Blues Factory gets complicated PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 16 August 2017 18:42

Aldermen delay engineering decision amid questions about cost of repairs needed for uncertain development

    Port Washington aldermen on Tuesday delayed hiring an engineering firm to design marina repairs to pave the way for the proposed waterfront Blues Factory entertainment complex, saying they want more information about the cost of the potentially expensive work needed to accommodate the uncertain development.
    Instead of agreeing to spend $14,800 to hire a Sheboygan engineering firm to design the repairs, the Common Council approved paying the company no more than $4,000 for preliminary work to provide a better idea of how much marina repairs would cost the city.
    At issue is the seawall of the north end of the north slip portion of the marina, which abuts the Washington Street parking lot the city has agreed to sell to developer Gertjan van den Broek for the controversial Blues Factory.
    Roger Miller of Miller Engineers & Scientists described the wall as being in generally good shape. Inspections over the years have revealed no problems and the sheet metal will likely last for another 50 to 60 years, he said. But a visual inspection of the infrastructure buried in the parking lot to support the wall— tiebacks and deadmen ­— revealed the wall is no longer properly anchored.
    Without a development on the site, the city could simply monitor the seawall, which shows no signs of failing, then eventually repair the existing tieback system, Miller said.
    “There is no emergency at this time,” he said. “If the (Blues Factory) project doesn’t go ahead, you may just be monitoring the wall for a few years.”
    Repairs would be required, however, if the parking lot were developed. Miller initially proposed repairing the existing tieback system and anchoring it to the foundation of the Blues Factory, but that option was rejected by van den Broek’s engineers and architects, city officials said.
    “When we met with representatives of the Blues Factory, we had hoped to work with them to connect to the foundation, but they were adamant they didn’t want to do that,” City Engineer Rob Vanden Noven said. “Still, I’d like to think this is an option.”
    The alternative, Miller told aldermen, is a new anchor system for the wall that would be independent of the Blues Factory. While he said he didn’t have prices for the options, Miller estimated the new anchor system would cost between $100,000 and $150,000.
    Vanden Noven recommended against proceeding with the seawall project until it is certain the parking lot site will be developed.
    “We could ask Roger (Miller) to provide more information on the cost differential ... or wait until we have a commitment from the Blues Factory or another developer,” he said. “I wouldn’t proceed until they (the Blues Factory) have their financing and everything is in order.”
    Last year, the city agreed to sell the north slip parking lot to the Blues Factory Inc. for $250,000 and give the firm $1 million in development incentives, which can be applied to the purchase.
    The city would be responsible for any seawall work.
    The deadline for the sale was initially set for April 5 but has been delayed until February 2018.
    The development — a building designed to resemble the Wisconsin Chair Co. factory that once stood on the site would include a restaurant, banquet facility and performance venue — has been controversial since it was proposed.
    On one side of the debate are residents opposed to the sale of public, lakefront land for private development that they argue would block access to the lake.
    On the other are aldermen and others who say a development such as the Blues Factory is needed on the parking lot site to spark economic development in the marina district.    

Group tries to make waves for proposed marine sanctuary PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 17:19

Grassroots organization says planned shipwreck preserve would infringe on rights; agency says claims are baseless

 Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are continuing to work on final plans for a proposed marine sanctuary that would stretch from Ozaukee County north, a process that could be completed this fall.
    But even if the final sanctuary plan, environmental impact statement and rules make it through the review process, designation could still be delayed thanks to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump.
    The order halts the designation or expansion of national marine sanctuaries without a “timely, full accounting from the Department of Interior of any energy or mineral resource potential in the designated area.”
    NOAA officials are trying to determine what impact that could have on the proposal, Russ Green, NOAA’s regional coordinator for the proposed sanctuary, said.   
    “We’ll keep working on the proposal and see what it means,” he said.
    Even as officials move ahead with plans for the proposed sanctuary, a group opposed to the preserve has recently started work to stop the movement, erecting a “No NOAA” billboard along I-43 in Sheboygan County. A similar message is being shown on the signboard at the Schmit Bros. auto dealership along Highway 33 in Saukville.
    “We find it unnecessary and redundant and a waste of money,” said Judith Perlman of Cleveland, a retired attorney who is working with the group.
    Perlman said she fears that if the sanctuary is approved, the state and local communities will be giving up their rights to control the lakefront and the lake.
    “My concern is we’re giving away control of Lake Michigan and what that’s going to mean for our future,” she said.            She said the group fears the sanctuary will diminish if not eliminate riparian rights — the rights of property owners along the lake — and add another level of bureaucracy that would make it difficult for people to build piers and other improvements.
    That’s due, in part, to the fact the sanctuary’s proposed borders are the ordinary high water mark, she said.
    The ordinary high water was selected because it’s the regulatory boundary used by the State of Wisconsin, according to NOAA. The single boundary allows the state and NOAA to co-manage all shipwrecks in the proposed sanctuary.
    Riparian rights would also not be affected, according to NOAA, adding that the sanctuary proposal recognizes the state’s sovereignty over its waters and submerged land.
    Perlman said she is also concerned that the proposal is so loosely worded that NOAA would have far greater power than people expect.
    “The rules are extremely vague. The discretion being given to NOAA is extremely wide,” she said. “Why can’t the law be more specific? It’s like we’re inviting a 400-pound gorilla to the dance and everyone’s going to be surprised when it leads.”
    They could be read to give NOAA authority over more than just the shipwrecks, she said, extending instead to prohibit people from collecting driftwood or beach glass because they could have come from a wreck.
    “That would not be our intent,” Green said. “Our focus is on shipwreck sites.”
    Perlman also questioned the benefits of a sanctuary, saying the state already protects shipwrecks adequately and the tourism and educational benefits touted by NOAA are overstated.
    “Do you really think there are hoards of tourists who will flock here year after year? It defies my imagination,” she said.
    Instead of a sanctuary, Perlman said, the government should put its money directly into clean water initiatives and educational programs.
    Green noted that Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich., the only Great Lakes sanctuary, gets about 100,000 visitors annually, as well as dozens of researchers.
    “It does have an economic impact,” he said.
    Many of the concerns coming to light now were also expressed when Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was proposed, Green said.
    “Over the last 17 years, you can see how those concerns were addressed,” he said.
    Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada said he “firmly believes” the sanctuary will be a benefit to the entire area, with impacts on everything from education to economic development to collaboration with other communities.
    “This is a really unique thing for the State of Wisconsin that’s going to benefit our community for generations to come. I think it’s a no-brainer that you’re going to see a discernible, positive impact,” he said.
    The federal resources that come with a sanctuary could lead to the discovery of additional shipwrecks, Mlada said, which will benefit everyone.
    “The story to be told is what we’re doing for future generations to discover, identify and protect these wrecks,” he said. “I just see so much potential upside to this.”
    Green noted that there was a public comment period after the draft environmental impact statement, rules and plan were created. Comments received at that time are being taken into account as the final documents are written.
    The final proposal will define the sanctuary boundaries — NOAA is looking at two alternatives, one that extends north to Two Rivers and the other to Algoma — Green said, as well as some regulatory options.
    Among those options are whether there should not be any anchoring on shipwreck sites or no anchoring on sites where there is an anchoring buoy.
    After they are completed, the documents will be reviewed by NOAA staff members before being sent to Gov. Scott Walker for review. They will then be sent to Congress for approval.


Council inks deals for sprawling bluff development PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 August 2017 15:46

Firm to pay $2.3 million for Port land that promises to add $60 million to tax base once developed, officials say

    The terms and conditions of the sale of Port Washington’s south bluff land for one of the largest developments in the community were approved Tuesday by the Common Council.
    A formal land purchase agreement between the city and Black Cap Halcyon as well as a developer’s agreement for the project were approved by a 4-0 vote, with two aldermen, Mike Gasper and John Sigwart, abstaining. Ald. Jonathan Pleitner was absent.
    While noting the give and take of negotiations, aldermen lauded the agreements and the Prairie’s Edge development that will occur on the bluff.
    “I really think this is a unique project —it’s exactly what we were looking for,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich said. “I’m very excited about this project.”
    Ald. Doug Biggs concurred, adding, “This isn’t a good project, it’s a great project.”
    It will provide the city with almost $60 million in additional tax base, a mix of 238 residential units and 40,000 square feet of commercial space and ensure public access to the south beach and bluff, he said, with no developer’s incentives paid by the city.
    When the project is completed in 2023, Biggs said, it will bring in an estimated $934,000 to $1.09 million in tax revenue annually. Of this, he said, the city will receive $304,000 to $350,000 annually.
    And, he said, the subdivision will have private roads the city won’t have to maintain, and the homeowner’s association will provide trash and recycling collection.
    The south bluff property, which is directly south of We Energies, was acquired by the city in 2004 as part of an agreement allowing the utility to convert its plant to natural gas without city objections.  
    Earlier this year, the Common Council considered three development proposals for the land before deciding to negotiate with Black Cap Halcyon, a Milwaukee real estate investment firm, for the project.
    The purchase agreement approved Tuesday calls for Black Cap Halcyon to pay the city $2,257,086, or $64,000 an acre, for 35.19 acres. That is the appraised value of the land, Mayor Tom Mlada noted.
    Black Cap Halcyon will pay the city $22,570 in earnest money, plus $225,708 when the sale closes. It will then make principal and interest mortgage payments of $8,433 a month to the city — an interest rate of 2.08% annually — plus an additional $1 million payment when building permits are issued for the first phase of the project and $515,869 when the permits for the second and third phases are issued.
    The first phase of the project is expected to begin in March 2018, the second phase in July 2019 and the third phase in July 2020, Eberhardt said.
    The sale is to close by Feb. 20, 2018.
    The purchase price excludes the slope of the bluff, which the city will retain to ensure beach access in perpetuity, City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said.
    Black Cap Halcyon will also dedicate 5.09 acres adjacent to the bluff for public pedestrian trails it will build and maintain, the developer’s agreement states. If the firm doesn’t do this by June of 2024, the city can build the trails and assess the cost to the developer.
    Ideally, the trails will be constructed as part of the first phase of development, Tony Polston, Black Cap’s founder and principal, said, noting they are an attractive amenity for buyers and the public. However, depending on whether the property is needed for staging, construction of the trails could be done later in the project.
    The five acres is significantly more than the 3.12 acres a developer would typically be required to contribute for the project this size, said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development.
    The intent is to have a stairway to the beach constructed, he added, but that will depend on whether the bluff is stable enough.
    Sigwart questioned why the city will retain ownership of the bluff, saying he preferred the city sell it to Black Cap Halcyon  and the firm provide an easement to ensure public access.
    Polston said the city believed ownership is important to ensure public beach access, adding that the community will be seeking grants to help pay for the trails and stairway and many of these require the land be publicly owned.
    Biggs also said it is important to retain the land, noting there is about 2,000 feet of beach.
    “The thing I’m hearing is we don’t sell public lakeshore,” he said.
    The development agreement calls for Black Cap Halcyon to construct a mix of residential, commercial and office buildings, as well as a potential private-event space. The residential units include apartments, townhouses and single-family cottages.
    Polston told aldermen that interest in the development is high, particularly by empty nesters, for the single-family cottages the company will build.
    The commercial space is something Ald. Paul Neumyer questioned, saying he doesn’t want to draw business away from downtown.
    Polston said his goal is to give people a reason to spend time in the subdivision but not compete with downtown, noting the uses he envisions include an exercise facility, medical service providers and perhaps a unique restaurant.
    “I think that would probably merit more discussion with the downtown community,” he said. “We don’t want to compete with downtown.”
    Black Cap Halcyon is allowed to lease the property to a tax-exempt entity but cannot sell it to such a group without the city’s approval, the agreements state.
    The agreements also state that Black Cap Halcyon will pay the city as much as $75,000 to reimburse it for engineering and professional services it incurs in reviewing the plans, and the city will pay Polston $56,427 to manage the project to completion.
    In addition, Black Cap Halcyon is to provide a life insurance policy on Polston with the city as beneficiary to ensure the purchase price is paid, the agreement states.
    The agreements also call for the city to extend sewer and water service to the edge of the subdivision. That was already in the works, since the utilities must be extended to the Cedar Vineyard subdivision south of Prairie’s Edge, City Administrator Mark Grams said. It will be paid for through the tax incremental financing district for that development.
    Sigwart initially asked that the vote be postponed until the council’s Aug. 15 meeting, but after a lengthy discussion of the agreements decided to abstain from the vote because they had not been reviewed by the city’s other committees.
    Gasper recused himself from the discussion and abstained from the vote because the firm he works for may be seeking to work on the development.

Concerns prompt close look at intersections PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 19:19

Port committee considers changes at Grand-Webster crossing and busy streets near middle, elementary schools

    Two intersections near Port Washington schools could see major changes in the coming months as city officials look to increase safety.
    The Traffic Safety Committee last week recommended that the city install four-way stop signs at the intersection of Holden Street and Norport Drive next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
    But members did not make a recommendation on improvements to the intersection of Grand Avenue and Webster Street, near Port Washington High School and the Niederkorn Library.
    The Grand Avenue intersection has long been a concern for officials since there have been numerous accidents and near misses, some involving pedestrians.
    A five-day study of the intersection done by Police Officer Gary Belzer in late May — before school was out for the year — concluded pedestrian safety is a concern, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss, a member of the committee, said.
    In Belzer’s report, he noted that he observed numerous violations — failure to yield at the intersection being the primary one, followed by distracted drivers and then speeding.
    Likewise, Belzer said he observed several near misses as vehicles turned south from Grand Avenue onto South Webster Street. Most of these were caused by distracted drivers or the amount of activity at the intersection.
    Part of the problem, committee members noted, is that the intersection is offset because North and South Webster Street do not line up.
    There are crosswalks across Grand Avenue on the west side of the intersection with North Webster Street and a half-block away at the intersection with South Webster Street.
    Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a committee member, said one simple measure that could help the situation would be repainting the crosswalks, since they are “nearly invisible” now.
    Eventually, he said, the city could consider creating more prominent crosswalks similar to those in downtown that could better warn motorists of pedestrians.
    “I think when people are most at risk is when people don’t see it as a pedestrian crossing,” Vanden Noven said.
    But Hingiss noted that part of the problem is that frequently when a driver stops for a pedestrian, motorists behind the vehicle try crossing on the right and nearly strike the person crossing,
    The city’s Active Community Environments Team has asked the city to consider placing bump-outs in the area to help avoid that problem, Vanden Noven said, but no funds have been budgeted for that work.
    The state would also have to sign off on bump-outs, he said.
    The committee also discussed the possibility of installing pedestrian signal lights in the area, moving the crosswalks and other potential solutions, but found significant drawbacks to each.
    “I look at this and no matter what solution we talk about, it causes another problem,” Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the committee, said.
    Vanden Noven also noted that Port Main Street Inc. is considering creating an entryway feature in the area, which could change the dynamics.
    The committee decided against making a recommendation, saying it needs to first find out what Main Street is planning for the area and talk to experts.
    The committee also recommended placing a four-way stop at the corner of Norport Drive and Holden Street, a measure recommended by City Attorney Eric Eberhardt.
    Eberhardt, who lives on Holden Street just north of Thomas Jefferson Middle School, wrote to Vanden Noven asking for the changes, saying, “based on my daily experience, I am convinced that it is only a matter of time until a child or other pedestrian is struck.”
    He compared the times when parents drop off and pick up students as “an Indianapolis 500 traffic situation in which children and adult pedestrians are quite literally forced to run for their safety or their lives while crossing at the intersection.”
    On the second day of summer school this year, he said, his wife was walking in the crosswalk when she was nearly hit by a motorist.
    “It is indeed frightening to watch each morning as we say a silent prayer for the safety of the kids and adults on foot,” Eberhardt wrote. “Frankly, there is something about the layout or appearance of the intersection to motorists that leads them to sense it is, or ought to be, a four-way stop — but it is not.”
    City Administrator Mark Grams said there are a number of issues at the intersection, including people parking at the crosswalk, which inhibits pedestrians’ ability to cross, and people driving fast on Holden Street without regard for pedestrians.
    “I always opposed putting stop signs on Holden because it is kind of a thoroughfare,” Grams said. “Now, I’m kind of seeing the light.”
    The situation isn’t limited to school drop-off and pick-up times, Sigwart said. It also occurs when there are swim meets or soccer games at the middle school and when there are softball games at Lincoln Elementary School.
    “People think traffic on Holden Street is going to stop,” Sigwart said. “Something happens at that intersection where you  think traffic on Holden is going to stop. I’ve seen people pull out (from Norport) right in front of people.”
    Ald. Paul Neumyer, a committee member, noted that part of the issue is that there are no stop signs for the length of Holden Street.
    “Once traffic clears that curve (north of the school), they really pick up speed,” he said. “What would it hurt to make this a four-way stop?”
    The committee recommended that the city consider install stop signs with flashing LED lights ringing them. That, they said, would help drivers notice them.
    The state requires that new stop signs be installed with flags on them to help notify motorists of their presence, Vanden Noven said.

Blues Factory sign draws public fire PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 July 2017 18:18

Residents opposed to controversial lakefront project ask city to remove board promoting the development

   Residents opposed to the proposed Blues Factory entertainment complex on Port Washington’s marina north slip parking lot took their fight to the Common Council again Tuesday, this time publicly questioning the city’s decision to allow a sign promoting the development on city-owned land.
    “My request is that sign be taken down,” said Amy Otis-Wilborn, 233 Pier St. “It’s premature.”
    The sign, which was erected by developer Gertjan van den Broek, promotes the building of the Blues Factory complex on the site but it also angered opponents of the development.
    Port resident Rae Mitchell on July 4 posted a rebuttal message on the sign, asking residents to question why aldermen allowed the sign to be placed on city-owned land for a development many oppose. Police later told her not to repost her message.
    Mitchell, of 302 E. Pier St., on Tuesday questioned why the city, not the developer, complained to police about her message.
    “This incident and the sign promoting a private business on our city property is the quintessential point of what has been wrong with this proposed project from the start,” she said.
    Mitchell also asked why the city approved the sign, especially when so many people have signed petitions, posted lawn signs, attended meetings and otherwise expressed their frustration and opposition to the project.
    Many people believe the line between the city and the developer “has been blurred over and over again,” she added.
     “We’re all wondering why the city is bending over backward to accommodate this project,” Mitchell said. “Something just doesn’t add up.”
    Financial institutions that fund projects like the Blues Factory require a backup plan, Mitchell said, and she questioned what that plan is. She suggested it was to create condominiums there, saying a developer wanted to build this type of housing on the property years ago.
    “I will bet you all a steak dinner, if this goes through there will be condos sitting on that north slip in five years (when the Blues Factory fails),” Mitchell told the council.
    Dwayne Haskell, 767 W. Grand Ave., said aldermen need to be more aware of public perception. Having police go to Mitchell’s door to talk to her about her sign “seemed like a threat,” he said. “Right now it’s being viewed in a very negative light.”
    Perception can become reality, Haskell warned.
    “What the council is not seeing is the optics,” he said.
    Haskell’s wife Kim agreed, saying that allowing the developer to put up a sign “is galling to that public that has no say.” And having police go to Mitchell’s door to warn her about posting her message was an over-reaction to the situation, she said.
    The situation goes deeper than the sign issue, Kim Haskell said.
    The number of closed sessions the Common Council has held to negotiate with developers in the last year has also helped erode trust between the public and the city, she said.
    Officials did not address the statements, which were made during the public comments portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
    But after the meeting, Mayor Tom Mlada said the Blues Factory sign is private property placed on the parking lot with the city’s approval, and officials were within their rights asking that Mitchell not post her message on it.
    The city has not asked people to remove lawn signs opposing the Blues Factory development placed in the public right of way, he noted.
    “There’s been no issue in terms of those signs, but when you’re dealing with a private sign, that’s another issue,” he said.
    The city has worked diligently to get public input as it formulated a vision for redevelopment in downtown, Mlada said, and officials have heard the comments from the public supporting and opposing the Blues Factory and other developments.
    “At the end of the day, not everyone’s going to agree with that vision,” he said.
    City Administrator Mark Grams, who directed police to talk to Mitchell, had no comment after the meeting.
    But last week, he said the city allowed van den Broek to erect his sign because there is a signed developer’s agreement and offer to purchase for the land.

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