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Port Washington


Lighthouse news good and bad for city PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 23 December 2015 18:57

Port gets more time for application to obtain structure, but officials concerned that Geek Group is still in running

Port Washington officials received good news and bad news regarding their application for the city’s lighthouse this week, Mayor Tom Mlada said.

The good news is that the deadline for the city’s application to obtain the lighthouse from the federal government  has been extended to Jan. 21, giving officials more time to beef up the form, Mlada said.

But the bad news is that the Geek Group, a Michigan-based  nonprofit agency aimed at fostering people’s interest in science and engineering, still plans to submit an application for the lighthouse, Mlada said.

As a matter of fact, Mlada said, the Geek Group had also sought and been granted an extension on the application deadline by the National Park Service.

City officials had hoped that the fact the Geek Group did not send a representative to an inspection of the lighthouse indicated the organization was no longer interested in acquiring the structure.

Chris Boden, president and chief executive officer of the Geek Group, would not comment Tuesday on whether the group planned to submit an application for the lighthouse.

In July, Boden said that if the group acquired the lighthouse, it would open it up to its members to do environmental and alternative energy research.

“We’re not going to tear it down,” he said at the time, adding the Geek Group realizes the importance the lighthouse has to the city. “We have a deep appreciation for that. That’s why we’re not going to do anything stupid. We’re very community oriented.”

The Coast Guard declared the lighthouse surplus property earlier this year. It was then  placed on a list of properties to be divested by the federal government. Only two groups, the city and the Geek Group, are vying for ownership of the structure. 

Although acquiring and maintaining a lighthouse would be expensive — the estimated cost of repairing the porthole windows came in at $18,000, Mlada said — for Port officials, the decision to seek ownership of the structure was relatively easy. The Art Deco-styled lighthouse, which has graced the harbor since 1935, is a city landmark.

For many people, a trip to Port isn’t complete without a visit to the lighthouse, which is a symbol of the community used on everything from the city logo to postcards.

Mlada said the deadline extension will give the city time to refine its application.

“We need to make this application as robust as possible,” he said. “We’ve put a lot of effort into this, and I want to make sure what we submit reflects that.”

He noted that the city is seeking letters of support for its application to show the backing the city has received in its quest for the structure.

The city has already invested significantly in the lighthouse, Mlada noted. It is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize the breakwater leading to the lighthouse and investing a significant amount of time and money in that venture, and making improvements that will allow more people to access the structure. 

Mlada said he hopes to present the Common Council with a preliminary application on Jan. 5, although the completed document isn’t due until Jan. 21.

After the document is submitted to the federal government, there is a 60-day review period before officials will learn whether the city or the Geek Group will get the lighthouse.

“I’m going to move forward with the thought that at the end of March we’re going to be offered conveyance of the lighthouse,” Mlada said.

 
Chairman says town maligned over snafu in clerk’s salary PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 20:53

Melichar blames radio host, ex-clerk for turning innocent mistake into innuendos of corruption

Port Washington Town Chairman Jim Melichar went on the offensive this week, saying a Milwaukee radio talk show host falsely accused the town of corruption because of a $713 salary mistake that was the result of an honest error.

“For that amount of money, we were exposed as a corrupt town by Mark Belling. Thank you, former clerk,” Melichar, who said former town clerk Jennifer Schlenvogt contacted Belling, wrote in a letter to residents.

Melichar’s letter was prompted by a segment on Belling’s WISN radio show last week that, he said, unfairly slammed the Town Board and recently appointed Town Clerk Cheryl Karrels, who refunded the overpayment shortly after the mistake was discovered. 

Karrels said Tuesday she has been criticized by a number of residents since the radio show aired.

“I’ve had people say I’m stealing from the town,” she said. “I’m new to this. You learn and you fix things. That’s what happened here.”

Schlenvogt, who resigned as clerk on June 30 and questioned Karrels’ salary at last week’s town board meeting, did not return phone calls but in an e-mail wrote that the salary issue has led her to question how well the town board is overseeing the clerk’s work. 

The salary discrepancy came to light last week as the town board reviewed the budget and discussed the clerk’s salary. 

While the minutes of the July 10 Town Board meeting setting Karrels’ salary called for her to receive 10% less than Schlenvogt — which would have amounted to $35,100 annually — the resolution formally appointing Karrels set the salary at $37,000.

When she began work on July 15, Karrels said, she found the salary resolution on her desk and used the figure in it to determine her semiweekly pay, not realizing there was a discrepancy.

The board decided on Dec. 7 to have Town Attorney Steve Cain review the matter. When Cain said on Dec. 8 that he interpreted the documents as setting the annual salary at $35,100 plus per diem pay, Karrels said she immediately calculated the overpayment and wrote a check to the township for that amount.

“I wanted it clean and done immediately,” Karrels said.

“It was an oversight by all of us,” Melichar said. “I’ll take responsibility because I’m the chairman.”

Melichar said he believes the mistake occurred because Cain may have combined Schlenvogt’s salary and per diem pay instead of using just her annual salary when calculating Karrels’ salary.

Schlenvogt has been critical of Karrels’ performance, Melichar said, but hasn’t given her a chance to learn the job.

“The former clerk said it would take three years for a new clerk to get up to speed with all that has to be done,” he wrote. “She got 5.5 years of support from the board. She only gave Cheryl four months. Don’t know why, but in a small town you never know.

“There was a motion made, a resolution printed, all public record, it has been corrected.”

Melichar noted that the town had repeatedly tried to contact Schlenvogt to help train the new clerk, but she did not respond.

In her e-mail, Schlenvogt said she offered to interview and train the next clerk. 

“No one took me up on that offer,” she wrote.

 
City poised to sell former water tower land PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 09 December 2015 19:34

Works Board will consider sale of west side parcel to neighbors before marketing it

Port Washington officials are preparing to sell yet another piece of city-owned land.

The parcel — the third the city has been asked to consider selling this year — runs between Grand Avenue and Larabee Street west of Eva Street.

It was the site of a water tower until the late 1970s, when the west-side water tower was built behind what is today Eernisse Funeral Home, officials said.

The strip of land is 61 feet long, offering the potential for the city to sell two buildable lots, one fronting Grand Avenue and the other fronting Larabee Street, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said.

“We really don’t need this land,” he said.

Vanden Noven said he would recommend that the Board of Public Works offer the land to the neighboring property owners before marketing it.

The land could be split among the four adjoining properties, he noted, which would eliminate the possibility it would be built on.

If the neighbors don’t buy the property, it could then be sold, he said.

The Board of Public Works on Tuesday was scheduled to consider the possible sale of property owned by the water utility, but that meeting was cancelled due to a lack of a quorum.

The matter will be taken up by the board at its next meeting, Vanden Noven said.

“This is just the very first step in the process,” he said.

If the board decides to sell the property, it would have to be declared surplus land by the Plan Commission and the Common Council would have to decide how to sell it. The city could auction it or market it with a real estate office.

The move to sell the land comes as officials are looking at city-owned properties that aren’t being used to determine whether they should be  retained or sold and put back on the tax rolls.

The decision to look at selling this particular property was made now because the city is rebuilding Larabee Street next year, Vanden Noven said.

If the property is sold for development, the city would install sewer and water services for the lot off Larabee Street, he said.

This isn’t the first city-owned parcel to be put up for sale this year.

Earlier this year, the Common Council agreed to sell a city-owned waterfront parking lot off the north slip marina — a controversial decision opposed by residents who said the community should not sell valuable harborside land. 

Officials are negotiating with Madison-based developer Chris Long, who plans to create a Paramount Blues-related entertainment complex on the land.

Last month, aldermen agreed to consider selling a 44-acre parcel the city owns just south of the We Energies power plant.

 
City will begin talks to sell Hwy. C parcel PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 02 December 2015 23:47

Council authorizes staff to negotiate sale of 44-acre lakefront site, apply for grants to help pay for upgrades

Following a closed session Tuesday, the Port Washington Common Council unanimously authorized staff members to negotiate the sale of a 44-acre parcel of city-owned land at the intersection of South Wisconsin Street and Highway C and to apply for any state grants  that would help pay for improvements to the property.

Those improvements are most likely to include bluff stabilization efforts and the extension of utilities, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

In his motion, Ald. Dan Becker noted that the property was recently declared surplus by the Plan Commission “since there is no public need for the land” but the public would benefit from the sale of the parcel.

Grams said three parties have indicated an interest in the land — one of whom submitted a letter of interest in obtaining the land on Monday and the two others who have made verbal inquiries.

If others who are interested in the property come forward, Grams added, the city would also negotiate with them.

“We haven’t made a commitment to anybody yet,” he said.

The parcel, which is on the east side of Highway C just south of the We Energies power plant, is considered prime real estate since it runs along the Lake Michigan bluff.

It was acquired by the city as part of a sweeping agreement in which officials agreed to back the conversion of the We Energies power plant from coal to natural gas, and has long been considered ideal for residential development.

Earlier this year, Peter Didier of Re/Max United, estimated the land is worth between $2 million and $2.5 million.

The land, he said, has about 2,300 feet of lake frontage that would allow for the development of 23 100-foot-wide lots.

But when asked if the potential developers had strictly residential uses in mind, Grams said, “I can’t say that. We’re so early in the process, ideas are being bandied about.”

Grams also said that he was unaware of any potential grants that could aid in the development of the property “until the other day. There are a lot of questions about this.”

The city is facing a deadline in looking into any potential grants for infrastructure improvements, he said, adding that officials hope to know “within the next couple weeks.”

That will allow the potential developer to decide whether to move forward, Grams said.

Any grant the city discovers would be available to any developer interested in the property, he added.

If the city does sell the Highway C land, it could become the third lakefront development approved by the community in recent history.

Already in the works are the Cedar Vineyard subdivision off Highway C just south of the city-owned land and the Port Harbour Lights development in downtown.

The Cedar Vineyard subdivision combines 82 home sites with a vineyard and winery and natural areas in a project expected to get under way next year while Port Harbour Lights, a Franklin Street redevelopment project, will add 14 high-end condominium units and 10,000 square feet of retail space to downtown.

 
Referendum begs question about vacant school land PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 22:13

With building needs handled, should district sell site it’s owned for decades?

With the decision made to create a modern high school on its current site and build an addition onto Dunwiddie Elementary School, is it time for the Port Washington-Saukville School District to sell an undeveloped school site it’s been holding onto for decades?

Good question, officials said Monday.

“It will be somewhat of a difficult decision, but you need to think about how much longer the district should hold onto this vacant land before we turn it over to the tax rolls and generate some revenue for the district from the sale of the land,” Supt. Michael Weber told the School Board Building and Grounds Committee.

The land in question is a 54-acre parcel north of Highway 33 and east of Highway LL in the City of Port Washington that officials said the district acquired more than 30 years ago. The property is flanked by the Spinnaker West subdivision to the south and Woods at White Pine development to the west.

The district currently leases the property to Century Acres Inc., which farms the land. The lease expires in December 2016.

The district has held onto the property for decades as an insurance policy against growth, and with studies and proposals through the years that called for significant residential development, it was a welcome peace of mind.

But some projects, like the sprawling VK Development subdivision planned for the south side of the city, never materialized, and what growth has occurred didn’t overwhelm schools with students.

“A city development plan at one point projected fairly significant growth in Port Washington, and again the school board thought we should hang onto the property,” Weber said. “But here we are, eight to 10 years later, and that growth hasn’t happened. The city has grown, but not to the extent that was projected.”

And in April, the approval of a $49.4 million referendum settled the debate over whether to commit to the current high school site or look for a new location for Port High. In addition, the school improvement plan will provide for an addition at Dunwiddie Elementary School to alleviate overcrowding in the primary grade levels.

“All the reasons we’ve been hanging onto the property began falling away with the passage of the referendum,” Weber said. 

If there are reasons to hang onto the land, school officials said, they include the fact that there are plans for new residential developments in Port, and vacant parcels large enough to accommodate a school are scarce. 

Most notably, plans for the Cedar Vineyard subdivision on former VK Development land call for 82 homes to be built beginning next year.  

The city is also preparing to sell 44 acres of former We Energies land on the Lake Michigan bluff immediately south of the power plant for development.

But there is no sign yet that the district will need another school to accommodate increases in enrollment, and there is room on all of its elementary school sites to expand current buildings, school officials said. 

And selling the property, which nestled among subdivisions is a logical place for residential growth, could benefit both the district and the city financially. Selling it to a private developer would put the land on the tax rolls and, when developed, would add value to the tax base. It could also net a significant amount of money for the school district.

The decision, school officials said, will likely come down to what the property is worth.

“I think it’s a very desirable location for residential development,” school board member Brenda Fritsch said.

She noted, however, that although the economy and housing market are showing signs of life, developers may still be wary of major undertakings.

“Development and new homes are on the uptick, but it may take some time for developers to want to take on significant projects,” Fritsch said.

The district is working with Moegenburg Research Inc., a Brookfield real estate appraisal and consulting firm, to determine the value and marketability of the land.

“Keeping the land is not a financial burden to the district,” Weber said, noting the district receives a small amount of revenue from leasing the property, “but the question is, is it necessary to continue holding onto it or do we sell it at top market value?” 

 
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