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Port Washington

Council aims to hone its communication skills PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 26 April 2017 21:04

Port officials to dedicate meeting time to discussing key issues so residents don’t feel left in the dark

For the next year, the Port Washington Common Council will devote a portion of each meeting to discussing the pressing issues facing the community, Mayor Tom Mlada announced last week.

The initiative will look at the community’s needs and the attendant expenses involved in each, he said, explaining this is an effort to give people the background needed as they look at various projects the city is considering.

He framed the topics as “challenges and opportunities” the city is facing and dealing with.

“This is an introduction to the topics,” Mlada said. “It’s meant to be a starting point. It’s a way to invite people into the conversation so they understand the situations we’re facing and the interconnectedness of them all.”

Development issues have split the city in the past year, and Mlada said the sessions will give people the background they need to fully assess these proposals. 

Ald. Doug Biggs said the council  “heard loud and clear” people’s concerns that they want more information about what is happening in the city, and the initiative will address that.

Decisions aren’t likely to be made on the nights when each topic is addressed, he said.

“We believe it’s important to get all that information to the community to make sure we’re all singing out of the same song book,” Biggs said.

Underscoring the effort are several core principles, Mlada said — increasing residential density, attracting strategic retailers and adding attractions that will enhance downtown and draw people there year-round, and preserving and enhancing safe public lakefront access.

“We must drive economic growth within our community to be successful long-term,” he said. 

Mlada noted that the earliest topics involve costs and needs the city needs to address soon, while those later in the year will deal with funding.

“These are conversations we have to have,” Mlada said. 

While people may disagree on the solutions to many of the issues, he added, “they need to understand what we’re facing.”

The topics to be addressed are:

nBreakwater repairs on May 2.

nThe lighthouse preservation efforts on May 16. The city has not yet received ownership of the lighthouse from the federal government, Mlada said, but that is expected to occur soon.

nStreet and sidewalk projects and the pavement and surface evaluation and rating system used to determine their priorities on May 6.

nPolice and fire department needs on June 20.

nIn July, when the council holds only one meeting, capital needs across all city departments will be examined.

“There are capital needs that are going unfulfilled,” Mlada said, adding that the challenge for the city is that “the more we push things down the line, the more expensive they become.”

nMarketing and economic development will be addressed Aug. 1.

nA review of city revenues is slated for Aug. 15.

nA borrowing update will be given on Sept. 5.

nThe city’s tax incremental financing district will be examined on Sept. 19.

nGrowth strategies for the city’s manufacturing and commercial base will be discussed Oct. 13.

nThe city’s economic development plan for 2035 will be reviewed on Oct. 17.

nBudget realities are the subject for the Nov. 7 meeting.

nDowntown redevelopment is slated for the Nov. 21 meeting.

nA year-end review will be held on Dec. 5.

Developer ready to move on Cedar Vineyard PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 April 2017 21:08

Purchase of Port land for subdivision, vineyard, nature preserve to be completed soon, firm’s president says

Tom Swarthout, president of the Highview Group, said Tuesday he expects to complete the purchase of 227 acres on Port Washington’s far southeast side for the proposed Cedar Vineyard development by mid-May.

“Things are really moving quickly now,” Swarthout said.  “It’s really exciting.”

The engineering work for the subdivision is completed, he said, and funding is in place for the purchase.

“Everybody’s on board,” Swarthout said, adding it has taken a significant amount of coordination to ensure that the purchase of the property — and almost simultaneous sale of 101 acres to Ozaukee County for a nature preserve — can be completed in short order.

The Highview Group is purchasing land off Highway C, land once slated for  a high-intensity subdivision by the VK Development. 

But instead of an intensive use of the land, Swarthout plans to create 82 half-acre lots on the land, with a vineyard planned along Highway C and a winery on the west side of Highway C south of Stonecroft Drive.

A 101-acre nature preserve will also be created that encompasses Cedar Gorge and roughly 150 feet of land along the Lake Michigan bluff. This property will be acquired by the Highview Group and within minutes sold to the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which has received grants to cover the $2 million purchase price.

Swarthout said 1,200 grapevines have been ordered for the vineyard. The fact they need to be planted by mid-June has driven the time schedule. 

“We don’t want to lose the season,” he said.

The first vines will be planted on the north end of the subdivision, Swarthout said last year, adding that work on the winery, which will be built using pieces of several old barns the company has acquired, will also begin in earnest this year. 

The winery and vineyard will be run by Steve and Maria Johnson, who own Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee and Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay.

Swarthout also said last year that he hopes to begin constructing houses on the land this year,.

Prospective homeowners have already reserved 12 lots in the subdivision, he said Tuesday.

Swarthout said he and his partners are encouraged by the prospective development of 44 acres of city-owned land on the south bluff.

“It brings a little more synergy to the area and validates what we believe is a special property,” he said. “We’re essentially creating a new neighborhood for the city.”

Alderman greets election winners with chilly lecture PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 12 April 2017 22:25

Larson says candidates who ousted councilmen took advantage of low turnout in Blues Factory-themed race

Instead of the traditional farewell to fellow aldermen and welcome to incoming officials, Port Washington Ald. Dave Larson used last Wednesday’s Common Council meeting — the day after the April election — to lecture the city’s newest aldermen on their responsibilities.

He singled out aldermen-elect John Sigwart, who defeated incumbent Ald. Dan Becker, the council president, by a vote of 260-98, and Mike Gasper, one of two candidates who ousted incumbent Bill Driscoll in the February primary and who ultimately won the election.

Both Sigwart and Gasper expressed opposition to the proposed Blues Factory development on the city’s lakefront in an election defined by concerns about development.

“I think we all know what issues were behind this election,” Larson added. “If there’s some type of message we’re supposed to be sent here, I don’t see it.

“I think this was a vocal minority that took advantage of a low-turnout election. I think that silent majority is going to become very loud very soon.”

Larson also told the new aldermen, “You’re not one of us. You’re part of this group.”

Larson told Sigwart and Gasper that while they may have won by a substantial margin, they represent all the people in their districts, not just those who oppose development.

“You represent the taxpayers, not the voters,” Larson said.

Sigwart said this week that he was taken aback by Larson’s comments.

“I was disappointed he felt he had to remind me I represent the people of my district. That was insulting,” Sigwart said. “He took a shot across the bow that’s going to be hard to forget.

“I don’t believe what he said was all that terrible, except when he said I was not one of them. I thought that was very bad.”

Gasper said this week that Larson’s comments were “kind of disappointing.”

“It’s not a very welcoming attitude to change on the council,” he said. “You have to roll with it if you’re on the council. There will be different people who come on and you have to work with them.

“If we want to be successful working together, we can’t all hate each other.”

In his speech, Larson also talked about the tone of the campaign, saying some of the rhetoric was “frustrating at best.”

He said he was surprised by the amount of misinformation being circulated, especially at a listening session he attended before the election.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Larson said. “I truly believe they are only hearing what they want to hear.”

Much of the correct information is available, reported in Ozaukee Press and elsewhere, he said.

The outgoing aldermen — Bill Driscoll, Dan Becker and Kevin Rudser — were praised for their service by their fellow officials during the meeting, and they offered their own parting thoughts.

Driscoll said his biggest frustration was that throughout his tenure, few people contacted him to discuss their opinions on issues.

“That’s the one thing I would change,” he said. “I don’t know how to do that.”

He said there was one vote he regretted during his years on the council — not the Blues Factory, he emphasized — adding that he believes history will prove that the council’s decision to sell the north marina slip parking lot for the entertainment complex was the right one.

Becker acknowledged the development controversies, particularly the council’s decision to sell a city-owned lakefront parking lot for the Blues Factory, saying, “At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter what business was proposed for that site. They (development opponents) would have opposed anything on that site. What’s being opposed by many is change.”

Addressing the incoming officials, Becker said, “I ask you to be bold and not only look at the needs of the city today but for generations to come. We need to be forward focused.”

While the city has come a long way in recent years, there’s still plenty of work to be done, he said.

“We need development. We need redevelopment of certain sites in the city,” Becker said. “We can’t allow buildings to stay vacant for 20-plus years.”

City set to seal $415,000 senior center deal PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 April 2017 21:02

Port council expected to approve purchase of converted church that served as center since 2011

The Port Washington Common Council on Wednesday was expected to finalize the purchase of the former St. John’s Lutheran Church for the Senior Center.

Aldermen were expected to act on a resolution authorizing officials to close the deal on the Senior Center and to consider financing for the purchase.

Officials announced in February that they had reached an agreement to pay $415,000 for the former church at 403 W. Foster St.

The senior center has been located in the  building since 2011, with the city leasing the building from KAB Enterprises LLC, which is owned by Jan and Paul Schueller.

In return, the Schuellers have agreed to donate $15,000 to the city to extend the INFOS Port Washington system, a real-time beach safety measure, to the south beach, officials said.

Although there have been some complaints about the senior center, city officials note that purchasing the building will ensure seniors have a place to go.

While several committees had recommended the city instead buy the Aurora Medical Center building at 1777 W. Grand Ave. and renovate it as a community and senior center, a project estimated to cost $1.25 million, officials said that could take years since the seniors had not yet begun to raise funds for the purchase.

The city’s decision in January to make an offer to buy the former church ends a years-long debate over where the senior center should be housed.

For decades, the center was located in the former fire station at the corner of Pier and Wisconsin streets in downtown. But a number of problems, including a lack of accessibility, forced the city to seek a new building for the center. 

Although the Commission on Aging explored a number of ideas, the city opted to lease the former church in a complex deal to keep Franklin Energy in Port Washington.

Franklin Energy, which had its offices in the former church, moved to the upper floor of the Smith Bros. Marketplace building in downtown in exchange for the city leasing its former home for the Senior Center.

The city spent $235,300 to renovate the building, including the installation of an elevator. But seniors have been vocal in expressing concerns about the building, particularly the lack of convenient parking and accessibility issues.

Two years ago, aldermen said they did not want to provide a senior center facility, although they were willing to provide programming and staff,.

But with concerns swirling over the fate of the Senior Center, the Common Council agreed in January to make an offer to buy the former church.


Challengers who bumped Driscoll in primary vie for council seat PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 21:29

Candidates opposed to Blues Factory have similar views on developent

Based largely on their positions on growth and development, Mike Gasper and Don Cosentine knocked incumbent Port Washington Ald. Bill Driscoll off Tuesday’s ballot for the 3rd District aldermanic seat.

Now, the challenge before them is to distinguish themselves from each other.

“Mike and I pretty much agree on everything,” Cosentine said. “We both want more open government.”

The difference, he said, is that he has the ear of more people in the district.

“I think I’m more in contact with the residents,” Cosentine said.

Gasper agreed that the two have similar positions on the issues, but said he believes he has a broader perspective when it comes to the search for answers.

“I think I’m a little more up on what other communities are doing to solve these problems,” he said. “I’d like to think I have a little bit to offer more in terms of solutions.”

Both men said they decided to run for office based on the city’s decision to sell a publicly owned lakefront parking lot for the Blues Factory.

Cosentine, 72, of 518 Brentwood Ct., said he would prefer the city use the parking lot as a public space, saying people often park there and look at the lake.

There are several things Cosentine said he doesn’t like about the Blues Factory proposal — its emphasis on the blues, which he said isn’t popular, and the architecture, which resembles the former Chair Factory.

“Why do we want to copy an old building?” he asked.

Downtown development in general shouldn’t copy the existing architecture, Cosentine said, but be in a more modern style.

Major projects, he added, should be decided not by the Common Council but by referendum, and more information should be made public before major decisions are made.

“I want everyone to be heard,” Cosentine said, adding he would call people in his district to get their opinions on major issues.

Gasper, 38, of 514 W. Chestnut St., said he opposes the Blues Factory largely because most people seem to.

“I haven’t heard anyone in Port who seems to be in favor of it,” he said. “Their (city officials’) vision seems to be different from most people.

“I think on big picture things, you absolutely need to reflect what your constituents want.”

Gasper said he’s not against the Blues Factory concept— particularly the theater space — only the location.

“It could be across the street and be fine,” he said. 

There are better uses for that site, he added, such as a headquarters for the proposed shipwreck sanctuary or a business that requires lake access.

In terms of other marina district developments — townhouses proposed by architect Stephen Perry Smith and Ansay Development’s plans for a six-story commercial development on the NewPort Shores restaurant property  — Gasper said he prefers to see smaller-scale development.

That, Gasper said, would allow maximum flexibility and benefit the community.

He said he would advocate for a form-based zoning code in downtown that would set the parameters for structures rather than the current use-based zoning.

“Anything new should fit into what’s already there,” Gasper said, and form-based zoning would be a better way to ensure that happens. 

Gasper also said he opposes the use of development incentives through the tax incremental financing district. TIF districts were originally intended to redevelop blighted property, he said, and should be used only for that purpose.

Otherwise, he said, the city is taking on some of the risk of development.

Many communities do use TIF development incentives, he acknowledged, “but from my perspective, it’s not something you should do. A lot of cities are doing that, but does that make it the right thing to do?”

Cosentine also disagreed with the use of development incentives, saying too many of the developments offer little to residents.

He said he is wary of the proposed lakefront developments. There’s no need for more residential growth downtown, Cosentine said, noting he fears it will crowd the area and exacerbate parking problems. 

“Condos and apartments are not the answer for downtown,” Cosentine said. “Perhaps offices would be better for downtown.”

He said he favors creating a transportation system that would take Port residents to places such as Bayshore Town Center and bring those residents to Port to shop.

“I think that would bring development to downtown, more so than condos and apartments,” he said.

Cosentine said he wants to see the city slow down development.

“To see Port Washington grow is wonderful, but let’s slow it down a bit,” he said. “I think people appreciate coming to a town that doesn’t change much or change too quickly.”

Cosentine said people should vote for him because he is willing to take the time to ensure they are heard.

Gasper said he will bring a new perspective to government and work to ensure projects brought to the Common Council are financially viable now and in the future. 

“I’m not afraid to vote against the crowd,” he said. “I haven’t liked the entire direction the council has gone. People live here because they like the charm, and they don’t want to see it all changed to generate tax base.”

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