Does Port need 180 downtown apartments?

CDA members say that’s a question the city needs to answer before signing off on Ozaukee Square plan
Ozaukee Press staff

When considering developer Cindy Shaffer’s plan to create Ozaukee Square, Port Washington officials should ask themselves if the city needs so many apartments, especially so-called workforce housing, members of the Community Development Authority said Monday.

“Do we want to devote infill development to subsidized housing and parking?” CDA Chairman Bill Prince asked. “We think of ourselves as the jewel of Ozaukee County. That wouldn’t be my choice. I see beautiful three-story townhouses around the plaza.”

There is plenty of affordable housing in the area, he said, and that supply will be greatly increased in the coming years as the Gateway development in Saukville is built.

“That will transform Saukville,” Prince said. “It’s 2-1/2 miles away. Does that suck up all the demand for more affordable housing, subsidized housing?”

That wasn’t the panel’s only concern. Like others who have reviewed the plan, members expressed concern with the size and density of the proposed development and the fact that it would require razing City Hall and the Old Theatre Square building on West Grand Avenue.

Shaffer’s plan also calls for tearing down the Family Promise building at the corner of Grand Avenue and Milwaukee Street and constructing a five-story L-shaped building that would include commercial space, parking and about 90 apartments.

The project would also extend to the Ozaukee County parking lot on the north side of West Main Street, where a public plaza would be surrounded by a second five-story L-shaped building with commercial spaces, parking, about 90 apartments and room for a library, community center or new City Hall.

Shaffer’s plan would not alter the county’s historic courthouse or Administration Center. The Edward Jones and Poole Funeral Home buildings would remain, and a house directly west of the funeral home would be moved behind the building, creating a row of three historic structures along Wisconsin Street.

“I love the south side of Grand Avenue. The reality is when I look at this big building (on the north side of Grand Avenue), the massiveness doesn’t match the area,” Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the CDA, said, adding he would like to have Graef, the firm creating the city’s downtown plan, study the proposal.

“It seems to me this plan has some merit,” he added.

Sigwart asked why the land on which Shaffer wants to build wasn’t included in the city’s downtown plans. Nothing was envisioned to be built there at the time,  especially since two of the largest parcels are publicly owned, Bob Harris, the city’s director of planning and development, said.

CDA member Missy Larson echoed Sigwart’s comments about the buildings’ size, particularly the height.

“I’d like to be really cautious on this height stuff,” she said.

CDA member Rick Sternhagen asked if Shaffer intends to keep the current tenants in the Old Theatre Square, something she said is her goal. Because her plan is to construct the building north of the courthouse first, Shaffer said, there is time to work out plans with the tenants, who could be moved to the buildings along Wisconsin Street in the interim.

Shaffer, who said she’s looking at ways to build a less massive structure along Grand Avenue, said she may look at approaching the project in two phases, seeking approval first for the building north of the courthouse and later for the Grand Avenue building.

“If we did it in phases, it would be more palatable,” she said. “I think it’s too much for everybody (all at once).”

The northern building, she said, would make an immediate impact, adding that her plans call for that structure to be constructed first even if the overall project is advanced.

“You’re taking a big, ugly surface parking lot and making it into a beautiful plaza,” she said.

Sternhagen, however, disagreed with that approach.

“You’re just going to be breaking up one conversation into many,” he said. “This is a really interesting and great  looking plan. To break it into pieces doesn’t have the same pizazz.”

Sternhagen also asked how Shaffer’s plan came about. Former Mequon mayor Connie Pukaite, who is involved with Family Promise, asked her to come up with workforce housing for the area, Shaffer said, and after visiting Port and seeing  inspiration in the courthouse and potential in the parking lots on either side of it, Ozaukee Square was born.

The question of what workforce housing is and how it would impact the community came up repeatedly.

Shaffer said she will be applying for state credits that help offset the cost of building so-called workforce housing. It’s a competitive process, she said, and there’s no guarantee she will receive them.

Rent would be based on a formula.Shaffer estimated that for a one-bedroom apartment, rent could be roughly $1,000 a month, including gas and electric.

“Is someone working at the Beacon restaurant going to be able to afford that?” CDA member Mary Becker asked.

“That’s the goal,” Shaffer said.

Larson questioned what impact the apartments would have, noting that the current labor shortage isn’t caused by a lack of housing but a lack of workers.

“It has nothing to do with housing,” she said.

She asked if the project needs immediate approval.

“Is this something that has to move forward this year? In the next two years?”  Larson asked.

Shaffer said the credits she is seeking are awarded in spring, and noted she would like to apply for them late this year.

  Larson asked if the project is feasible without the workforce housing credits. Shaffer said she isn’t sure, noting the funds would help offset rising interest rates and construction costs.

To attain the number of apartments needed to make the project feasible, the height may be necessary, she added.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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