Waubeka Mill, Button Factory saga continues

Owner of dilapidated buildings in Town of Fredonia will appeal county’s denial of permit for riverfront properties

EARLIER THIS YEAR, a portion of Mill Street in Waubeka was closed by Town of Fredonia officials because of concern that the dilapidated structure would collapse. Press file photo


Ozaukee Press staff

The owner of the dilapidated Waubeka Mill and Button Factory buildings bordering the Milwaukee River in Waubeka is appealing an Ozaukee County denial of his request to operate a commercial business there.

Charles Sheridan Sr. is asking the county for a variance to allow him to operate a commercial boathouse out of the Button Factory.

But his request was denied this fall by the Land and Water Department because zoning regulations require a 10-foot setback from the river, county sanitation and zoning specialist Barry Sullivan said.

“It basically has zero setback,” Sullivan said.

Sheridan is appealing the staff’s decision to the county Board of Adjustment. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11, Sullivan said.

It’s the latest development in a long-running effort by Sheridan to renovate the two buildings.

Sheridan bought the Button Factory from Ozaukee County in a 1990 auction and has proposed at various times to turn it into a single-family residence, a kayak rental business or combining it with the nearby Waubeka Mill, which was bought in 2019 by a company for which Sheridan is the agent, according to state records.

Sheridan said he needs county approval before he can improve the Button Factory, beginning with shoring up and flood proofing its foundation.

“They (the county) have rejected me twice. I hope we don’t have to end up in court,” he said.

“We’re hoping they will reverse the decision. It’s not likely. They don’t seem to be interested in helping us, and I just can’t fathom that.”

Earlier this year, Sheridan offered to donate about half of the mill, located just west of the Button Factory, to the county to  use as a boat launch. Doing so would require demolishing the west end of the mill.

In May, that offer was rejected by the county Natural Resources Committee due to potential liabilities, Sullivan said.

“There’s too much asbestos. The only way the county would consider it would be if he donated the whole mill,” Sullivan said.

Sheridan, who lives in Illinois, is currently seeking support to host a kayaking school there.

“Would like to ask Waubeka/Fredonia community if they would be interested in me hosting a kayaking school in Waubeka,” Sheridan recently posted on social media.

“We would like to see the public get commercial access to the river through the new boathouse.

“I believe that the county is trying to violate my right by not allowing the public to access the river through a new boathouse.”

Sheridan has claimed that the state Department of Natural Resources has already approved the boathouse.

Sullivan said the DNR only ruled that the boathouse would not be detrimental to the river, but that Sheridan is still required to meet town and county requirements, such as the setback rule.

Sheridan said he has contacted a kayaking instructor and the Northern Ozaukee School District to gauge interest in using the site for classes.

Concerns over the stability of the mill have prompted Town of Fredonia officials to close Mill Street to traffic.

“It’s silly,” Sheridan said of the road closure. “Nothing has fallen off the building.”

The Button Factory is on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation requires Sheridan to use materials that look like the oldest part of the structure, which dates back to the 1800s, when renovating it.



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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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Port Washington, WI 53074
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