City backs idea of tweaking Blues Factory plans for condos Print
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 19:16

Commission likes proposal to change design of lakefront entertainment complex to accommodate adjacent project

    The idea of an expanded public space between the proposed Blues Factory on Port Washington’s north marina slip and a 10-unit condominium planned for the vacant grocery store just west of it excited members of the Port Plan Commission last week.
    “There’s been such a huge concern about green space there,” commission member Brenda Fritsch said. “These pocket parks are essential.”
    Not only does the expanded space between the two buildings provide a space for people to linger, she said, it also creates a place for people to enjoy the waterfront and views.
    “A view only exists if you go down there and sit,” Fritsch said. “And there’s an intimacy about this as well.”
    The commission concurred, directing city staff to work with developers of the two spaces to try and make such a space a reality.
    “This entry to the harbor is pivotal,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, an architect and member of the commission, said. “I don’t think it’s 100% workable the way they got it laid out, but I really like the idea.
    “If we can facilitate that discussion, it’s going to make the whole area better.”
    The discussion came about as the commission got its first glimpse of a plan to convert the vacant grocery store at the Port Harbor Center into a 10-unit condominium development.
    The plan, which was recommended by the Design Review Board, calls for a three-story structure to be built with underground parking, four condo units on the first two floors and two on the third floor. The units would range from 1,800 to 2,100 square feet.
    The building itself would be 35 feet high, but the peaked roof, which steps down to the north and south, reaching 45 feet.
    Architect Mark Helminiak proposed widening the alley between the condo and the Blues Factory to as much as 30 feet, perhaps slicing a corner off the Blues Factory structure, to create a public gathering space there.
    As these projects and two others already proposed for the marina district take shape, these public spaces are important, both for pedestrians and motorists alike.
    “I think it’s a really important feature,” Fritsch said.
    When the Blues Factory was proposed, Fritsch added, the north end faced a brick wall, so its current design made sense.
    That’s changed.
    “I’m glad we’re talking about it,” she said.
    “It’s phenomenal,” commission member Tony Matera added.
    Matera said the only thing that concerns him about the plan is the loss of retail space, particularly since the city is facing the potential loss of its only grocery store.
    A small market, he said, “would thrive down there.”
    But Mayor Tom Mlada noted that the owners of virtually every grocery store the city has talked to have said “we don’t have the density for that, we don’t have the critical mass.
    “What we’re hearing is the residential has been such a missing piece of downtown ... what we’re planning isn’t enough.”
    Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, noted that Port Harbor Center owners Don Voigt and Jim Vollmar have talked to grocers and other commercial developers for years in the hope of renting the building.
    “It has been commercial for 25 years, and it’s still vacant,” he said.
    Although the plan for the condominium building wasn’t formally presented to the commission, members took the opportunity to weigh in on the preliminary plan, with many members praising it.
    “I do feel the architecture fits well,” Ehrlich said.
    “I think it’s fantastic,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a member of the commission and chairman of the Design Review Board, said. “I love the architecture.
    “I’d rather look at this than what’s there now.”
    Vanden Noven said he believes the building will spur further development in the area, particularly at the former Dairy Queen building across from the shopping center on Washington Street.
    “I can’t wait to see this get built,” he said. “I hope we can work with the Blues Factory developer to create something like this (public space).”
    Commission member Amanda Williams noted that all the proposed development along the lakefront will change the area, and that causes some concerns.
    And there are still questions with some of the plans, she said, noting there’s still a question whether the Blues Factoy will proceed.
    “There are a lot of things up in the air,” she said. “I think part of the struggle we’re having is there are so many variables. If a few of those buildings were there and you could assess how they fit ...”
    But, Williams added, it’s a good thing the discussion about these projects is occurring now, when officials can consider them together.