Downtown proposal that calls for lakefront development prompts residents to voice concerns at public hearing
Questions but few criticisms were offered by several dozen people attending a hearing on a redevelopment plan for downtown Port Washington last week before the document was accepted by the Common Council.
Most of the questions centered around plans for development near the lakefront, how they would affect the views of neighboring properties, draw business to the area and whether they would be sustainable.
“Have you looked at the rest of the neighborhood?” asked Pat Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St. “When you get something like that going, what happens to my house?”
Wilborn, who said he is pro-development, also asked whether the proposed uses would help attract residents and visitors to the lakefront throughout the year.
“Are you looking at development in view of reducing the death grip (of winter)?” he asked. “How are we going to bring people into Port in January and February?”
The plans for the lakefront, officials said, were developed to minimize the effect on views but they will alter some.
“It’s hard to protect views,” said Jason Wittek, a member of the city’s Community Development Authority, which commissioned the plan.
The plan, which calls for the parking lot on Washington Street just north of the north slip portion of the marina to be developed into a restaurant or brewpub, also calls for most of the east side of the building to be transparent, with large windows on several sides, officials noted.
Bringing in a business like a brewpub — suggested by many of the roughly 90 people who attended a brainstorming session for the redevelopment plan — will create a year-round destination that will help make the plan sustainable, officials said.
Other lakefront developments in the plan include creating a banquet hall with a community center at the former grocery store in the Port Harbor Center and a residential building to be constructed on land across Washington Street where Victor’s restaurant is currently located. The parking lot east of Victor’s would be shifted to the east, closing a portion of Lake Street.
A grand entrance to the marina would be created on Washington Street east of Harborview Lane, and this could be reconfigured to provide better pedestrian access to the harborwalk and the north breakwater as improvements are made there. The marina parking lot would also be reconfigured to accommodate the nearby developments as well as boat owners.
Mary Ann Voigt, a co-owner of the Port Harbor Center near the parking lot, asked where customers of the new business would park.
“The marina is only used so much of the time,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the CDA, said. “Why not double up on its use?”
Don Voigt, another owner of the Harbor Center, asked if the city could bring more green space to the lakefront and downtown in general, saying it would help draw visitors.
There would be green space on the east and south sides of the proposed brew pub lot, Ehrlich said, and there are ways to incorporate additional green space in the reworked marina parking lot.
“The more green we can make our marina area, the better,” he said.
The plan also recommends two residential buildings, one facing Washington Street and the other facing Pier Street, be constructed on the Portabello Pizza property.
Another housing development could be created on the Jadair property south of Grand Avenue and west of South Milwaukee Street — a mid-rise building with as many as 50 apartments on the west end of the property and 15 townhouses on the south side of the land.
A public walking path could also be created on the wooded area on the far south side of the parcel, the plan states.
“This is a very interesting plan,” one man said. “I like the direction it’s going. But as a Pier Street resident, the one thing downtown is missing now is a basic grocery store.”
The plan does suggest that the property at the corner of South Wisconsin Street and Grand Avenue — across from City Hall — could be redeveloped and become home to a small market, officials noted.
“We’ve had three Realtors and they can’t find a grocery store willing to come in,” Voigt said.
But the increased residential development in the plan might be enough to spur interest by providing additional traffic for a market, officials said.
Aldermen were enthusiastic about the plan before they approved it after the public hearing.
Ald. Doug Biggs said he was initially concerned about the loss of public land around the marina.
“But much of the public space we’re talking about is concrete,” he said. “We’re talking about something that could be described as blighted and turning it into a place where people would gather.”
While not as visible as many of the other areas, the Jadair property proposals could also have a major impact on downtown, Ald. Paul Neumyer said.
“It would really complete the area,” he said.
Ald. Dan Becker said the plan creates a needed vision to guide development.
“I think it’s really exciting,” he said. “It’s good just to see what it could look like there.
“Obviously all these sites except for the parking lot are owned by other folks, but this could encourage some of these owners, show them this is what could be, and get them excited too.”
The plan also gives developers an idea of what the city wants and will approve for these areas, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
“It helps us lead this forward, and it also provides vision,” he said. “I think we’re going to get some serious interest.
“This isn’t something that will gather dust on a shelf. We’ll begin to act on it. There are some opportunities for us to move on this (plan) in the next year.”