Blues Factory proposal among issues motivating challenges in April election
There will be races in two Port Washington aldermanic districts this spring as candidates frustrated with recent decisions regarding development and what they see as a lack of attention to residents’ wishes have stepped forward to challenge incumbents.
Three candidates are running for the city’s 3rd District seat — incumbent Bill Driscoll and challengers Michael Gasper and Don Cosentine.
A primary election on Tuesday, Feb. 21, will whittle the field down to two candidates who will vie for the seat in the April 4 general election.
Vying for a seat representing the 7th District in the April election will be incumbent Ald. Dan Becker and challenger John Sigwart. The two previously faced each other in 2011.
Ald. Mike Ehrlich will be unopposed in his bid for the 1st District seat, and newcomer Jonathan Pleitner, 1890 Aster St., is running unopposed for the 5th District seat being vacated by Ald. Kevin Rudser.
In the 3rd District, both Gasper and Cosentine questioned development decisions made recently, particularly the vote to sell the north slip marina parking lot for the Blues Factory.
“I really haven’t liked the direction the city is going in lately,” Gasper, 514 Chestnut St., said. “We really should make sure everything fits.”
For example, he said, the city should have pushed to have the Blues Factory developed elsewhere and saved the parking lot property for another, more water-related use — perhaps as a headquarters for the proposed NOAA sanctuary.
And new downtown developments need to fit in with the existing collection of pre-Civil War buildings, Gasper said.
He also questioned the use of development incentives through the city’s tax-incremental financing district and said the city needs to pay more attention to the public.
“The perception, when I talk to people, is that the Common Council is pretty much ignoring them,” Gasper said.
Cosentine, 518 Brentwood Ct., said decisions on major developments such as the Blues Factory shouldn’t be made by the Common Council but by referendum.
“I don’t feel we were even a part of it,” he said of the Blues Factory decision. “Something that big should be put to a referendum — it’s like selling the family jewels. It shouldn’t be decided by seven people.”
More should be done to publicize development plans so people have a better sense of what these projects will look like and the benefits they bring — and those benefits should be more than just lowering taxes, Cosentine said.
“Are we developing all this for some store owners downtown or for the people who actually live here?” he asked. “I think we’re making a big mistake developing all this land.”
Cosentine also said the council needs to be more transparent, holding fewer closed-door sessions.
Driscoll, 812 Noridge Tr., acknowledged that proposed developments have caused controversy in the community, but he said he believes the council is moving in the right direction.
“The people who have spoken to me, who have had a conversation about the Blues Factory with me — it’s still more people in favor of it than against it,” Driscoll said.
“To say we’re not listening to the people, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he added, noting that even if aldermen don’t agree with residents, their opinions are still valued and heard.
Sigwart, a former Port city engineer, said he wants the council to focus on long-range planning, something he said is “seriously lacking,” and to become a more transparent organization.
“I think there are too many discussions that aren’t held on the floor,” he said.
Sigwart, a member of the ad hoc senior center planning committee, said he was spurred to run for alderman by the recent Common Council decision to purchase the current senior center building — a former church — instead of buying the Aurora Medical Clinic in the city’s west side and creating a community center.
“That just pushed me over the top,” he said.