Proposed changes call for adding five properties north of Pier Street, making infrastructure upgrades
The Port Washington Plan Commission on Monday approved changes to the city’s tax incremental financing district project plan and recommended that the Common Council add five parcels to the district.
The proposed amendments would add the five properties — all of which are north of Pier Street — and include $7.8 million in development incentives for a number of projects.
Those projects include the already constructed Port Harbour Lights, an Ansay Development proposal for a marina district development and future redevelopment of the Port Harbor Center and the Jadair property off Grand Avenue.
Also included in the plan are infrastructure improvements to accommodate some of these developments.
The commission had been expected to act on the amendments after it held a public hearing on the matter Feb. 16, but officials delayed action after learning Ansay Development was no longer proposing to construct a 44-unit luxury apartment building in the district.
Instead, the firm plans to construct a smaller apartment building on the former Victor’s property and Charlie and Jody Puckett, who own several properties on Pier Street, plan to build townhouses there in the future, officials said.
Delaying action on the TIF plan allowed officials to crunch the numbers and ensure the developments within the district would pay for themselves.
“That’s the key,” City Administrator Mark Grams said.
The commission’s action came during a special meeting just weeks after a number of residents at a public hearing on the plan spoke against one of its major components — development incentives.
Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, acknowledged Monday that incentives are a hot button item, but said they are needed to “level the playing field.”
Developers who build on raw land incur costs of about $60,000 an acre, Tetzlaff said, while those in the downtown — where they may have to raze a building, remediate the property and deal with site restraints — incur costs of $400,000 to $600,000 an acre.
“There are greater development costs in downtown, but the construction costs are the same,” Tetzlaff said. “To encourage development in our downtown, we’re offering TIF financing.”
In return, he said, the increased taxes on the property must repay that financing before the TIF district expires in 2038. To ensure that occurs, the city stipulates in the development agreement that if there is a shortfall, the developer will cover the cost.
Developers don’t automatically receive the incentives they want, Tetzlaff added.
“A developer may ask for $2 million in incentives, but the increment may only cover half of that,” he said, adding that then the incentive would be capped at $1 million.
Because the projects need to repay the incentive over the life of the district, Grams said, there’s an incentive for developers to begin work quickly so there’s enough time for the increased valuation to repay the debt.
Grams also noted that if the estimated valuations in the district come in lower than anticipated, the amount of money available for incentives will also be less.
Tetzlaff emphasized that projects in the TIF plan are not automatically approved by the city.
“They still need to be vetted,” he said.
One resident on Monday urged the commission not to expand the TIF district.
Amy Otis-Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St., asked commission members not to approve the changes “primarily because I think a lot of the projects included in it have not been vetted enough with community support.”
Many of the people attending recent listening sessions for the 3rd District aldermanic race expressed that feeling, Otis-Wilborn said.
“They think things are moving far too fast and they want to be more involved,” she said.
The action shouldn’t take place at a special meeting, she added, because that limits the amount of input the public has.