Future of bluff land sparks development discussion

We Energies asks city for direction after Land Trust expresses interest in 23 acres next to planned subdivision
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Should a 23-acre parcel of south bluff land adjacent to what will be Port Washington’s largest subdivision remain undeveloped or should it become a subdivision or used for commercial purposes?

The city’s Plan Commission recently wrestled with that decision at the request of We Energies, which owns and is selling the land just south of its power plant.

The land has been for sale for about a year, and City Administrator Mark Grams said there have only been a few inquiries.

“I know the Land Trust is interested in the land,” he said, although that would be dependent on grant funding.

A residential developer has also asked about the land, he said, adding, “I don’t think you’re going to see commercial up there.”

The property is immediately north of the proposed Prairie’s Edge subdivision, which would add hundreds of housing units as well as commercial space on 35 acres.

Work on that subdivision was expected to begin late last year, but developer Tony Polston of Black Cap Halcyon made some tweaks to the plan earlier this year and has not announced a groundbreaking.  

Bob Harris, the city’s director of planning and development, told the commission that he recently met with officials from the utility and its real estate brokers who want to know if the city wants to see the land developed and what uses it would consider there.

Only about half the land is developable since wetlands are on about half of the property, Harris said.

The northern portion of the land, which adjoins the power plant, is zoned public utility land, he said, while the southern portion, which is adjacent to the proposed Prairie’s Edge subdivision, is zoned agricultural land.

Grams noted that We Energies had retained the land for decades as a buffer from the plant when it was fueled by coal. That changed when they converted the plant to a gas-fueled facility, he said.

The utility had offered about half the land for sale when the city sought development proposals for what is to be Prairie’s Edge, specifying then that it would only consider commercial uses, but that has changed.

“I go back and forth,” Grams told the commission. “I can see it being a great conservation area. I also can see it as a nice residential area.

“You have to look at it as what’s in the best interest of the city.”

Whoever buys the property will be required to retain an environmental corridor on the east edge of the land, much like Prairie’s Edge will have, Grams noted.

Harris noted that because of the property’s south bluff location, extra design consideration will need to be given to any development there.

“They don’t make too many of these parcels,” he said.

The commission agreed to retain the current zoning, a proposal made by member Ron Voigt.

“That keeps us in the driver’s seat,” he said. “Let them (potential developers) come forward with their proposals.”

Commission member Tony Matera agreed, calling the land “a blank slate.”

Voigt, who is president of the Parks and Recreation Board, questioned whether it’s best to keep the land as a park or nature area.

“We’ve had trouble maintaining the parks we have,” he said, noting that while the amount of parkland in the city has increased the budget for maintenance hasn’t.

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