Residents divided over future of Knellsville

Town of Port Washington forms special committee to weigh plan for town center against other options
By 
By KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

By KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM

Ozaukee Press staff

Plans for development of the Knellsville area in the Town of Port Washington will get a jump start later this month.

That’s because an ad hoc committee of interested property owners in the area is tentatively slated to hold its first meeting on July 18 or 25, Town Chairman Jim Melichar said Monday.

The committee was born out of a June 6 public comment and listening session on the Knellsville district and the question of whether current plans for the area are the right ones.

That meeting filled the Town Board room. 

The current Knellsville overlay district was created in 2006, when the town and city of Port approved their border agreement, Melichar said.

Currently, the Knellsville area is zoned for various types of businesses typically found in a town center.

“We’ve got people who own land and are questioning if it’s a good plan,” Melichar said, noting some believe the current master plan is too limiting.

Christy DeMaster, the town planner, said that allowing piecemeal development “would totally change what you could do with that (town square concept).”

Kathleen Cady Schilling, executive director of Ozaukee Economic Development, told residents the biggest obstacle to Knellsville development is the fact there is no sewer and water service, something many businesses require.

That could be changing in the future, she said, since the City of Port is considering a north-side tax incremental financing district that would bring these services to the edge of the town.

But before that happens, she said, the city will need a large-scale business to commit to locating in the area, and that could take some time. 

DeMaster noted that the city will only extend utilities to the edge of Knellsville. From there, it’s up to the town to pay to extend those services.

As a starting point, she said, the town should try to get an estimate of that cost, noting any business coming into Knellsville would need to know the financial implication.

“That’s a big bill,” town resident Steve Jentges said, adding he believes the only way it may be justified is if a large manufacturer moves to the district.

“If we don’t have manufacturing, sewer and water isn’t that important,” he said.

Another challenge for the town is the fact that, while it’s located on I-43, it’s a little further north than most businesses want to locate, Cady Schilling said..

“This location is great,” she said. “The advantage you have here is you have inexpensive land near the interchange. 

“But it’s northern proximity is a little bit challenging. Most people look at Highway 60 and south, maybe Highway 33. It’s hard to get people to look north.”

The lake, which is normally seen as an advantage, is also a drawback because it limits the customer base in the area, Cady Schilling said.

“National retailers go strictly by the number of rooftops,” she said. 

Robert Jackson, president of Jackson Machinery, said he doesn’t believe Knellsville will get sewer and water service in the near future, but said that shouldn’t stop the town from seeking manufacturing uses.

He said the town needs to promote its biggest asset — a qualified workforce.

“I think the asset of the community is the people here who are capable of work, of doing the manufacturing jobs we have available all over the place,” he said. “I think you have to look at manufacturing.”

Paul Gantner agreed, noting one of the main reasons Charter Steel built in Saukville was the quality workforce.

“This area has some limitations but it has a lot of possibilities,” he said. “We’re a well-kept secret.”

However, Jackson added, the town also needs to work to bring high-speed cable into the area, saying it’s vital for industry.

But Jentges suggested the town consider residential uses for the Knellsville area.

“People need a place to live. What better place to live than off the highway?” he said.

The town shouldn’t move too fast, Peter Weiss said, noting one factor contributing to the slow growth of the area was the recession.

“I think we’re on the cusp of something finally happening,” he said. “We’re inching forward. I think you’re shooting yourself if you change things now.”

He suggested waiting a year before making any changes to the Knellsville plan, saying it still has value.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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