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The price of sprawl PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 16:51

Urban sprawl lives.
    Encouraging reports of American society turning away from the voracious consumption of land for urban expansion heedless of the damage to rural areas and their contributions to the quality of living have proven overly optimistic.
    Look no farther than Grafton.
    The Village of Grafton is on the verge of leaping hopscotch style into the Town of Grafton to annex 114 acres of farmland to accommodate a commercial real estate company that proposes to build a business park.
    The business park—apparently industrial plants, offices and such—would be located at the intersection of Ulao Road and Highway C, the gateway to the lakeshore countryside with its green expanses, farm fields, lake bluffs, beautifully undisturbed Lion’s Den Nature Preserve and growing numbers of homes for families that choose to live in the relative quiet of the Town of Grafton’s rural reaches.
    Why would village officials want to accommodate this development? To grow the village tax base, of course.
    A more pertinent question would be—how will this make life better for the people of Grafton?
    If adding chunks of commercial development valuation to the tax roll were a municipal panacea, the Village of Grafton would be a nirvana plying residents with first-class services at bargain-rate taxes, given the addition of tens of millions of dollars worth of property to the tax base by the massive retail development along the village’s flank abutting I-43.
    If only it worked that way. One of the reasons it often doesn’t is the imperative that municipal services expand apace with development. The pressure on the once all-volunteer Grafton Fire Department to provide the personnel, training, facilities and equipment to protect megastores spreading over hundreds of acres of land is but one example.
    Still, disciplined, carefully planned growth is desirable for most communities, preferable to stagnating or shrinking. And it can be said that Grafton has managed its spectacular east side commercial growth well. It helped that this expansion was logical, on land adjacent to the village and next to the freeway, which made commercial development a preordained certainty.
    Speaking of logic and the freeway, I-43 and the narrow commercial corridor on its east side seems an obvious limit to village expansion. Yet now the Village Board is considering large expenditures for extending sewer and water utilities out into the Town of Grafton and building streets and other infrastructure for the business park on annexed land that is currently zoned for agriculture.
    This would be paid for by village taxpayers via tax incremental financing, a convenient mechanism for development but one that delays return on the investment until well into the future.
    Other taxpayers would likely be involved as well. In a clue to the impact the project would have on the area, the village is in discussions with Ozaukee County about road reconstruction to hasten the movement of heavy traffic between the business park and the freeway.
    Village Administrator Jesse Thyes told Ozaukee Press the project is on an “expedited schedule.” He explained, “There will be a big open discussion where we’ll discuss the feasibility of the project and then we’ll move forward.”
    The expectation is that the project will be approved because it was the village government that invited the developer, MLG Properties, to identify potential sites for a business park in the first place.
    Thyes said the decision will be based on economic feasibility, but there is something else Village Board members should consider, and that is the physical character of the community they represent.
    Grafton, apart from the shopping extravaganza beside the freeway, is at heart a small town, not a sprawling suburban tract, but a true community, and an elemental part of its appeal is its proximity to the countryside where open space and small gifts of nature still abide.
    Some of that will surely be lost, taken away from residents of both the town and the village, if the plan to turn outlying farmland into a business park goes forward.       

Let zero hour mark the end of a lakefront mistake PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 16:50

Zero hour arrives next week.
    The deadline for the sale of public land for the Blues Factory is Thursday, Jan. 18.
    If the sale goes through, it is almost certain that a two-story brick structure designed to look like a factory but housing an entertainment business will be built at the edge of the harbor.
    It is also certain that before the first brick is laid, almost all of the elected city officials who are responsible for this affront to the lakefront will be out of office. They will be gone, but the Blues Factory will be their legacy to the people of Port Washington.
    It will be an unwanted legacy. The development is viewed so negatively by the public that two Common Council members who supported it were defeated by landslide votes last year in elections driven by the Blues Factory issue.
    Shortly after being named council president, another supporter of the development resigned his aldermanic position, and in December two other proponents, Ald. Dave Larson and Mayor Tom Mlada, announced they are not seeking re-election. If the Blues Factory is built, it will likely define their service to the city.
    That is unfortunate. Mlada and Larson and the others did some good work during their tenures—and there is no question that, right or wrong, they wanted the best for Port Washington—but their Blues Factory mistake threatens to relegate those accomplishments to footnotes on their record.
    Even as zero hour approaches, however, it may not be too late to change that. It would be an act of civic responsibility and a graceful coda to their public service for the mayor and the alderman to reverse course and with the support of the council ask the designated buyer of the Blues Factory site to refrain from exercising the purchase agreement.
    It would be a similar act of civic responsibility for developer Gertjan van den Broek to honor that request. Van den Broek has demonstrated his faith in the future of his adopted hometown with his development of the Harbour Lights condominium and retail building and has been generous with his time and energy on behalf of the Business Improvement District. It would seem out of character for the businessman who was once named Port Washington citizen of the year to force an unwanted development on the community.
    When it comes to the Blues Factory, “force” is the operative word. Unlike other marina district development, there is no market demand for the blues music-themed complex; the risky project exists on the cusp of becoming a reality only because the city government forced it there.
    When proposals for commercial development of the site were sought, there was only a single response, that from Madison area blues aficionado Christopher Long. Though Long exhibited a passionate commitment to the project, lenders were skeptical and he had to abandon it for lack of financing. The Blues Factory should have died a natural death at that point.
    But city officials wouldn’t let it die, and it has lived on zombielike thanks to ascending taxpayer incentives and serial deadline extensions that eventually persuaded van den Broek to agree to take over the project.
    Even the site, the parking lot at the north end of the marina, has to be forced into a condition that can accommodate the development. The taxpayers are on the hook to spend roughly $100,000 to shore up the property for the building and pay to meet other requirements, all so that land owned by the taxpayers can be made fit to be sold for half of its appraised value.
    The pernicious effect of the development is being felt even before the land is sold. Officials recently approved a building height higher than city norms for condos to be built across the street from the site expressly so that buyers of the units could see water views over the Blues Factory.         
    Crowding the Blues Factory onto the site is now seen as an impediment to a handsomely designed residential building planned for an adjacent property. And anyone who is not in a particularly obtuse state of denial can see that the Blues Factory will result in parking and traffic gridlock that will adversely impact other development in the marina district and the marina itself.
    The fundamental objection that has fueled years of opposition to the Blues Factory remains that it will block lake views that are treasured elements of the city’s nautical charm. That this will be inflicted on the lakefront by a structure designed to resemble the factory buildings that once blighted the harbor area exacerbates the damage.
    In recognition of the public’s disdain for the development and city government changes indicating that the Blues Factory proposal would be voted down if it were considered by the Common Council that will be seated after the April election, next week’s zero hour should not be the moment the land is sold for the development.
    Rather, it should be the moment the mayor, the aldermen and the developer do the right thing for Port Washington.

Let developers step up in supermarket quest PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 03 January 2018 19:03

The shock is wearing off, but the knowledge that Port Washington will lose its only grocery store in less than six months lingers over the city like a dark cloud portending bad weather.
    It’s not quite a crisis; two out-of-town supermarkets, Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly and Walmart, are located a fairly short drive away in Saukville. Yet the closing of the Sanfilippo Sentry Foods store will knock the quality-of-life index down a few notches in Port Washington.
    Convenient access to a full-service grocery stores selling fresh food items, including produce, is considered so essential to the well being of American society that the U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks what it calls “food deserts”—areas defined mainly by the distance from homes to grocery stores.
    The closing of the Sentry store will not leave most Port Washington residents in a food desert, but people without access to vehicles will be there, according to the USDA. And with or without vehicles, some residents of areas north of the city will be left 15 or 20 miles away from the nearest supermarket—full-on food-desert living conditions.
    The imminent shuttering of Sentry was brought on by a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances: The decision by owners Joe and Santo Sanfilippo to retire after years of keeping the city’s last surviving grocery store in business; the purchase of the shopping center building that houses the store by the Piggly Wiggly chain and its restriction against renting to a competing food store; and the decision by SuperValu, the supermarket chain that supplies Sentry, to not take over the store under the existing lease.
    The remarkable volume of reader comments in reaction to Ozaukee Press news stories about the Sentry closing made it clear that the people of Port Washington don’t like the idea of living in a community without a grocery store. Some of the comments faulted city officials for not doing more to prevent the loss of the one and only grocery store.
    City officials apparently knew about the possibility of losing Sentry for months before it became public knowledge. It is surprising they didn’t engage the public earlier to marshal community support for attempts to save the supermarket.
    The die is cast as far as Sentry’s future is concerned, but the effort to provide a grocery store for the people of Port Washington must go on. It should not be expected of elected officials that they be experts in business development, but such expertise does exist in the community. Officials should reach out to the developers who have been working with the city on prominent residential and commercial projects, including Ansay Development Corp., Renew Port Holdings, Black Cap Halcyon and Stephen Perry Smith, for help in bringing a grocery store to town.
    It is reasonable to expect that these successful real estate developers would put their savvy, connections and market knowledge behind this cause—to support the community in which they are investing, as well to further their own business interests.
    Concerning the latter, picture a real estate agent giving a sales pitch to a prospective buyer or renter of one of the units in the upscale residential buildings soon to be built in the marina district. After hearing about all of Port Washington’s impressive attributes, the potential new resident might say, “That sounds wonderful, but by the way, are the city’s supermarkets conveniently located?”
    Imagine the sales person having to say, “Sorry, we don’t have any of those. You have to go to Saukville, Grafton, Cedarburg or Mequon to buy groceries.”

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