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Lake Park tower R.I.P. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:01

The Common Council is poised to keep a visually disruptive structure off a high point of the park, but what were parks and planning panels thinking?

The 80-foot Upper Lake Park observation tower is as good as dead.

Rest in peace.

The Port Washington Common Council has not yet officially rejected the tower, but the comments of aldermen leave no doubt that it will not be built on the proposed Lake Park site.

The tower succumbed to the careful consideration of council members. Some of the aldermen went to the trouble of ascending to the proposed height of the structure in the fire department’s ladder truck, an exercise that revealed that the view from the tower would be underwhelming and the view of the tower from afar would be a disconcerting intrusion into lake vistas and the city skyline.

The council will do the right thing and the tower will not be built on the park bluff overlooking the lake and the city, but any satisfaction over this is tempered by the knowledge that if two other city governmental bodies had their way the outcome might have been different.

Both the Parks and Recreation Board and the Plan Commission approved the tower in the Upper Lake Park location with emphatic enthusiasm.

That an anonymous group, known only by its spokesman, with no standing as a non-profit organization or anything else, and no bona fides to offer concerning its ability to complete or finance such a project, was given a quick green light to place an enormous structure on one of the public’s most prominent and valuable pieces of parkland is as puzzling as it is alarming.

Troubling too is the fact that neither the board nor the commission expressed much concern about the aesthetic impact of a massive, utilitarian construct on a park whose natural beauty is widely praised.

This matters because the board is the steward of the public’s parkland. And the commission, by virtue of its role interpreting city codes and ordinances regulating structures, is in effect the steward of the city’s appearance.

The park site proposed for the tower ought to be regarded as sacred ground not to be made available for this use or that just because it sounds like a nifty idea.

The site is near the dramatic lake overlook in the city park created in 1934. Consisting of 63 acres of precious lakeshore land, the park was designed by Alfred L. Boerner, the renowned landscape architect who designed Milwaukee’s Whitnall Park and Boerner Botanical Gardens.

Boerner wrote that his vision for the park was a sprawling green space that would offer vistas, open meadows, wooded areas, playing fields and proximity to the water. 

It is not hard to imagine what Boerner would have thought of a blocky, eight-story tower on the high point of this public green area.

In any case, the great appeal of the park was that the land, bought by the city during the Great Depression for $25,000, came with natural vistas, some of the most magnificent views of Lake Michigan anywhere.

The PWFD demonstration made it clear that a tower would not improve on nature and that its presence would in fact diminish what nature and a gifted landscape architect had given the park.

Several council members have said they would reconsider the tower in another location, perhaps the coal dock recreation area suggested in an earlier Ozaukee Press editorial. There, in the loom of the gigantic power plant, its size and design would likely be inoffensive.

Or, as a more meaningful alternative, if the group calling itself Friends of the Tower still wants to make a generous gift to the city park system (and with an estimated cost of as much a half a million dollars the tower gift would certainly have been generous), it could fund a project to stabilize a portion of the Upper Lake Park bluff and, below it, rebuild and beautify the long neglected entrance to the north beach that is such a splendid feature of the park.

Slinging mud at a school PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 18:49

There was some misbehavior at a Port school, but nothing about it justified the distorted and sensationalized reporting or the anonymous Internet attacks that followed

There was some bad behavior at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Washington last week, a fight between two eighth-grade boys in a locker room. It wasn’t much of a fight. No one was hurt. It was not reported to a teacher, administrator or anyone in authority at the school. It was the sort of scuffle that happens from time to time in every school, big and small, public and private. Yet within hours the school was being attacked on the Internet as a hotbed of bullying.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School was the victim of an unsavory mix of shoddy professional journalism and the undisciplined venting of the homogenized information and opinion that often passes for journalism on the Internet.

A student photographed the fight with a cell phone camera and posted the video on Facebook. Someone told Channel 4 news about it, and suddenly an insignificant scuffle at a Port Washington school was a big-time news event broadcast all over southeast Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee television station sent a reporter to thrust a camera in the face of the school principal so he could explain the awful things happening at his school, lifted the student’s grainy video, ballyhooed the upcoming expose of school violence in a small town in its promo announcements and then gave the story a prominence in its news broadcasts that left the impression serious wrongdoing had been uncovered.

This provoked a number of postings on websites, generally anonymous and highly critical of the school. Some of the attacks on the school were egged on by suggestions on a website that bullying is a serious problem at the school.

Such is life in the new age of information—social networks where anything goes, Internet information providers with no accountability for fairness or truth, a news organization that ignored journalism’s imperatives of judgment and critical thinking, all coming together to sully the image of a very good school.

We are quite sure most school district residents know the following, but we are going to print it for the record anyway:

Thomas Jefferson Middle School is a large but well-organized school that is successful at educating fifth through eighth-graders and is in no way unsafe for students.

School bullying—physical or psychological intimidation of a student by others—is written and talked about a great deal these days and is certainly a bad thing, but is not a chronic problem at TJMS and is not what happened last week.

What happened was a fight, not the kind of mischief you want to see in a school, but not uncommon. What ultimately made it uncommon was that it got on the Internet and television.

The school administration handled it properly. The two students in the scuffle and two who apparently instigated it have been suspended and referred to juvenile authorities.

TJMS administrators feel bruised by the media-manufactured aspersions on the school, but the entire community should be affronted by the sensationalized television treatment and the uninformed and overwrought attacks on the school launched from the safe redoubt of anonymity, a place that is not inconvenienced by those tiresome concepts of responsibility or accuracy.

Natural areas and neighbors in peaceful coexistence PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 January 2012 19:13

DNR’s proposed Town of Fredonia nature area should go forward as a benefit to man and nature; deer hunting worries should be addressed

Privacy can be purchased. It’s one of the great perks of being rich. But most folks don’t have the luxury of owning vast tracts of open land surrounding their homes, so it’s understandable that those who live close to other people’s undeveloped land put a high value on the privacy and access to nature this fortunate proximity provides.

This accounts for the almost automatic outcry from neighbors when privately owned land is purchased by the state or conservation organizations to be preserved as natural areas open to the public.

Some of this is going on now in the Town of Fredonia, where neighbors of the Dix property are protesting the proposed purchase of the 80-acre tract by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as a state natural area.

The expressed basis for their protest is the fear that members the public drawn to the natural area will trespass on their properties.

This is a familiar refrain. It was heard when the DNR bought land in the Town of Belgium for Harrington Beach State Park, when the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust bought the Squires golf course, also in the Town of Belgium, to create the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve and when the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton and other green spaces were acquired for preservation and opened to the public.

In all of these cases the fears of neighboring property owners were never realized. Public natural areas and private homesteads coexist without conflict. Owners come to see the value of having nearby land protected from development.

If the DNR goes ahead with its plan in the Town of Fredonia, the neighbors of the Dix property will be assured of never having to live next to a subdivision.

Nonetheless, one of the concerns they voiced at a recent town board meeting—that the property would be designated as a public hunting ground—merits the attention of the DNR. The agency wants hunters to have as much access as possible to the natural areas it controls—understandable in a state with a deer-hunting ethic as deeply ingrained and politically influential as Wisconsin’s.

Deer hunting has been allowed at Harrington Beach and Lion’s Den with few, if any, problems, but the state should listen to the worries expressed by the manager of the Jewish Community Center’s Rainbow Day Camp, which operates year around on property adjacent to the Dix land.

“We are vehemently opposed to having public hunting next to a children’s camp,” Lenny Kass said.

If the natural area plan goes forward, the DNR should restrict hunting within a reasonable distance from the camp and nearby homes.

The state asked the Fredonia Town Board for a resolution endorsing the Dix property purchase. The supervisors, recognizing a hot potato when they see one, demurred, but it would have been in their constituents’ interest to have gone out on a limb and supported the plan.

If the natural area is established, town residents will benefit by having a nature preserve available for hiking, skiing, bird-watching and just observing nature. And all the creatures that share the environment, including humans, will benefit from having these acres of wetlands and upland forests kept natural and safe from development.

If the DNR follows through, the Town of Fredonia will get a one-time payment in lieu of the fairly modest taxes the property generates, but there could be more significant economic benefits down the road. As part of the state’s North Branch Milwaukee River Wildlife and Farming Heritage Area, the former Dix property would be an attraction for visitors and a quality-of-life feature that would appeal to potential new residents.         

The neighbors’ concerns are understandable. But if the experience of other natural areas is a guide, they will fade as the benefits of preservation for the public of land blessed with natural character become manifest.

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