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Editorials
Redemption for the VK mistake PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 January 2015 18:48

An enlightened, environmentally sound development on land left vacant after an unwise annexation would be a boon to Port Washington if TIF funding is viable

Redemption for the City of Port Washington’s 20-year-old mistake of annexing hundreds of acres of land far south of the city for a ridiculously grandiose satellite development that never materialized seemed about as unlikely as a vineyard growing in the concretelike clay that makes up lakeshore farmland in Ozaukee County.

    Now it seems both could happen.

    An inspired plan for the development of 227 acres of the land annexed in 1995 for the failed VK development would include a compact residential element, preservation of more than 100 acres of lakeshore land for public use and, yes, a vineyard.

    There would be 73 home sites, compared to the 100s planned in the VK development, surrounded by a vast expanse of green in a nature preserve and a 50-acre vineyard serving a winery that would be part of the development.

    The Plan Commission has approved the plan. Other city officials are lavishing it with praise.

    Their enthusiasm is understandable. The development called Cedar Vineyard represents an enlightened approach to residential land use that is the antithesis of the discredited concepts that gave us urban sprawl.

    Both city officials and the developer have been calling it a low-density development, but that is true only in that the home sites take up less than half of the huge VK tract. The residential component itself is quite dense—dense in a good way.

The majority of the lots will be just over a third of an acre in area, ample but of a scale that suits a clustered conservation subdivision.

    In an interview with Ozaukee Press, Tom Swarthout, president of the development company, the Highview Group, noted that while “big McMansions created cocooning,” his project will encourage residents to connect with their neighbors.

    The charm of a conservation development is that though the lots may be of modest-size, they will have a vast shared “front yard” consisting of scores of acres of green space with lake views.

    The vineyard is a surprise. Who knew that the dense soil affectionately known in these parts as “Luxembourger clay,” a far cry from the well-drained terroir prized by French and California vineyards, would be conducive to growing grapes?


    The operators of the development’s planned winery on the west side of Highway C near Stonecroft, who own vineyards near Kewaunee and Sturgeon Bay, seem to know. They plan to sign a 30-year lease for the Cedar Vineyard land.

    The conservation area between the home sites and the lake is more than a boon to the environment. It is also the catalyst that makes the salvage of the VK annexation possible. This is thanks to the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which has been pressing for preservation of part of the property, both to protect natural areas and to give the public access to some of the last undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline in southeastern Wisconsin.

    Assuming the Land Trust can find the roughly $2 million needed to buy the land earmarked for conservation and Ozaukee County agrees to take ownership and maintain it as natural park, the developer will have the prime ingredient needed for a conservation development, and lake bluff stabilization by the county to boot.

    The Cedar Vineyard concept shines in its own right, but when compared to the VK extravaganza’s planned excesses—outsized houses by the hundreds, commercial buildings for stores and offices, a resort hotel, even a marina, all of which would have been more a competitor to the city than a part of it—it looks even better.

    For all of its promise, though, the development comes with a caveat, and it’s a big one. None of it will happen if Port Washington does not extend city water and sewage service to the site, a massive construction project expected to cost upwards of $5.6 million.

    City officials propose to accomplish it by creating a TIF district that would facilitate borrowing for the infrastructure work and paying back the loans with the taxes collected on the new development.

    TIF districts are sometimes confused with magic, but they only work if the developments they make possible achieve a high enough valuation to compensate the city for the infrastructure outlay in a reasonable amount of time. If the expected tax base increase falls short, all city taxpayers are on the hook for expenditures that benefit private real estate development.

    City officials should be wary of being too dazzled by the potential of this creative development to do the math very carefully before signing off on the TIF district.



 
Common sense on common education standards PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 21 January 2015 18:49

As a presidential aspirant, Scott Walker should rein in fellow Republicans in the Legislature who persist in carrying out a vendetta against Common Core

Some members of the Legislature seem to think education is a product like a round of cheddar cheese that needs to be stamped “made in Wisconsin” in the name of state pride.

    The Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald, is one of them. He talks of Republicans wanting to put “the Wisconsin label” on Common Core.


     There is a reason the education standards he is referring to bear the label “Common Core”: They deal with fundamentals of education that are common to every state. The rules of English grammar are the same in Maine and California. The rules of mathematics are the same in Florida and Washington. And they are the same in Wisconsin and all of the states.


    In 2010, with no fuss, Wisconsin became one of the 45 states that have adopted Common Core standards. There was no fuss because it made so much sense. All American children need to have basic literacy and mathematical skills. To assess the education they’re getting in these core skills in public schools, common standards are needed.


    The standards were created by state school superintendents and governors, not the federal government, but when the U.S. Education Department urged states to use Common Core standards to demonstrate their suitability for federal education grants, the conspiracy theorists pounced.

    Common Core became, in the rhetoric embraced by politicians who preach distrust of government, a sinister attempt by the federal government to take over local education.

    The Wisconsin Legislature was such fertile ground for Common Core-contempt last year that a bill written to replace the standards with benchmarks cooked up by a committee of political appointees was introduced.


     There was ample irony in the fact that some of the Wisconsin legislators pushing the bill as a means to improve public school education had earlier voted for the largest cuts in the nation in state revenue for public schools.

    Wisconsin was saved from the injurious effects of this bill when it died after some 100 school superintendents and school board members descended en masse on a state Senate committee hearing to make the case that abandoning the carefully crafted standards of Common Core in favor educational goals set by political appointees was no way to improve state schools.

    As proof that Common Core phobia doesn’t die easily, a new version of the bill is now in the works. On the other hand, there is some good news in the fact that Gov. Scott Walker is showing little interest in participating in the effort to scuttle the standards.


    Perhaps this is a sign that the political appeal of Common Core-bashing is fading, even among conservatives. Walker wants to run for president; one of his most formidable likely opponents for the Republican nomination is Jeb Bush. Bush supports Common Core, and has put the tea party wing of the Republican Party on notice that he won’t “run for cover when I think this (Common Core) is the right thing to do for this country.”


    Bush sees the common standards as the antidote to “the hodgepodge of dumbed-down state standards that have created group mediocrity in our schools.”


     Nothing that forthright is likely to come from Walker, who in the past has shown support for critics of the common standards, but the governor who pushed the agenda that led the nation in cutting public school funding could now do something positive for public schools by using his influence to rein in those in his party in the Legislature who would cripple Common Core.


    Common Core is in many ways a work in progress, and it is understandable that some teachers who have to prepare their students to do well on tests based on its standards (required this year in Wisconsin) and some parents who don’t approve of the pressure this puts on their children are irritated by its demands.


    But that’s not reason enough to replace Common Core with Cheesehead Core.


 
The bright side of the brew pub brouhaha PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 18:59

The prospect of the City of Port selling public land for a brew pub or similar commercial use has energized the citizenry in support of smarter lakefront planning

Something remarkable is going on in the great brew pub brouhaha.

    No, it’s not that the members of the Port Washington Common Council have reconsidered and are backing away from their proposal to sell public lakefront land as a site for a brew pub or similar commercial use.

    But what is happening might be the next best thing. The prospect of the public losing land at the north edge of the downtown marina, with its lake views and proximity to the water, has engaged the people of Port Washington with an intensity not seen for years in this community.

    With their responses to the city’s misguided brew-pub move, citizens are making it clear that they understand that the presence of a Great Lake reaching into the very heart of their city makes Port Washington exceptional. They know that any community can have a brew pub, but that very few communities have the natural gifts with which Port Washington is blessed. They are saying: Don’t squander those gifts.

    They are saying it with hundreds of signatures on petitions, with letters to the editor, in coffee-shop, grocery-store and street-corner conversations and in communications to city officials.

    They are saying it from diverse points of view. Some think the land, currently a parking lot, should be kept open as public space with lake views intact. Some think it should continue to be used as a parking lot with aesthetic improvements. Others want the space made into a park to enhance the public’s enjoyment of the marina area.

    Another group supports private development near the lakefront but views the notion of selling public waterfront land for something as mundane as a brew pub or a retail store as setting the bar for city progress at a ridiculously low level.

    These diverse elements are united in a shared perception that what the city government is trying to do with the lakefront land amounts to development by whim, not a plan.

    All of the ideas that have come out of the robust public reaction to the brew-pub proposal are likely to be aired at an important public meeting to be held by the Greater Port Washington Kiwanis Club at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22, at the Niederkorn Library. Everyone who cares about the natural assets that make Port Washington exceptional should try to be there.

    The Kiwanis Club has offered to create a park on the parking lot site, and that idea will be further developed at the meeting, including exploring the availability of volunteers to work on a park project in the spirit of the amazingly successful Possibility Playground volunteer project in Upper Lake Park. But attendees will be encouraged to discuss other options for the land as well.

    Meanwhile, the city’s process of seeking offers from developers to buy the land is moving ahead with no sign from officials that they are hearing the rising chorus of concern from the public.

    That is unfortunate, because something remarkable is going on in Port Washington, and city officials should not only listen to it, they should be part of it. Ideas that could enable the city to make more of its lakefront treasures to benefit everyone are in the air. But these opportunities will be lost, likely forever, if the land is taken for a brew pub, restaurant or store. Just as the public’s lakefront land will be lost forever if it’s sold.


 
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