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Editorials
Lakefront development blues PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 March 2015 17:48

A promising proposal for a blues music-themed building deserves encouragement from the city, but not on a cramped site where it would block lake views

To put it mildly, City of Port Washington officials are enthused about the lakefront development proposal du jour, an imaginative concept for a building that would combine a blues music-themed museum, restaurant, performance hall and banquet facility.

    Judging from the glowing comments at last week’s Common Council meeting, they are even more smitten with the blues complex than they were with the previous front-runner for a choice piece of public land at the north edge of the downtown harbor, which was a brewpub.

    That’s progress of a sort. Exchanging public water views and access for a brewpub would be such an absurdly unbalanced trade that even officials who are bound and determined to sell the harbor site for business development might feel a qualm.

    The blues complex is a step up. Unlike the brewpub notion, which is based on a whim that fluttered out of a brainstorming session, the development called the Blues Factory is a coherent proposal. It derives credibility from the stature of its creator, Christopher Long, a respected project management consultant from Madison. The plan has appealing cultural and historical aspects in its theme embracing the story of Paramount Records, which recorded classic blues music by renowned artists in Port Washington, starting in 1917, as part of the Wisconsin Chair Co.

    The proposal has a flaw, however, and it’s the same one that makes the brewpub idea unacceptable: It’s planned for the wrong place.

    The two-story Blues Factory would take up virtually every inch of what is now an open parking lot at the edge of the harbor. The building would obscure the marina and lake views that are part of Port Washington’s distinctive signature.

    The site was chosen because the Common Council, backed by the Plan Commission and the Community Development Authority, is pushing it for use as private development.

     Even without considering the lost lake views, the site is not well suited for a development as ambitious as the blues complex. Cramming the blues building into the confines of the parking lot site would seem to limit the potential of the project, with its need for space to accommodate its performance and banquet features.

    There is some logic in the choice of the parking lot as a site for a Paramount memorial in that the Chair Co. once occupied part of it, but the company’s manufacturing buildings sprawled over many acres of land around the harbor and the historical connection with blues music could be made at another location.

    Long, the developer, has a strong background in environmentally sensitive projects, and one can imagine how, with enough land in a lakefront-area location, he could incorporate water views and outdoor space from which to enjoy them in his project. That’s not an option in the parking lot.

    The city’s handling of the proposed harbor land sale, which has gone forward at a remarkably fast pace in spite of strong public opposition, suggests that its appointed and elected officials want to make this easy—put the land up for sale, get proposals from developers and then let the buyer take care of the rest.

    The intriguing Blues Factory initiative exposes the truth that smart lakefront development isn’t that easy. The proposal from Long and his business partner, local developer Gertjan van den Broek, has the promise of elevating community culture along with enhancing the city’s appeal to visitors and should certainly be encouraged, but not at the expense of the public’s visual and physical access to the lake, which is widely appreciated as Port Washington’s most valuable asset.                 City officials should be working with the developer to find a better site. That would not be as easy as just selling a parking lot along with some of the public’s prized lake views, but it would be the right way to develop the lakefront area.


 
Beep, beep, get moving PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 17:47

The legislature should act so that Wisconsin stops being one of the few states plodding along with a 65 mph speed limit

You know the type. You see them everyday on the freeway. They’re in the passing lane, but they’re not passing—they’re blocking. Clueless, stubborn or intent on making a statement about the virtue of careful driving, they insist on keeping their vehicle dawdling at a speed so much slower than surrounding traffic that it causes congestion and frustration, not to mention risky tailgating and right-lane passing.

    Among the states, Wisconsin is that pokey, oblivious, self-righteous squatter in the fast lane. Wisconsin is the only state between Connecticut and Oregon, and one of only nine in the continental U.S., that clings to a 65 mph speed limit on interstate highways.

    The state Assembly voted to up the limit to 70 mph last year, but the Senate refused to go along. Opponents played the worn-out “speed kills” card.

    The notion that raising the speed limit by 5 mph makes highways more dangerous is not supported by research or the experience of states that have made that sensible move.

    A number of studies have shown that the drivers on heavily traveled roads who are most likely to be involved in crashes are those moving significantly slower than the average speed on the highway.

    A study sponsored by the National Motorists Association found that it is the difference in speed among vehicles on the highway, rather than speed itself, that is the more frequent cause of accidents in heavy traffic.

    The study showed that when a speed limit was raised to the speed traveled by 85% of the vehicles, accidents did not increase. Based on the study, the NMA went so far as to claim: “If a speed limit is raised to actually reflect real travel speeds, the new higher limit will make the roads safer.”

    That may be subject to debate, but one thing is certain about Wisconsin’s interstate highways and other four-lane or wider limited-access highways: Most drivers are not observing the 65 mph speed limit (and, we might add, are not being ticketed for it).

    It is also obvious that the differential between the faster-driving majority and those who carefully comply with the outmoded speed limit is a road hazard.

    Safety is not the only consideration in Wisconsin’s speed-limit backwardness. Interstate highways are designed to move a high volume of traffic at a reasonably fast speed. These roads do not exist merely for convenience; they help drive the economy.

    While Wisconsin is stuck with a speed limit that was enacted before seat belts were mandatory, motor vehicle safety has advanced at remarkable speed. Today’s vehicles, even basic family sedans, have sophisticated anti-lock brakes, traction-control systems and a plethora of safety features that make them safe to drive fast. The freeways themselves, engineering data attest, are designed for speeds in excess of 80 mph.
  
 Last week Rep. Paul Tittle (R-Manitowoc) introduced a bill that would direct the Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit to 70 mph on roads it would approve for the higher speed.

    Republicans should use their big majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate to sound their horns and signal the legislators holding up traffic in the passing lane to get out of the way.

 
Fight this move to silence citizens on natural resources PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 18:50

The move to strip a citizens board of its power to counter political control of conservation must be stopped by the Legislature

If Gov. Scott Walker has his way, the outdoors-loving citizens of Wisconsin who have had a voice for decades in the management of the state’s natural resources will be silenced. Before that happens, the anglers, hunters, campers, hikers, boaters, birdwatchers, bikers, skiers, conservation supporters, every person who has a care for Wisconsin’s natural environment should be anything but silent. They should be loud and they should say to state legislators: Don’t you dare let this attempt to take oversight of the stewardship of our resources away from the public and give it to political interests succeed.

    The attempt is in a proposal in the governor’s 2015-17 budget that would end the power of the Natural Resources Board to vote on policy decisions of the Department of Natural Resources. The board is made up of seven citizens appointed by the governor.


    The change would be radical. The board has had authority over DNR rules and decisions since it was created by state statute in 1927.


    The change would kill the last vestige of citizen control of natural resource management. The role of the board’s members would be limited to “advisory only.” DNR authority would reside exclusively in the office of the politically appointed DNR secretary.


    The move would further shut off citizen input to the DNR’s resource management by rendering the Wisconsin Conservation Congress useless. The congress, which has five delegates from each county, was established by state law to give recommendations on conservation issues from the public to the Natural Resources Board, which then could act on them in determining DNR policy.

The governor’s proposal stands out boldly in the budget, as though it were wrapped in deer hunters’ blaze orange. Like all recent Wisconsin budgets, the new Walker spending plan includes plenty of policy matters masked as financial issues, but with the natural resources move there is no pretense about being a legitimate budget item. The proposal has nothing to do with money. Natural Resources Board members are not paid. Taking away the board’s power will do nothing to alleviate the state’s deficit.

    Nor is any need for change addressed by the move. The DNR has functioned well with a measure of citizen control. The record over many years shows that the Natural Resources Board has effectively balanced the interests of the individuals who enjoy the state’s parks, waters and hunting grounds with those of business and environmentalists.


    All of this has been done in full public view. Meetings of the Natural Resources Board are 100% open to the public without exception. If the board is denied a voting role, decisions of the type it once made will likely never see the light of day until they’re final when exclusively in the hands of a political appointee.


    The National Resources Board has been a safeguard against political contamination of the management of the state’s natural resources, the sort of influence buying implicit, for example, in the secret donation of $700,000 by Gogebic Taconite, the company seeking to develop an environmentally controversial iron mine in northern Wisconsin, to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a major Walker election supporter.


    George Meyer, who was DNR secretary under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, called the stripping of power from the board “the final removal of citizen-based conservation in Wisconsin. It gives all the power to the political appointee of the governor.”


    Meyer is currently executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, one of more than a dozen conservation organizations that have come out against the governor’s proposal.


    Wisconsin citizens need to add their voices to this opposition. Nothing that Wisconsin has to offer its people is more valuable than its incomparable natural resources, and the people are entitled to a voice in deciding how those resources are used and protected.

 
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