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The people spoke and a corporation listened PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 31 January 2018 18:27

The biggest economic news of the year so far in Port Washington did not come from City Hall or any of the developers working on their ambitious plans for the marina district and lake bluff land. It came from a corporate head man in an announcement that was refreshing in its clarity, directness and optimism. The news was that Port Washington will have a supermarket after the only grocery store in the city closes its doors—and a spanking new one at that.
    That is big economic news not only because it will mean a substantial investment in the aging NorthPort Shopping Center, but because the stigma of being a community that could not support a grocery store would have been a blow to the city’s efforts to grow by attracting new residents and businesses.
    Beyond that, it is welcome news for Port Washington’s nearly 12,000 residents because the possibility that Port would be a city without a single grocery store would have diminished the satisfying quality of life this progressive community and its institutions provide.
    The impact of the news was heightened by the fact that it was unexpected. Just days before the announcement city officials were saying there was little hope of getting a replacement for the Sanfilippo Sentry store.
    Then Paul Butera, chairman of Piggly Wiggly Midwest, speaking in effect directly to the people of Port Washington through Ozaukee Press, called the newspaper just before last week’s Wednesday morning news deadline and said: “We are going to open a store, a Piggly Wiggly.” No hems, haws or nuances—there will be a store.
    Butera added to the good news when he said, “It’ll be like a brand new store there.” After Sentry closes in the next few weeks, a complete remodeling of the 47,000 square foot space will start and in about three months a new supermarket will open.
    A dynamic fueled by public opinion can be credited with this surprising development. City officials knew for months before it was made public that the city was likely to lose its only grocery store. Their discussions with Piggly Wiggly Midwest, the firm headquartered in Sheboygan that owns the shopping center on the north side of Port Washington, about finding a replacement went nowhere. But when the imminent closing of the Sentry market was reported by this newspaper, city residents in substantial numbers expressed their dismay over the prospect of being without a full-service food store and their consternation over the initial decision by the shopping center owner to rule out a supermarket as a tenant for the Sentry space.
    The people spoke, and a corporation listened. The people of Port Washington will get a supermarket and the corporation will get a generous measure of good will.
    Big news, good news.   

To the victors go the responsibilities PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 January 2018 17:47

They own it.
    A developer and city officials now own the Blues Factory. We are not referring to the building or the business. We mean the Blues Factory Problem. As of last Thursday, they own that problem lock, stock and barrel.
    The City of Port Washington sold land on Thursday, Jan. 18 to Gertjan van den Broek as the site for the entertainment attraction. That is a problem because elected city representatives and the developer made this deal—taking undeveloped public lakefront land for a lake-view-blocking building housing an entertainment business—against the wishes of a broad section of the citizenry.
    A poll presented on the Ozaukee Press Facebook page on Jan. 16 gave an insight into the depth of that opposition. More than 78% of the people who responded indicated they opposed the sale of the land for the Blues Factory. Of the total of 1,069 responses, 839 disapproved of the development; 230 supported it. Scientific sampling was not involved in the poll, but results were tallied by Facebook and only responses from registered, identified Facebook users could be counted.
    Van den Broek and diehard backers in the city government won the battle. Now they own the responsibility to avoid what opponents of the project fear—that it will be brick and mortar mistake that will haunt the city for decades in its prominent place at the water’s edge.
    To that end, the developer’s first move should be back to the drawing board. Cities across the country have figured out that when they are blessed with land overlooking the water and allow it to be developed, the design of what is built there should be commensurate with the natural beauty of the place. Inspiring architecture is common in such places.
    The building designed for the Blues Factory, sad to say, is more embarrassing than inspiring. Could anything be more trite than making a building look like a factory just because the business it houses has “Factory” in its name? Port Washington deserves better.        
    Half a century after the blighted Wisconsin Chair Co. manufacturing buildings that disfigured the harbor area were razed to clear the way for lakefront renewal, a building resembling a chair factory plant is proposed for the same location. That irony would be worth a laugh if it weren’t so aesthetically painful.
    Apart from the design, the developer owes it to the community to heed the advice of the city’s Design Review Board in placing the building on the site. Members of that board endorsed the idea that the space between the Blues Factory and a neighboring property should be widened from the narrow alleyway proposed in the plan.
    As the plan stands, the Factory building would be a daunting impediment to the public’s visual and physical access to the north marina slip. Widening the walkway and creating a public space for harbor viewing, what one design board member called a “pocket park,” would offer some relief.
    For their part, the city officials who are parties to the land deal have to finally admit the existence of the elephant in the room—the looming likelihood that the soon-to-be densely-developed marina district will be overwhelmed with traffic with no place to park the vehicles.
    The parking issue is too big for anyone to miss, but Common Council members couldn’t bring themselves to mention it in years of maneuvering to sell the harbor land (unless they did in one the numerous closed Blues Factory meetings). If the development is the success its backers have been claiming it will be, events there could bring an additional 150 vehicles or more into the already crowded marina district, which has just lost two large parking areas to accommodate building projects.
    What’s the plan? How will traffic and parking be managed? Answers are needed, because if there is no solution, the marina business that helps fund the city and depends on adequate parking will suffer, residents of the area will be severely impacted, the success of millions of dollars worth of new residential development could be compromised and access to the lakefront by the people of Port Washington will be further hindered.
    We believe that most people in Port Washington, even those who strongly oppose the Blues Factory, don’t want it to fail. It was, after all, the very real possibility of failure—it’s a risky venture that depends on the success of a restaurant and the unproven appeal of a blues music theme—that helped motivate the opposition.
    No one wants to see a vacant building or a high turnover of tenants in this precious spot. Visions of the possibilities for the next life of the building—perhaps a mini-mall with vendors selling cheesy tourist souvenirs like keychains attached to miniature Paramount records?—are disconcerting to say the least.
    So, yes, the people of Port should hope it doesn’t fail. But that’s not their responsibility. That belongs to the owners of the Blues Factory Problem.

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.       

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