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Don’t clutter harbor views PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 16:31

Commercial development in open space at the north end of the Port harbor, as called for in a downtown redevelopment plan, would be a mistake

As late as the middle of the 20th century, the north slip of the Port Washington harbor was virtually surrounded by buildings. Views of the water were blocked by ramparts of brick and mortar. At the north end of the harbor, the massive presence of a Wisconsin Chair Co. building made the harbor invisible to anyone walking or driving on Washington Street or living in the nearby neighborhood.

    Progress came and in an era of remarkably enlightened land use the buildings were cleared away and the north slip was remade into a heart-of-the city marina embraced by walkways, a park and open space that ensures the satisfying water views that are now Port Washington’s signature.

    Now there is talk of a new round of progress, but this progress has a whiff of the not-so-progressive past about it in that it calls for filling the open space at the north end of the harbor, the very place where the chair factory structure once stood, with a building.

    Granted, the building suggested in a study commissioned by the city for a downtown redevelopment plan is a restaurant or brew pub, and not part of a four-story manufacturing plant, but it would nonetheless be a structure needlessly plopped in the middle of one of Port Washington’s public water views.

    The rationale repeated at a recent meeting of the Plan Commission is that the site, currently a parking lot, is too valuable to not be developed.

    The notion that commercial development must trump other uses of lakefront land doesn’t square with the lesson learned in the city’s journey from a cluttered, overbuilt and eventually blighted waterfront to today’s welcoming and aesthetically rewarding downtown harbor district: What is too valuable here—too valuable to sacrifice for commercial development—is public access to the water, including the visual access afforded by uncompromised views.

    Developing the open space at the end of the north slip would not only be a wrong use of lakefront property, it would be an unnecessary one. There is plenty of land available for commercial development north of the harbor, including a large tract of dramatically located lakefront land across Washington Street from the harbor, currently the site of a restaurant and an enormous parking lot, that has been crying for development for years. It could accommodate the restaurant or brew pub of which the planners are so enamored and other development as well, all with marvelous lake and harbor views, assuming nothing is built on the parking lot site.

     A few steps up Washington Street, the vacant former home of a Dairy Queen franchise and a series of failed restaurants, the dilapidated building with the gauche orange and green roof, sits on a large lot that will one day be appealing to developers.

    Port Washington doesn’t need to sacrifice the public spaces around the harbor to encourage development, even if that were an acceptable concept, which it is not.

    The planners are correct, however, in their judgment that parking is not a critical need at the lakefront. If anything, there is too much space now devoted to parking lots. A better treatment of the north slip parking lot than turning it into a restaurant site would be to redesign it as a landscaped area with fewer parking places but more green space and amenities for folks who want to tarry and take in the views and the splendid lakeside ambience.

    The site is too valuable to be used for anything else.


 
The school board’s assignment PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 17:29

A survey of Port-Saukville School District residents offered little help; now the board has to figure how to meet the most pressing school building needs at a tolerable cost

A survey of residents of the Port Washington-Saukville School District revealed that voters would not be likely to approve a referendum calling for spending $25 million to $97 million on school building improvements.

    That outcome had a probability roughly equivalent to the odds of the sun rising in the east each morning.


    Near their upper end, the combined spending proposals would have resulted in one of the most expensive school referendums ever attempted in Wisconsin. It should have been obvious that this would be beyond the means of the Port-Saukville district.


    Conducting a survey to assess taxpayers’ opinions on school-building spending made sense as a way to identify projects likely to be supported in a referendum. But because the proposals prepared by an architectural firm that stands to profit from school construction projects were so grandiose and expensive, this survey offered limited guidance to the school board.


    It was more than a little surprising to learn that the board chose not to scrutinize the architects’ proposals before they were presented to the public, that it had only a very limited role in shaping the recommendation.


    Without the board’s input, people responding to the survey had no clear idea of what the district’s realistic building needs are or how they might be met at a rational spending level.

     The survey did show that a plurality of respondents prefer remodeling the high school rather than replacing it with a new building and think high school needs should be addressed before elementary school improvements. Yet these results should not be interpreted to mean the high school is necessarily the priority over the elementary schools, because the survey proposals were presented without the context of what are the school district’s most pressing building needs. The most definitive finding of the survey remains the obvious one—that $25 million to $97 million is too much to spend.

    School Supt. Michael Weber told Ozaukee Press the school board is intent on holding a referendum as early as next April, and that is certainly good news. The elementary schools and the high school have maintenance problems and space deficiencies; they need to be fixed sooner rather than later.


    The school board missed an opportunity to explain the district’s building needs and get more specific guidance from taxpayers in the survey. Meeting those needs, however, is still more important than responding to public preferences. Voter approval is needed for the spending, but it is the board’s responsibility to set the school building improvement priorities. If, as a hypothetical example, the elementary schools’ needs are more pressing than the high school’s, the referendum should be configured to address them.             


    The survey at least reminded school board members of something they had surely figured out for themselves—that school district residents will not agree to spend the astonishing amount of money needed to check off all of the items on the architects’ laundry list and build a new or remodeled high school while also upgrading the elementary schools.


    Now it is up to the board to do the work it was elected to do: establish the district’s building priorities, craft proposals to address them at what is presumed to be a tolerable cost and make the case to the voters.



 
Rate hikes would take state backwards PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 19:36

We Energies’ rate increase proposal punishes people who try to conserve energy and puts a damper on clean energy initiatives

Electricity rate changes proposed by We Energies would encourage energy consumption, penalize customers who conserve energy and set back progress on renewable energy.

    What part of this proposal can the Wisconsin Public Service Commission possibly like? The agency that regulates We Energies and other utility-monopolies should reject these rate increases out of fairness to ratepayers who are thrifty energy users and in support for what has been Wisconsin’s enlightened policy of encouraging alternatives to fossil-fuel energy.

    We Energies proposes to nearly double the fixed portion of monthly electricity bills from $9 to $16 and to slightly lower the kilowatt-hour rate from 13.9 cents to 13.5 cents. The net effect would be to punish people who have relatively small electricity bills, including those of limited means who live in small houses or apartments and others who strive to conserve energy, and reward high energy users.

    The proposed rates would be an incentive to use more of the electricity the utility produces while at the same time virtually killing long-standing incentives for installing systems to generate solar electricity.

    The company proposes to apply a new charge on electricity generated by solar panels and to reduce the rate it pays to people who send this electricity back to the power grid.

    The impact of those changes was brought home in a letter from the church council of Port Washington’s First Congregational Church to the PSC, which was published in last week’s Ozaukee Press. When the congregation in 2010 approved a large investment in a solar panel array to meet more than half of the church’s electricity needs, it did so on the basis of an expected payback in 14 years under the rate structure currently in effect. Under the rates now proposed by We Energies, the payback would take 153 years.

    “Obviously,” the letter concluded, “no one will seriously consider investing in a renewable energy system with that kind of payback.”

    Exactly. Not only are the proposed changes a betrayal of the individuals and organizations that invested in clean energy with the expectation of recovering their investment in a reasonable (though still long) time frame, but they would eliminate the economic justification for future renewable energy initiatives.

    We Energies defends its effort to radically increase the costs of renewable energy producers on the grounds that people who generate their own electricity are not paying a proportionate share of the costs of operating the power grid.

    There is some truth in that, though put in context it does not justify the utility’s proposal. Renewable energy producers represent such a tiny fraction of the utility’s customers—less than half of 1%, according to the Environmental Law & Policy Center—that their impact on grid operating costs is barely measurable. Moreover, if they’re getting a good deal, they deserve it—as one of the incentives that is essential to the development of clean energy sources.

    The utility’s claims concerning the power-grid cost of solar systems fail to account for the fact that, unlike fossil-fuel energy, solar imposes no costs on the environment in terms of the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming.

    Not merely unfair to many ratepayers, We Energies’ retrograde rate proposals would take the state backwards in clean energy at a time when it’s critical that it moves forward.


 
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