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Officials face tall task of vetting bluff proposals PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 20:32

Port council will weigh development designs, city subsidies, offers for land

Three distinct proposals for primarily residential development along Port Washington’s south bluff that will change that entrance to the city were received by the Common Council last week — but now comes the hard work.

Aldermen must now analyze these proposals and determine who they will work with to develop the 44 acres of city-owned land just south of the We Energies power plant.

They will have to weigh a plethora of factors such as density, design, the mix of housing types and use of the space with financial considerations such as the amount of tax base and revenue the development will generate and the funding each will seek from the city.

They’ll look at public access to the bluff and beach, as well as the amount of green space.

“They’re all very unique, outstanding proposals,” Mayor Tom Mlada said. “And this is such an important project on multiple levels. It’s a big piece of very unique property that will become a kind of character development for the city.

“There’s a lot to consider with this. To me, it’s all about the right density so we’re bringing in more people to live and work in our community, and having some unique characteristics.

“Ultimately the decision will be guided by the question, ‘Is it the best project for the site and does it have maximum value for the city?’”

The three development proposals, while different in many regards, each would bring hundreds of houses, apartments and condo units to the city, include public bluff and beach access, be worth tens of millions of dollars, add roughly $1 million annually to the city’s tax revenue and require a multimillion-dollar city subsidy.

City Administrator Mark Grams said the overall site plan is probably the most important factor aldermen will consider, but added that aldermen seemed to like all the designs presented last week.

The design considerations will have to be balanced with financial considerations, he added.

“In the end, I think the financials will play a big part,” Grams said.

That includes not just the value and estimated property tax revenue for each project but also the amount each developer would pay for the land and the city funding each seeks, officials said.

“This is a piece of property we believe ought to command a fair-market value price, if not a premium,” Mlada said. “You have 44 acres of land that’s prime for development along the lake. That’s not something you find often.”

The developers are offering the city anywhere from $1 to $2.86 million for the property.

The city funding issue is a complex one, since the land is not in either of the city’s tax incremental financing districts, Grams said. The city’s TIF consultant has told officials they can’t expand the existing districts to include the property, he added.

“We’re going to tell them what we can do and can’t do, and they’ll have to decide if they can live with it,” Grams said.

There are some other ways the city can help with developments, he said. For example, if developers are seeking funding for trails, the city could apply for grants to underwrite the cost — something the city did with great success for the proposed Cedar Vineyard subdivision.

While some people may question the use of incentives for developments like this, they are a fact of life today, Grams added.Another consideration for aldermen is whether the developers have the financial wherewithal to complete the project, Grams said.

“I think they (aldermen) are concerned about who’s got the financing to make this work,” he said.

One thing aldermen aren’t likely to weigh in their decision is the use of a neighboring 11-acre parcel owned by We Energies. Since only one developer included this land in his proposal, officials will only consider the proposals for the city land, Grams said. 

The formal review of the three proposals started during a closed session at last week’s Common Council meeting, where aldermen offered some initial thoughts on the financial aspects of the plans, Grams said.

“I think most of the aldermen liked the designs that were presented,” he said.

The process is expected to continue in closed session next week, Grams said, noting city staff members are meeting with the developers this week to review the plans and any changes made by the developers after they received comments from a city review committee.

The Plan Commission is also scheduled to review the plans when it meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16.

Aldermen are expected to have a public discussion about the three proposals when they meet on Tuesday, March 7, Grams said.

At that meeting, they could decide which of the developers they want to continue negotiating with, he added.

“It’s not like they’re going to accept everything the developer proposes,” Grams added. “There will likely be changes made along the way.”

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