Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 15 March 2017 18:14
Members of Port board worried that commercial component of subdivision could hurt downtown shops
Port Washington’s Design Review Board got its first glimpse at the proposed Prairie’s Edge development for the south bluff Tuesday, and while most of the planned development is residential, board members spent much of their time debating what type of commercial businesses might go on the land.
Black Cap Halcyon, a Milwaukee real estate investment firm, is negotiating with the city to buy 44 acres of bluff land for $2.86 million.
The firm wants to build 236 housing units on the land — more than the original 195 units because the company has reduced the amount of commercial space proposed for the development by almost half, Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, said.
The developer is seeking between $1.2 million and $1.5 million from the city to pay for public amenities on the property, such as trails and a staircase to the beach, City Administrator Mark Grams said.
That amount is significantly less than the $4.1 million the company originally proposed, because the city is not considering the firm’s original plan to buy an adjacent 11-acre parcel owned by We Energies and developing it. The developer had planned to seek $2.1 million from the city for public improvements on that land, Grams said.
But it was Black Halcyon’s plan to build 21,600 square feet of commercial space in the development — significantly less than the firm originally proposed, that took up much of the discussion.
The fear is that any commercial development on the bluff will take business away from downtown, board member Jorgen Hansen said.
Specialized businesses such as a fitness center might be appropriate, Hansen said, “but things that pull people in from the street should stay downtown.”
The health of the downtown depends on that, he said, adding the city has too much invested to risk diminishing the area.
It’s already difficult for downtown businesses when new stores open up on the outskirts of the city, Hansen added.
But Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, chairman of the board, questioned that approach, saying the city should encourage any development that will draw people into the city.
“If you’re drawing people to Port from outside of Port, you’re bringing them into the city and they’ll discover what we have to offer,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Let’s go walk around the marina. Let’s go bowling.’
“I can see it as an extension and a complement to downtown. I don’t know what you could put there that could be detrimental to downtown.”
Vanden Noven also said he believes there is a benefit to having a destination, such as a coffeeshop, in the development that neighbors can walk to.
“We don’t want to have a strip mall,” he said.
Tetzlaff noted that when officials sought development plans for the south bluff land, they specified commercial development that wouldn’t compete with businesses already in downtown was acceptable.
Acceptable businesses could include offices, medical facilities, child care services and physical therapy, he said.
Black Cap Halcyon “understands our desire to be protective of downtown,” Tetzlaff said.
At the same time, he said, “a lot of people have suggested this would be good for a work-live-play” subdivision.
Black Cap Halcyon has also been responsive to city concerns about its proposal, Tetzlaff added.
It moved a 35-unit apartment building planned for the south end of the development to the north end at the city’s suggestion, Tetzlaff said — a move that will keep the most dense housing nearest to downtown while allowing the larger, more open areas to be kept on the south, adjoining town property.
But concerns about the commercial property weren’t all the board questioned.
Board members asked where people who want to access the trails and beach would park.
“If you’re going to have public access (to the beach), you need a place to park,” board member Marc Eernisse said. “You don’t want to park at St. Vinnie’s.”
They offered some general comments on the plan as well.
“I like the feel of it,” Hansen said. “But it will depend on how well the architecture is executed.”
Tetzlaff noted that a city review committee liked the development plan, particularly the use of pocket neighborhoods and the east-west orientation of the neighborhoods that allow view corridors to the lake.
“This particular design encourages access to the bluff area,” he added, noting that the other development proposals for the property felt less inviting to the public.
The Plan Commission will review the development proposal when it meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 16.
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 08 March 2017 19:44
They tell aldermen repeated closed sessions leave public in the dark, may violate law, but city attorney defends practice
A Port Washington woman on Tuesday questioned the legality of the many closed sessions the Common Council has held over the past year and warned officials that these meetings have left the public disenfranchised.
“I have heard the confusion and the frustration all around me, and I have seen it expressed here in this chamber firsthand,” said Kim Haskell, 767 W. Grand Ave.
“The more I talked to people and asked why they didn’t go to council meetings or watch them on TV, I heard almost unanimously that they gave up because anything they were interested in was not discussed in open session. It was all done behind closed doors.”
That feeling was echoed by several others at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I feel as a resident of this city I am shut out,” said Barb Martzahl, 505 N. Montgomery St. “I am denied access. I am denied information. It’s not an opinion — it’s a fact. You’re taking what is public and turning it into an old boys club.”
Mike Strauss, 238 E. Norport Dr., said, “I’m of the age for voting. I think I should know what’s going on.”
Amy Otis-Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St., said the council has held an “excessive” number of closed sessions, and noted that this contributes to the growing animosity between officials and the public.
“When people’s perceptions are what they are, something’s wrong,” she said. “There’s no good communication, and that needs to be repaired.”
Haskell, a litigation paralegal, said before the meeting that some residents are so frustrated they are considering filing a complaint with the district attorney’s office over the closed sessions.
Haskell said she began researching the closed sessions while trying to learn more about proposed developments in the city’s marina district, and said she was shocked to find the Common Council held 19 closed session meetings during 2016. Only three council meetings during the year did not include a closed session.
Virtually all these sessions had to do with developments in the harbor or south bluff areas, Haskell said.
“I have no doubt this council believes it has had good reason to go into closed session to discuss the proposed developments,” she said.
However, Haskell said, while the Open Meetings Law allows governmental bodies to meet in closed sessions for a limited number of reasons, the law is expected to be interpreted narrowly.
“It appears the council has been applying an overly broad interpretation of the allowed exceptions based on a misunderstanding of the law,” Haskell said.
She cited case law, Supreme Court opinions and the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Compliance Guide in making her case, and noted that while officials may want to close a meeting doesn’t mean they can.
She urged aldermen not to hold Tuesday’s planned closed session “to allow this body time to assess its past and future compliance with the extremely limited exceptions to an open meeting.
“Holding your deliberations publicly allows the residents of Port Washington be an informed electorate, which is the mandate of the Wisconsin Open Meeting Law,” she said.
City Attorney Eric Eberhardt disagreed with Haskell’s interpretation of the law, saying, “I want to assure the public that in deciding whether a closed session is permitted we vigilantly do apply the law. We take the Open Meeting Law seriously.”
Eberhardt agreed that there have been many closed sessions held during the past year, but said that is because there have been more development proposals involving city land or investment than ever before.
“This is an unprecedented time,” he said, adding that if the city had been contemplating the sale of a single piece of land to one developer, perhaps only one such meeting would be necessary.
And, Eberhardt said, in the case of the proposed Blues Factory development, “there was an utter change in the identity of the developer midstream.”
He said that the council is allowed to conduct a closed session for negotiating, investing public funds or specified public business, where competitive or bargaining reasons require one.
“It is contrary to the public interest to discuss the price (of property) in a public session,” Eberhardt said as an example. “Common sense says you ought not do it.”
He noted that the council’s closed session Tuesday dealt with financial aspects of three proposals to buy city-owned bluff land.
“They (the financial aspects of the proposals) are wildly different, and that’s what this council needs to consider, how the city will benefit financially and intangibly,” Eberhardt said. “That’s the business of a closed session and the law sanctions that.”
A second reason for Tuesday’s closed session was negotiations for the sale of a city-owned car-trailer parking lot, Eberhardt noted, adding “the terms are just now being formed.”
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 01 March 2017 19:43
Port aldermen agree to spend $81,486 for upgrade that will cover western portion of lakefront promenade
A long-awaited railing will be installed along half the promenade at Port Washington’s Coal Dock Park this spring.
After a long debate Feb. 22, the Common Council unanimously agreed to pay Badger Railing $81,486 for the upgrade.
The company’s bid was the lowest of four submitted for the project, which will cover the western 588 feet of the promenade.
But the railing, which has been hotly debated since the park opened in 2013, continued to be a hot topic for aldermen.
Ald. Dave Larson opened the discussion by saying, “I’m still not sure I’m fully in favor of this railing.”
While the city will be using $45,000 in grants, $29,000 from its Coal Dock Park borrowing and $4,000 in donations to cover the majority of the cost, it will still be spending $15,000 of its own money for the railing, Larson said.
“In terms of priorities and where we’re putting our money, I’m just not sure this is where we should spend our money,” he said.
He noted that there are no railings along the breakwater, which is narrow and exposed to the rough lake and traversed by numerous residents and visitors of all ages.
Navy Pier in Chicago, the San Antonio Riverwalk and other facilities don’t have railings, Larson added.
Ald. Mike Ehrlich asked whether the city would be open to additional liability if it made “a conscious decision” not to install the railing. That’s not the case, City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said.
Ald. Kevin Rudser, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board, said the committee wants to see the railing installed, noting it has pushed for that to happen since the park opened.
If anyone were to fall off the promenade, he said, they would travel 18 feet into water with a swift current, Rudser said.
But while there was a significant outcry for the railing the first year the park was open, he said, “Since then it’s kind of gone away. Does time show we don’t need it?”
City Administrator Mark Grams said the biggest issue may be the idea of turning down a state grant for which the city has applied.
If the city changed its mind at a later date and decided to install a railing, he said, “You’re never going to get a grant for that railing. Why would the state give you another grant when you already gave one back?”
The city does plan to apply for another grant to help pay to extend the railing along the easternmost 560 feet of the promenade, Grams said.
Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, chairman of the Coal Dock Park Committee, noted that the committee originally decided not to install a railing along the promenade for two reasons: the 18-foot walkway was so wide members felt it was not needed because the public would stay far from the edge, and because it envisioned boats mooring there and requiring unfettered access to the dock.
“Originally we envisioned boat traffic to be a lot more intense than it is,” Vanden Noven said.
If the railing is installed, he said, it would be set four feet back from the edge with gates to allow boats to moor along the promenade.
Vanden Noven said he could see both sides of the issue, but acknowledged his wife refuses to allow their family, which includes two young children, to walk the promenade because of the lack of a railing.
Mayor Tom Mlada noted that the organizers of festivals held in Coal Dock Park have said a railing would be beneficial.
“We should probably be consistent and take the grant,” Vanden Noven said.
Ald. Paul Neumyer acknowledged the difficulty in obtaining grant funds in making the motion to accept the grant.
“We’re trying to get young families down there. I think it’s a good preventative measure,” Neumyer said.
The contract calls for the railing to be installed by June 30.
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 20:13
Developer scraps plans for 44-unit luxury building, focuses on smaller project elsewhere in lakefront district
Ansay Development’s plan for a 44-unit luxury apartment building planned to be built between Pier and Jackson streets in Port Washington’s marina district has been scrapped, officials said last week.
Instead, the firm intends to build a smaller apartment complex on the former Victor’s restaurant property one block to the south, which it owns, City Administrator Mark Grams told the Plan Commission and Joint Review Board on Feb. 16.
“We have no plans for how many apartments there are going to be,” Grams said. “We know it’s going to be smaller.”
Company officials indicated it could be a 22 to 24-unit building, he said, although that’s subject to change.
Grams said Ansay officials indicated the reason for the change is simple — “Basically, the numbers don’t work out for them,” he said.
The property where the apartments were to be built is owned by Charlie Puckett, and Grams said Puckett and his wife have indicated they will likely develop that property sometime in the future.
The couple has suggested they would like to build brownstones, Grams said, although they did not rule out an apartment building.
The change in the company’s plan came abruptly Thursday morning, forcing the city to delay expected action on amendments to the downtown tax incremental financing district.
The amendments include the addition of five parcels, including both the land where the apartment building was to be constructed and the new site, as well as development incentives for these projects.
The financial projections for the district need to be changed now that the proposed development has changed, Grams said.
To accommodate Ansay’s original plan, officials had included funds in the TIF plan to move a sewer line on a city-owned parking lot, $600,000 to acquire the Victor’s property, and millions of dollars in development incentives, Grams said.
Now, those numbers are in flux, and the impact on the entire TIF district needs to be recalculated to ensure the district will be financially viable, he said.
Christy Cramer of Trilogy Consulting, the city’s TIF consultant, said the original amendments to the plan showed the district would be economically feasible.
At first glance, she said, the plan may also work without the 44-unit apartment building proposed by Ansay.
“It appears it’s going to be slightly better with the changes,” she said.
Ansay’s plans for the marina district have changed several times since it was first proposed last year.
The latest proposal, made in December, was a $38 million development that included 14 row houses to be built on the former Victor’s restaurant site and adjoining city parking lot, 44 luxury apartments one block to the north and a six-story “Marina Shores” building for a restaurant, stores and commercial operations on the NewPort Shores property. This plan would have required $7.73 million in TIF funding.
Grams said Ansay has indicated its plans for the Marina Shores building are proceeding.
Grams told the Joint Review Board and Plan Commission that he hopes to get the updated numbers sometime this week.
The Plan Commission, which had been expected to act on the TIF amendments last week, would then hold a special meeting to consider the changes to the plan.
The Common Council is expected to act on the TIF amendments during its Tuesday, March 6, meeting, with the Joint Review Board acting on it within 30 days.