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Blues Factory sign draws public fire PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 July 2017 18:18

Residents opposed to controversial lakefront project ask city to remove board promoting the development

   Residents opposed to the proposed Blues Factory entertainment complex on Port Washington’s marina north slip parking lot took their fight to the Common Council again Tuesday, this time publicly questioning the city’s decision to allow a sign promoting the development on city-owned land.
    “My request is that sign be taken down,” said Amy Otis-Wilborn, 233 Pier St. “It’s premature.”
    The sign, which was erected by developer Gertjan van den Broek, promotes the building of the Blues Factory complex on the site but it also angered opponents of the development.
    Port resident Rae Mitchell on July 4 posted a rebuttal message on the sign, asking residents to question why aldermen allowed the sign to be placed on city-owned land for a development many oppose. Police later told her not to repost her message.
    Mitchell, of 302 E. Pier St., on Tuesday questioned why the city, not the developer, complained to police about her message.
    “This incident and the sign promoting a private business on our city property is the quintessential point of what has been wrong with this proposed project from the start,” she said.
    Mitchell also asked why the city approved the sign, especially when so many people have signed petitions, posted lawn signs, attended meetings and otherwise expressed their frustration and opposition to the project.
    Many people believe the line between the city and the developer “has been blurred over and over again,” she added.
     “We’re all wondering why the city is bending over backward to accommodate this project,” Mitchell said. “Something just doesn’t add up.”
    Financial institutions that fund projects like the Blues Factory require a backup plan, Mitchell said, and she questioned what that plan is. She suggested it was to create condominiums there, saying a developer wanted to build this type of housing on the property years ago.
    “I will bet you all a steak dinner, if this goes through there will be condos sitting on that north slip in five years (when the Blues Factory fails),” Mitchell told the council.
    Dwayne Haskell, 767 W. Grand Ave., said aldermen need to be more aware of public perception. Having police go to Mitchell’s door to talk to her about her sign “seemed like a threat,” he said. “Right now it’s being viewed in a very negative light.”
    Perception can become reality, Haskell warned.
    “What the council is not seeing is the optics,” he said.
    Haskell’s wife Kim agreed, saying that allowing the developer to put up a sign “is galling to that public that has no say.” And having police go to Mitchell’s door to warn her about posting her message was an over-reaction to the situation, she said.
    The situation goes deeper than the sign issue, Kim Haskell said.
    The number of closed sessions the Common Council has held to negotiate with developers in the last year has also helped erode trust between the public and the city, she said.
    Officials did not address the statements, which were made during the public comments portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
    But after the meeting, Mayor Tom Mlada said the Blues Factory sign is private property placed on the parking lot with the city’s approval, and officials were within their rights asking that Mitchell not post her message on it.
    The city has not asked people to remove lawn signs opposing the Blues Factory development placed in the public right of way, he noted.
    “There’s been no issue in terms of those signs, but when you’re dealing with a private sign, that’s another issue,” he said.
    The city has worked diligently to get public input as it formulated a vision for redevelopment in downtown, Mlada said, and officials have heard the comments from the public supporting and opposing the Blues Factory and other developments.
    “At the end of the day, not everyone’s going to agree with that vision,” he said.
    City Administrator Mark Grams, who directed police to talk to Mitchell, had no comment after the meeting.
    But last week, he said the city allowed van den Broek to erect his sign because there is a signed developer’s agreement and offer to purchase for the land.

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