Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 20:05
Panel favors lifting cap, dealing with controversial issue on case-by-case basis
How tall is too tall for a downtown Port Washington building is a question that’s been debated for decades.
Last week, the Plan Commission recommended that the Common Council eliminate the current 61-foot maximum height restriction for downtown buildings.
The city shouldn’t set an arbitrary height restriction, members said, but instead consider each project on its own merits.
“It would be unlimited, in theory,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a member of the commission, said.
The city has learned a lot from its history in terms of dealing with tall buildings, commission members said, adding that officials will be guided not only by that experience but also public opinion.
“If you suggest a 95-foot-tall building, you’re going to be run out of town,” said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development.
Tetzlaff ran through a history of the height limitations, beginning in the 1970s, when the maximum downtown building height was increased from 35 feet to 85 feet.
There was a significant amount of controversy when the city approved the Lighthouse Condominiums on Lake Street, he said.
That building was allowed because it met the 85 foot limit and was on the outskirts of the downtown, where taller buildings were considered acceptable.
But due to the backlash from that project, the city repealed the overlay district that allowed it, Tetzlaff said, essentially allowing only 35-foot-tall structures.
But that was considered too restrictive as well, and eventually the city allowed developers to seek a special exception to the regulations that would allow a building to be as tall as 61 feet — the average height of the Harbor Square development on the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Wisconsin Street.
Last year, the city approved a special exception for the proposed Harbour Lights development on Franklin Street, which will be about 50 feet high.
“Ever since, I’ve had people ask why (restrict it to) 61 feet,” Tetzlaff said.
If the city is scrutinizing projects while considering the special exception, he said, officials should be able to consider projects taller than 61 feet.
“If you’re going throught the process for a special exception, is there anything so special about 61 feet?” he asked. “We might want to just analyze the benefits of the project.
“What if it is a great design and it’s 64 feet? Our hands are tied.”
Commission member Bud Sova, who has been on the commission through several bouts of debate on the question of building heights, said a 1993 survey of city residents — taken after the Lighthouse condos were built — revealed that tall buildings were taboo.
Part of residents’ frustration was that people were told the condo building would not rise above the top of the bluff, but that promise was broken, Tetzlaff said.
“I can guarantee we don’t want to call (the building height limit) 85 feet,” Sova said. “That would block a lot of sightlines. It would be quite bad.”
The issue of building heights goes back much further, he added, noting that there was a controversy years earlier when an elevator shaft was erected atop what is today the Holiday Inn Harborview.
That said, tall buildings can be attractive and tasteful, Sova said, adding there are checks and balances in place to ensure these structures are done well.
“It can be done. It can be done tastefully,” he said.
The primary limitation, he said, is public opinion.
“Moving forward, this council and this commission learned a lot,” Tetzlaff said.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 17:51
Army Corps of Engineers scheduled to begin work that will include use of six vessels to haul, place stone
A crew from the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to arrive in Port Washington Saturday to begin repairs to the breakwater.
Jim Bonetti of the Corps of Engineers said last week that six vessels — a crane barge, two tugs and three flat scows — will be in Port for the project. They will dock along Coal Dock Park when crews aren’t working.
The tugs will shuttle stone from Manitowoc to Port Washington for the work, he said.
Crews plan to place 1,700 individual stones along the east end of the breakwater to shore it up, Bonetti said — a total of 12,000 tons of rock.
Each stone weighs between six tons and eight tons, he noted.
Crews will work eight days, then have six days off, Bonetti added.
There will be times when the breakwater is barricaded and people will be prohibited from walking on it, Bonetti said.
“We don’t mind people watching what we’re doing. It’s your money at work,” he said, but crews want to keep spectators safe while the work is being done.
On weekends, he said, crews will work on the east end of the breakwater so tourists and residents can use as much of the structure as possible.
The project is estimated to last until Aug. 27, he said. While most of that time will be spent working on the north breakwater, which leads to the lighthouse, if there is time, crews will also do some work on the south breakwater, Bonetti said.
“It’s very exciting and fulfilling, after all our work, to have them come in and get going,” Port Mayor Tom Mlada said. “It’s not going to all be done in one season, but once you start to see work getting done, I think it will be a boon to the city.”
Bonetti, who spoke at a public information meeting about the breakwater, said that he and other officials from the Army Corps were shocked at the rate of deterioration last year when they inspected the structure.
“This is probably the worst harbor in terms of the rate of deterioration,” he said. “We do see aggressive deterioration.”
That’s due to not only the wave action that occurs day and night, but also to the freeze-thaw cycle that breaks apart stone and concrete, Bonetti said.
As surprised as he was by the condition of the breakwater, Bonetti said, he was equally surprised by how quickly the Corps found funding to stabilize the structure.
Generally, it takes three to five years for funding to be approved, he said.
The $950,000 allocated for the project isn’t a huge amount of money, he warned.
“That sounds like a lot of money, but in marine construction it’s not,” Bonetti said.
That’s one reason the armor stone will only be placed on the lake side of the breakwater, officials have said.
Mlada said that one of the biggest misconceptions about the breakwater project is that people believe a new breakwater is being built.
That, he said, would cost $16 million.
“We’re not going to get a new breakwater. We’re going to get some work done immediately,” Mlada said.
Brian Hinrichs of Foth Infrastructure and Environment, the city’s consultant, said the city has applied for several grants — a $566,000 stewardship grant from the Department of Natural Resources; a $500,000 grant from the Department of Transportation’s Recreational Boating Fund and $500,000 from the Department of Administration’s community development block grant program.
The city should know on Aug. 6 if it will receive the recreational boating grant, Hinrichs said. It will likely receive word on the other grants sometime in August.
The city will also apply for other grants to help finance the work, which will include widening the path for pedestrians and adding handrails — at least on the west end — making the breakwater handicapped accessible and building a fishing platform.
While work needs to be done on the east end of the breakwater as well, there isn’t a lot of grant money available for that purpose, Hinrichs said.
“That’s phase three,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to have the impression everything will be fixed in 2014 and 2015.”
Mlada said the city is working hard to obtain the needed funds to fully repair and improve the breakwater, and it plans to leverage the Army Corps funding to get grants from state and local agencies to do this.
“Our goal is to use no city money,” he said.
Mlada said he’s heard many people say the city has raised all the money it needs — and that’s another misconception.
“We need to continue working on this,” he said.
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 17:19
Solorzano hired to be assistant principal, dean at Port Washington High School
The Port Washington-Saukville School Board on Monday hired a suburban Milwaukee administrator to be an assistant principal and dean of students at Port Washington High School.
Daniel Solorzano will replace Dave Bernander, who is stepping down as assistant principal, and join a Port High administrative team that includes Principal Eric Burke and Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Thad Gabrielse.
Solorzano has been an assistant principal at West Allis Central High School for two years. Prior to that he taught Spanish at New Berlin Eisenhower Middle/High School and Pius XI High School in Milwaukee, Supt. Michael Weber said.
As dean of students at Port High, Solorzano will be primarily responsible for attendance and discipline. He will also oversee non-athletic extracurricular activities.
“Dan is a very likable person who connects well with students,” Weber said. “He has high expectations for students, and because students respect him, they respond well.”
Solorzano graduated from Homestead High School in Mequon and earned bachelor’s degrees in Spanish, political science and international relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his master of education degree at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon.
He has coached varsity football and wrestling at Homestead, Pius and New Berlin Eisenhower high schools.
“Dan was a football player and wrestler at Homestead, and one of his goals has been to get back into the North Shore Conference,” Weber said. “He’s pretty excited about being able to do that by coming here.”
Solorzano, who lives in Mequon, will be paid $78,600 a year, Weber said.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 17:23
Port officials give cold shoulder to fire chief’s request for insurance requirement when issuing permits
Port Washington Fire Chief Mark Mitchell on Tuesday asked the Town of Port Washington board to require anyone obtaining a fireworks permit to provide an insurance waiver, saying the power behind some private fireworks shows is substantial.
Mitchell spoke in particular of a private show put on July 4 in the town, where he said the fireworks shot off didn’t look like the explosives that are offered at stands but instead appeared to be more professional pyrotechnics.
But town officials disagreed, saying that such a requirement would keep people from seeking the permits.
Town Supr. Mike Didier called the idea of an insurance requirement a “poison pill.”
“In my opinion, fireworks are as American as apple pie,” he said. “The people applying for permits are trying to be law-abiding citizens. If we require insurance, we’re just going to have people shooting them off illegally.”
In the Town of Cedarburg, where insurance is required for a fireworks permit, no one has sought the permit, Didier said, while the Town of Port issues at least four permits a year.
Most people are shooting off the fireworks they buy at stands, not professional-grade pyrotechnics, Didier added.
But Phil Bruno, who works for a fireworks company and serves as the Port fire department’s fireworks consultant, said even the fireworks sold at stands are more powerful than in the past, Bruno said.
“It’s the equivalent of a stick of dynamite,” he said. “The liability is tremendous.”
Most communities require insurance, Bruno added.
“I think you’re opening yourself up to a lot of liability if you don’t follow a couple steps that are really easy,” he said. “There’s a lot more to it (permits) than just signing a piece of paper and saying, ‘Have fun.’”
Town Chairman Jim Melichar said that when the town fashioned its fireworks permit requirements, there was a debate over whether it was even needed.
The Wisconsin Towns Association has said that if someone takes out a fireworks permit, the township is held harmless, Didier added.
However, he said, the town should amend its fireworks permit application because it does not ask the type and number of fireworks being shot off as required by the state.
In other town news, the board approved a contract with Ayres and Associates to design changes to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail bridge on Highland Road and prepare bidding documents for the work.
The project would eliminate the bridge on Highland Drive north of Town Hall, lowering the grade of the road by five to six feet and making it safer for both motorists and bicyclists.
The project would also address drainage concerns and ensure an adequate shoulder on the road.
Ayres and Associates will be paid a maximum $15,000 for the work.