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Longtime PW-S board member faces challenger PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 21:20

Incumbent wants to see referendum projects through, opponent says he could help district like he has village 

Longtime Port Washington-Saukville School Board member Sara McCutcheon, who is running for re-election in the Tuesday, April 4, election, said she is determined to finish what she and her fellow board members started with the $49.4 million referendum that paved the way for the ongoing Port Washington High School project.

Her challenger, Scott Fischer, who opposed the referendum, said he thinks it’s time for a change.

Appointed to represent the Village of Saukville on the School Board in 1997 and elected the following year, McCutcheon, 52, said approval of the referendum in April 2015 was a highlight of her tenure on the board, but noted there is still work to be done overseeing the $45.6 million high school project. She said the board’s decisions to hire Bray Architects and C.D. Smith Construction to design and manage the projects have been key to the success of the work so far.

“From the very beginning, things could not have gone better,” she said. “I generally don’t believe in people sticking around (in elected office) as along as I have, but my hope is that I get to see the referendum projects finished.

“I am so proud the referendum passed.”

Fischer, a Village of Saukville trustee, said the School Board should not have had to ask voters for permission to borrow $49.9 million to maintain and improve schools.

“I feel that with the amount of money the district receives from taxes, it should have been able to maintain its buildings,” he said.

That, McCutcheon said, is unrealistic under a state school funding system that makes it difficult for districts to balance their budgets without cutting educational programs and impossible to finance major building projects.

She noted that about 15 years ago the district created a budget line item for capital improvements and currently earmarks $200,000 annually for that purpose.

“The board has remained committed to setting that money aside every year, even during some very challenging budgets,” McCutcheon said. “We take very good care of our buildings with the dollars we have to work with.”

Fischer and McCutcheon said they both support a high school outdoor athletic field improvement plan that calls for artificial turf football and baseball fields, a new track and new bleachers, as long as the recently formed non-profit PWSSD Education Foundation raises the money for the project. The cost of the project has not been determined.

“If it’s paid for through fundraising, then yes, I’m in favor of it,” Fischer said. “In the village, if we want a new pavilion or benches, we call on groups and organizations rather than taxpayers to help.”

McCutcheon said, “Athletic field upgrades would finish off the high school project nicely, but it will have to take donations to make that happen. My priority is making sure the referendum projects are finished on time and on budget.”

If the district is to invest in the athletic field project, it could do so with proceeds from the sale of 54.5 acres it purchased in 1969 as a future school site and is now working to sell. Proceeds from the land sale must be spent on capital improvement projects if the district is to avoid losing millions of dollars in state aid.

McCutcheon said that is an option, but first the district should make sure the referendum projects are completed.

Fischer said the proceeds from the sale should be set aside for building maintenance.

“With projects at only two schools included in the referendum, it makes me think that there could be another referendum if the district doesn’t have money for building maintenance,” he said. 

McCutcheon said the board has worked to make sure  the district offers a strong core curriculum while also supporting the arts and technology education. That is critical, she said, to the district’s mission to prepare students for life after high school.

“I think things like the arts and tech-ed are as important as the core curriculum,” she said. “We need well-rounded students, and without things like the arts, that’s impossible.

“I see us continuing to offer as many opportunities for our students as we possibly can.”

Fischer said he too believes that a well-rounded education, one that prepares students for a number of different paths in life, is important.

“Not every kid is cut out to be a college student,” he said. “We have employers looking for employees, so things like the industrial arts are important to teach.”

McCutcheon said the most formidable challenge facing the school district is cuts to state education funding.

“We’ve been very creative, but I believe our students deserve more,” she said, calling the expansion of the state school voucher program a “threat to public education.”

Teacher recruitment and retention is also a challenge at a time when fewer college graduates are choosing teaching as a career, but the district’s reputation as a premiere place to work has helped it maintain a staff of talented educators, McCutcheon said.

“Those teachers who are leaving other districts but staying in education are coming to us,” she said. “But we have to continue to look at ways to help out new teachers in terms of salary so they can afford to remain in education.”

Fischer said finding ways to pay for infrastructure maintenance is the district’s most pressing challenge.

“We have to come up with the money for the maintenance of our schools without referendums,” he said.

Fischer said he would bring “a new vision” to the board along with a fiscally conservative philosophy.

“I don’t spend money until I have the money to spend,” he said. “I don’t go to work and say, ‘Hey, I need a raise because I want to buy a lot of new things.’

“I believe that I’ve been able to help the village since being on the Village Board. I thought now I can help the School Board.”

McCutcheon said her 20 years on the School Board give her the historical perspective needed to make educated decisions about the district’s future. 

“I bring a voice of history to the board,” she said. “I’m extremely proud of the work the board has done over my 20 years as a member.”

In particular, McCutcheon said, she has been driven by a commitment to providing the best education possible for students of all abilities.

“I have a passion for children,” she said. “We have an obligations to educate all students to their highest ability, whether they are students who struggle, excel or are right in the middle.”

Also in next week’s election, Port Washington-Saukville School Board member Brian McCutcheon will face challenger Aaron Paulin for seat representing the City of Port Washington. (See story on page 3.)

 
Plan Commission likes south bluff proposal PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 20:01

Port panel members praise variety of housing types, public access to lakefront in plan for 236-unit subdivision

The Port Washington Plan Commission last week weighed in on a proposed bluff development planned for property currently owned by the city — and the comments were largely positive.

“I like where this is going,” Ald. Dan Becker, a member of the commission, said. “I think there’s more work to be done, but I like the way things are progressing.”

The city has agreed to negotiate the sale of 44 acres of city-owned south bluff land to Black Cap Halcyon, a Milwaukee based real estate investment firm, that has proposed building 236 housing units on the land.

Those housing units include 152 apartments, 60 condominium townhouses and 24 cottages.

The firm has also proposed 21,600 square feet of commercial space be part of the development.

Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development,  told the commission that Black Cap Halcyon has been receptive to city concerns, making changes to alleviate many of these issues.

Among those changes was decreasing the amount of commercial space and moving an apartment building from the south end of the development to the north side — helping ease the natural transition from the heart of the city to the countryside.

“We thought this was a well-detailed plan,” Tetzlaff said.

Commission member Amanda Williams noted that the city’s original concept for the bluff land was all single-family housing, but this plan incorporates a variety of housing types.

“This development seems smarter, more sustainable,” Williams said. “This makes a lot of sense in the long term to me.”

City Administrator Mark Grams said the target population are couples in which one partner works in the Milwaukee area and the other in the Sheboygan area. 

And while some people have expressed concern that any commercial development on the property could take away from downtown, Williams said that’s not her concern.

The bluff area is no different from any of the city’s other commercial areas outside of downtown, she said.

“This could be seen as another corridor leading to downtown,” Williams said.

The firm envisions the commercial development being such things as medical facilities, fitness center and small offices, Tetzlaff said.

Black Cap Halcyon would develop Prairie’s Edge in three phases, he said, beginning in 2018 and completing the project by 2022.

It would be market driven, Tetzlaff said, with no spec buildings.

“It could be important to keep them to the timeline,” commission member Bud Sova said. 

The development will include a significant amount of public land along the bluff, and a staircase to the beach, Tetzlaff said.

“It would be a great walking destination,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a member of the commission, said.

Commission member Ron Voigt agrees, saying, “The walkability would be awesome. This community has an asset called Lake Michigan, and with this plan we’re embracing it.”

Becker said the entire development offers the city an attractive neighborhood.

 “I like the whole mix. You’re addressing needs in different segments and different markets,” he said. “I like that there’s a segment that’s commercial, but I like that it’s peeled back and that it will not take away from our downtown.”

The beach stairs are “ambitious,” he said, “But I hope they can pull it off.”

Grams said Black Cap Halcyon could bring a preliminary concept plan to the commission for consideration in the next three to four months.

 
Plan for stores on south bluff concerns panel PDF Print E-mail
Community
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.

 
Residents rap Port council for closed meetings PDF Print E-mail
Community
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.”

 
City says yes to half of dock railing PDF Print E-mail
Community
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.

 
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