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Port Washington

Concerns prompt close look at intersections PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 19:19

Port committee considers changes at Grand-Webster crossing and busy streets near middle, elementary schools

    Two intersections near Port Washington schools could see major changes in the coming months as city officials look to increase safety.
    The Traffic Safety Committee last week recommended that the city install four-way stop signs at the intersection of Holden Street and Norport Drive next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
    But members did not make a recommendation on improvements to the intersection of Grand Avenue and Webster Street, near Port Washington High School and the Niederkorn Library.
    The Grand Avenue intersection has long been a concern for officials since there have been numerous accidents and near misses, some involving pedestrians.
    A five-day study of the intersection done by Police Officer Gary Belzer in late May — before school was out for the year — concluded pedestrian safety is a concern, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss, a member of the committee, said.
    In Belzer’s report, he noted that he observed numerous violations — failure to yield at the intersection being the primary one, followed by distracted drivers and then speeding.
    Likewise, Belzer said he observed several near misses as vehicles turned south from Grand Avenue onto South Webster Street. Most of these were caused by distracted drivers or the amount of activity at the intersection.
    Part of the problem, committee members noted, is that the intersection is offset because North and South Webster Street do not line up.
    There are crosswalks across Grand Avenue on the west side of the intersection with North Webster Street and a half-block away at the intersection with South Webster Street.
    Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a committee member, said one simple measure that could help the situation would be repainting the crosswalks, since they are “nearly invisible” now.
    Eventually, he said, the city could consider creating more prominent crosswalks similar to those in downtown that could better warn motorists of pedestrians.
    “I think when people are most at risk is when people don’t see it as a pedestrian crossing,” Vanden Noven said.
    But Hingiss noted that part of the problem is that frequently when a driver stops for a pedestrian, motorists behind the vehicle try crossing on the right and nearly strike the person crossing,
    The city’s Active Community Environments Team has asked the city to consider placing bump-outs in the area to help avoid that problem, Vanden Noven said, but no funds have been budgeted for that work.
    The state would also have to sign off on bump-outs, he said.
    The committee also discussed the possibility of installing pedestrian signal lights in the area, moving the crosswalks and other potential solutions, but found significant drawbacks to each.
    “I look at this and no matter what solution we talk about, it causes another problem,” Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the committee, said.
    Vanden Noven also noted that Port Main Street Inc. is considering creating an entryway feature in the area, which could change the dynamics.
    The committee decided against making a recommendation, saying it needs to first find out what Main Street is planning for the area and talk to experts.
    The committee also recommended placing a four-way stop at the corner of Norport Drive and Holden Street, a measure recommended by City Attorney Eric Eberhardt.
    Eberhardt, who lives on Holden Street just north of Thomas Jefferson Middle School, wrote to Vanden Noven asking for the changes, saying, “based on my daily experience, I am convinced that it is only a matter of time until a child or other pedestrian is struck.”
    He compared the times when parents drop off and pick up students as “an Indianapolis 500 traffic situation in which children and adult pedestrians are quite literally forced to run for their safety or their lives while crossing at the intersection.”
    On the second day of summer school this year, he said, his wife was walking in the crosswalk when she was nearly hit by a motorist.
    “It is indeed frightening to watch each morning as we say a silent prayer for the safety of the kids and adults on foot,” Eberhardt wrote. “Frankly, there is something about the layout or appearance of the intersection to motorists that leads them to sense it is, or ought to be, a four-way stop — but it is not.”
    City Administrator Mark Grams said there are a number of issues at the intersection, including people parking at the crosswalk, which inhibits pedestrians’ ability to cross, and people driving fast on Holden Street without regard for pedestrians.
    “I always opposed putting stop signs on Holden because it is kind of a thoroughfare,” Grams said. “Now, I’m kind of seeing the light.”
    The situation isn’t limited to school drop-off and pick-up times, Sigwart said. It also occurs when there are swim meets or soccer games at the middle school and when there are softball games at Lincoln Elementary School.
    “People think traffic on Holden Street is going to stop,” Sigwart said. “Something happens at that intersection where you  think traffic on Holden is going to stop. I’ve seen people pull out (from Norport) right in front of people.”
    Ald. Paul Neumyer, a committee member, noted that part of the issue is that there are no stop signs for the length of Holden Street.
    “Once traffic clears that curve (north of the school), they really pick up speed,” he said. “What would it hurt to make this a four-way stop?”
    The committee recommended that the city consider install stop signs with flashing LED lights ringing them. That, they said, would help drivers notice them.
    The state requires that new stop signs be installed with flags on them to help notify motorists of their presence, Vanden Noven said.

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.

Police, witnesses catch lighthouse vandals PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 17:59

Port cops cite three teenagers for damaging property after they were caught spray painting graffiti on city landmark

    Just weeks after the Port breakwater reopened, three Port Washington teenagers were cited for damaging property after they defaced the lighthouse late Friday night.
    Port police credited the actions of people who saw what was happening with the arrest.
    “That was awesome,” Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said. “Usually we get these calls the next day, and our chances of catching them go down considerably.
    “This works really well when people see something and call in right away.”
    The call Friday came in just before 10:30 p.m. by someone reporting vandalism in progress, Hingiss said.
    Officers Jerry Nye and Kirstin Moertl responded, and while walking to the breakwater ran into two groups of teens. They took down the names of the youths, then proceeded to the lighthouse, where they saw freshly painted graffiti.
    “It was still dripping,” Hingiss said.
    The graffiti included the phrase “Long Live the King,” “PW ’18,” “SVN” and “SVG.”
    “I can’t tell you what that all means,” Hingiss said.
    At the lighthouse, the officers talked to several adults who told them they had not witnessed the painting but noticed a group of four boys who were standing around the base of the structure “laughing and bragging,” Hingiss said.
    The adults said the teens became nervous when they approached and left the scene. Their description of the boys matched that of a group the officers had passed, so they called the youths in for questioning, Hingiss said.
    When they arrived, the chief said, “the officers could see white paint on their fingers.”
    Three of the 17-year-olds were cited for damaging property. One was also cited for obstructing an officer, Hingiss said, after he “continued to lie to us and tell us a different story,” telling officers the paint on his fingers was from work with his family earlier in the day.
    The fourth teen told police he was not involved in the painting, something the other youths acknowledged, he added.
    Hingiss said that in addition to a fine, the city will be seeking restitution from the teens to offset the city’s cost in removing the graffiti.
    Street department workers tried to remove the graffiti on Monday, but traces of it can still be seen.
    Street Commissioner J.D. Hoile said crews use a special anti-graffiti paint followed by a chemical coating, but ran out of the chemical on Monday.
    Because the crews have a significant amount of other work to do this week, they won’t be able to complete removal of the graffiti until next week, he said.
    The citations did not include a bond amount, in part because the department does not know the cost of removing the graffiti, Hingiss said. That also compels the teens to appear before the municipal court judge, he said.

District turns to budget, not ballot, for maintenance PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 05 July 2017 18:11

PW-S school officials tap line item created after failed 2002 referendum to pay for building repairs

    The Port Washington-Saukville School Board’s Building and Grounds Committee took a break last week from overseeing the $45.6 million high school project to approve $200,000 in maintenance projects for the 2017-18 school year.
    The building maintenance fund that will be tapped to pay for the projects has nothing to do with the $49.4 million referendum approved by voters in 2015 but owes its existence to a failed 2002 referendum.
    In April of that year, voters rejected a district request to borrow $3.9 million for building maintenance and remodeling, as well as a plan to spend $2.3 million on technology.    
    Not long after that, Supt. Michael Weber announced a plan to create a $200,000 annual budget line item so the district would not have to rely on referendum borrowing to pay for routine maintenance.
    “We heard loud and clear from the community that we need to create a budget line item for general maintenance,” Weber said.
    It took a number of years, but the district reached that goal and since then has budgeted roughly $200,000 annually to maintain its facilities.
    “This is why we have gotten the life out of our buildings that we have,” board member Brenda Fritsch said.
    For the 2017-18 school year, the district has earmarked $38,000 for electronic message boards at its three elementary schools.
    “That money won’t cover the entire cost of the signs, so we’re working with our parent groups,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said.
    Among the other expenditures planned for next school year are $45,000 to repair the tennis courts at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, $20,000 to repair parking lots, sidewalks, doors and roofs and $15,000 to purchase a riding floor scrubber.
    During the 2016-17 school year, the district spent $223,000 from the maintenance fund for a number of projects, including $70,000 to replaster the swimming pool at the middle school.
    “It’s a 30-year-old pool,” Froemming said. “Usually when you fix one crack, another crack forms. You just hope it’s a smaller crack than the first one.”
    Other expenditures included $40,000 to purchase a 10-passenger van and minivan, $40,000 to replace the fire alarm system at Dunwiddie Elementary School, $25,000 to replace urinals at Lincoln Elementary School and $20,000 to renovate the district office.
    The maintenance fund has served its purpose well, but with increasing maintenance costs the district may have to rethink how much money it sets aside to take care of its buildings, Weber said.
    “At some point, we may need to discuss another plan to get the amount a little higher than $200,000,” he said.

Council paves way for sale of city properties PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 19:38

Light Station to be transferred to Historical Society, Grant Street land used for soccer may be sold for homes

    Three city-owned properties, including the historic Light Station, were designated as surplus by the Port Washington Common Council earlier this month — a declaration that paves the way for the city to sell them.
    Two lots along Grant Street are proposed for residential developments — something a neighboring resident urged the council to be cautious of — while the city has said it intends to sell the Light Station to the Port Washington Historical Society, which has been operating it since the 1990s.
    City Administrator Mark Grams said the city has been working with the Historical Society on that transfer.
    “For all intents and purposes, the Historical Society maintains it,” Grams noted.
    When the Coast Guard divested itself of the Light Station property, the city agreed to acquire the facility because the federal government wouldn’t transfer ownership to a nonprofit organization, he said.
    Since then, the city has leased the property to the Historical Society, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and established partnerships to transform the former lighthouse into “a first class historic restoration that provides for a recreated interior of the living quarters and outbuildings,” Randy Tetzlaff, the city planner, said in a memo.
    “After 20 years, the society has proven itself to be an excellent steward of the Light Station and it is now time for the city to divest its ownership,” he added.
    Aldermen agreed, throwing their weight behind the idea of selling the property to the Historical Society.
    Any such transfer will require approval from the National Park Service, Tetzlaff said.
    Aldermen also agreed to declare two parcels on Grant Street surplus, noting eight lots could be carved from these properties — a move that drew concern from one neighboring property owner.
    “That’s a lot of lots,” Kristopher Knous, 935 N. Grant St., told aldermen. “It could quickly change the dynamic of our neighborhood.”
    He asked what type of development the city would consider there — single-family homes, duplexes or multifamily housing — and told officials that the lot on the east side of Grant Street is used by area soccer teams.
    “It sounds like it’s thought of as completely unused fields,” Knous said. “It is actually used quite a bit.”
    That land on the east side of Grant Street was platted for four lots in the 1970s, Tetzlaff said, but because of the shallow sanitary sewer depth, they were deemed unbuildable.
    That led the developer to sell the property to the city in 1996.
    However, he noted, someone notified the city last week that rubble had been buried on the property years ago.
    The same situation may be in place on the properties west of Grant Street, which served as an unimproved access to the former city landfill, Tetzlaff said.
    “I think we need to do some due diligence” to determine if rubble is on the site before the land is put up for sale, Tetzlaff said.
    Ald. John Sigwart voted against declaring the lots on the west side of the street surplus, saying that removing the rubble could destroy the property.
    “It’ll be completely denuded by the time you get the rubble out of there,” Sigwart said.
    But Ald. Dave Larson said that the declaration of surplus lands doesn’t obligate the city to sell the properties.
    The city should look into the rubble issue, then determine whether it’s appropriate to sell the land, Larson said.
    “If we don’t, we don’t,” he said.
    The west-side property could likely be subdivided into four lots as well, Tetzlaff noted.
    Tetzlaff said it is estimated that the cost of extending utilities to the properties would be $70,000.
    Each lot on the east side of Grant Street could likely sell for $65,000 to $75,000, he noted, while those on the west side could be valued at $80,000 or more each.

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