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Council says yes to narrowing Theis Street PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Thursday, 19 November 2015 14:41

Port aldermen OK controversial plan to pare road near school, add sidewalks despite residents’ protests

The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday approved a controversial plan to narrow Theis street and lane near Lincoln Elementary School on the city’s north side.

The city also agreed to add sidewalks on the south side of Theis Street and east side of Theis Lane when the road is reconstructed next year.

The decision was slammed by Fred Schaefer, 209 Theis St.

“You voted to go against the vast majority of the residents of Theis Street and Theis Lane in making the decision you made tonight,” he told aldermen, saying officials made that choice so they could “save a couple bucks.” 

“It’s sad, it really is sad, that we have to do this,” he said.

While city officials contend the work will slow traffic and provide a safer walk to school for students, Schaefer and his neighbors have argued it will do just the opposite.

Youngsters walking on the new sidewalk on the south side of Theis Street will have to cross traffic on Theis Lane when being dropped off or picked up, Schaefer said.

“Then they will have to cross a line of traffic at the school, walking between cars, to get into the school,” he said.

It is far safer for students to travel on the existing sidewalk on the north side of the street, which leads directly to the school, Schaefer said.

Few students actually walk to school, he added.

“I can count on one hand the number who walk on the north side,” Schaefer said, adding that the work will also kill numerous mature trees that line the street.

But city officials noted that it is safer for youngsters to walk on sidewalks than in the street, which currently occurs, and added that the sidewalk will serve not just students but other pedestrians as well.

Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said school officials reviewed the plan in the last week.

“They had no concerns with the installation of sidewalk, decreasing the street width or adding crosswalks,” he said. “Like us, they want to encourage kids to walk to school. 

“And while not many students may use the sidewalk, pedestrians will.”

The sidewalk and crosswalks will also put drivers on notice to watch out for walkers, Ald. Mike Ehrlich said.

“It tells you, ‘Now I’ve got to pay attention,’” he said.

The plan approved by the council represents a compromise. Vanden Noven had originally recommended narrowing Theis Street, which is currently 36 feet wide, and Theis Lane, which is 38 feet, to 30 feet. But after residents brought their concerns to the Board of Public Works, members recommended making both roads 32 feet wide.

“I think it was a good compromise,” Ald. Dan Becker said.

Also approved in the road plan were designs for a number of other city streets, including Lincoln Avenue from Portview Drive to Spring Street; Tower Drive from Second to Grand avenues; Larabee Street from Spring Street to its west end; Woodland Avenue from Garfield Avenue to the cul de sac; Norport Drive from Grant to Holden streets; Holden Street from James to Norport drives; James Drive from Holden to Benjamin streets; and Benjamin Street from Norport Drive to Beutel Road.

 
Plan to narrow road near school draws fire PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 11 November 2015 21:40

Theis Street residents tell board that paring width, installing sidewalk will endanger safety of students, parents

About 20 people who live near Lincoln Elementary School in Port Washington told the Board of Public Works Tuesday that a city proposal to narrow Theis street and lane and install sidewalk where there currently is none would endanger the safety of students and parents.

“Why do you all the sudden want to narrow the streets?” asked Fred Schaefer, 209 Theis St. “It’s a beautiful street. The vast majority of property owners feel the street should be kept the same. We are just fine.”

The city had proposed narrowing Theis Street, which is currently 36 feet, and Theis Lane, which is 38 feet, to 30 feet.

Narrowing Theis street and lane would slow traffic in an area where vehicles already travel at a snail’s pace, residents argued, and installing sidewalk on the south side of Theis Street and east side of Theis Lane would force children to cross the street to the school in an area where traffic is congested, causing an unsafe situation.

“If we didn’t have a school on James Drive, I wouldn’t mind you narrowing the street,” one man said. “But we have a school. You have to consider that.”

But Rob Vanden Noven, the city’s director of public works, argued that narrowing the road will slow traffic, making for a safer situation and allowing drivers to react if youngsters dart out or walk in the roadway — something they do now because there isn’t sidewalk on both sides.

“We’re around a school. It’s a place where we want traffic to move slowly,” he said, noting most of the traffic is heading west with parents who are dropping off and picking up students largely waiting in line in the parking lane. “It just seems to me to be the safest design.”

But Carol Jushka, 233 W. Theis St., said that installing sidewalks on both sides of the road would require two crosswalks at the intersection of Theis street and lane, both of them in an area where traffic is congested as parents pick up and drop off youngsters.

The current situation, where the sidewalk on the north side leads students directly to the school without crossing the street, is safer, Jushka said.

“You’re creating a traffic situation that isn’t there now,” she said. 

Few people walk on the existing sidewalk outside of school hours and few students walk to school, residents said, proof that additional sidewalk isn’t necessary.

Residents also said that slowing traffic isn’t required, noting that it already moves slowly.

Gloria Spudowski, 227 Theis St., said that because the traffic moves so slowly when parents drop off and pick up students, it is difficult for residents to access their driveways.

“We have to adjust our schedules to accommodate the school traffic or sit and wait for 45 minutes or so to pull into our driveways, sitting there in our cars yards from our homes we can’t get to,” she said in a written comment to the board.

“What you are proposing will make the problem even worse for us.”

A narrower street will also make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to get through when needed, said James Reisimer Sr., 214 Theis St.

“If you narrow that street six feet and there’s cars parked on both sides of the street, it’s not going to work,” he said. “If my house would be on fire, it’s going to be tough to get a fire truck there.

“I’m looking out not just for the safety of the children, but my neighbors, too.”

Board Chairman Craig Czarnecki asked if parking restrictions might make the situation better, but the residents said they would just make it more difficult for them to park on the street outside their homes.

Board member Jason Wittek said sidewalk is important, especially near a school. Even without a school, he added, sidewalk is used by many people from throughout the community. 

The city has a policy of adding sidewalk in places where there currently is none when streets are reconstructed, Vanden Noven noted, saying it benefits the community as a whole.

Czarnecki, a city police officer, noted that crosswalks stop people from crossing in midblock, which would improve safety. 

He also noted that when the city has narrowed other streets and added sidewalk, similar arguments have been made opposing the changes. But after the work is done, Czarnecki said, there have been few problems or complaints.

That’s true not just in places like downtown, where Franklin Street was narrowed, but near schools such as St. Mary’s, where several adjoining roads were narrowed and sidewalk placed, board members said.   

Ultimately, the board decided to compromise, deciding to narrow the street and lane to 32 feet and delaying a decision on the sidewalk issue, directing Vanden Noven to meet with officials from the Port Washington-Saukville School District to get their input into the situation.

Even if the sidewalk isn’t built immediately, Vanden Noven said, the street will be designed to accommodate it at a future date.

 
Tough times in Port shape challenging budget process PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 04 November 2015 20:41

Taxes remain flat, but city forced to shelve $263,000 in projects to meet levy limit

The property tax rate for the City of Port Washington is expected to remain flat, but the good news for taxpayers belies the fact the city is facing tough financial times that have forced officials to shelve needed projects.

For years, the city has trimmed its budget and said no to requests for capital projects, and it’s getting to the point that this can’t be sustained, Ald. Dave Larson, chairman of the Finance and License Committee said.

It is only funding $158,300 in capital projects, or 38% of the requests, for items that are needed to ensure the quality of life in the city, Larson said. The city didn’t fund $263,000 in capital requests.

Last year, he added, the city was only able to fund 25% of these requests.

“That $263,000 we are saying no to will need to be addressed in the future,” Larson said.

These aren’t wants but needs, he said, and they won’t fall by the wayside. In fact, other necessary requests will be added to the list — a list the city needs to address.

The only way to do that, Larson said, is to grow the city’s tax base.

“Growth is the only answer,” he said. “Our budget is not in good shape. If we do not have growth, we’re going to be in rough shape.

“We can’t continue to fund only 25% to 35% of our capital needs. Eventually, it catches up to you.”

But for 2016, the property tax rate will remain the same as last year, $5.78 per $1,000 assessed valuation, Larson said.

“Your city taxes will remain the same for 2016,” he said. “That’s the good news. The only taxes that are going up are from the school district.”

The tax rate will raise the $4.98 million levy needed to support the proposed 2016 operating budget of $9,034,000.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, at city hall.

To help balance the budget, the city is increasing its building permit fees, which were at the bottom of those charged in surrounding communities, as well as its operator’s licenses, Larson said. 

“We can raise permit fees all we want, but we need to grow,” he said. “We need to look at things like Cedar Vineyard, like Harbour Lights and like the Blues Factory.”

Larson noted that the city’s equalized valuation is about $871 million, far less that Cedarburg and Grafton, which each top $1 billion.

The city has been trimming its budget every year, Larson added, “and at some point, there’s nothing left to cut.”

This year’s budget has been one of the most difficult he’s worked on, Larson said, noting state levy limits don’t allow the city to raise taxes.

“We hear a lot about what people want. Unfortunately, our job has been to say no a lot,” he said. “We don’t have a choice.”

The city still needs to trim the budget by about $30,000 to meet the state’s expenditure restraint program limits, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

The city budget includes funding for a new full-time police officer, a position long sought by the police department, Larson said.

“Certainly this is what I think is one of the most essential and core functions of government, providing for the safety of citizens,” he said, noting Port Washington currently has 1.64 officers per 1,000 residents, fewer than most surrounding communities.

With the heroin epidemic, “it just makes sense to have a little more coverage,” Larson said, adding that the new officer probably won’t join the department until somewhere between July and September because of financing.

The city plans to borrow $4 million for roads and $235,000 for a front-end loader for the street department, Grams said. Another $1 million borrowing is expected for water main work done in conjunction with the street projects.

The city may have to add another $275,000 to the borrowing for new air packs for firefighters, Larson said. That is just one of the unfunded capital requests this year, one that city officials are hoping can be funded through a grant that would cover 90% of the cost.

If the city doesn’t receive the grant, borrowing is the only answer, he said.

“That is essential,” he said. 

Some people have suggested the city borrow more to cover costs, but that is irresponsible, Larson said.

“The reason we don’t do that is the same reason you don’t max out your credit cards,” he said. “The best thing we can do as a city is to grow our tax base.”

 
Marina plan to take aim at parking concerns PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 19:23

Main Street committee creating lakefront district to provide more vehicle spaces, improve aesthetics

As Port Washington officials move ahead with a controversial plan to sell a city-owned waterfront parking lot, they are also working on plans to create a distinct marina district with an eye toward solving some of the parking issues that have been expressed.

The marina district plan, which is being created by Port Main Street Inc.’s Design Committee, is intended “to make the marina a special place, to enhance and embellish it,” said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development.

Tetzlaff cited a recent study that showed boaters are seeking amenities when they dock, saying that’s something the city can build on to improve the marina.

While downtown is nearby, the aesthetics of the area can be improved with the district plan, he said.

“Right now, we have a massive parking lot they look at when they come in. We have the wall at the back of the Port Shopping Center,” Tetzlaff said.

Right now, the Design Committee has two marina district plans it is looking to merge into one. That plan would then be brought to the Harbor Commission and other interested groups for their input before being forwarded to the Common Council, he said.

Both plans create an entry to the marina and seek to make it a destination, Tetzlaff said.

But perhaps most important today, they also take into account the potential loss of trailer parking spots if the city sells a portion of the slip next to the former Victor’s restaurant, he said.  

At least a portion of that lot, which accommodates about 22 trailers, would be needed for any residential development on the site, something called for in the downtown redevelopment plan, Tetzlaff said.

“The redevelopment plan anticipated some encroachment,” he said. 

Although plans for the redevelopment of the Victor’s property haven’t been received by the city, Tetzlaff said officials want to be prepared.

The main way in which the plan deals with the need for more parking is to make many of the spaces in the marina parking lot north of Washington Street do double duty, Tetzlaff said.

These spaces would be designated for trailers in the morning hours, when fishermen need them, then be available for cars later in the day, when there’s a demand for those spaces, he said.

“They (Design Committee members) understand parking is important, but the parking has to be dual purpose,” Tetzlaff said. “You can’t have all that empty for seven or eight months.”

There would still be a loss of some spaces from the north slip parking lot, which could be sold to accommodate the development of The Blues Factory, a Paramount blues-related entertainment complex, Tetzlaff said, but the committee is continuing to try and address that.

“We’re trying to have no net loss or gain,” Tetzlaff said.

The loss of trailer stalls was one expressed by the Harbor Commission earlier this month. 

To ensure the marina district plan addresses the commission’s concerns, Tetzlaff said, it will work with Lisa Rathke, the assistant harbormaster.

“We definitely want to hear their concerns and address them,” he said. “That’s vital.”

 
Second teen charged in Port gun theft investigation PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 21 October 2015 21:51

But .44 magnum revolver allegedly stolen by PWHS student remains missing

Police investigating the theft of a handgun that resulted in a Port Washington High School student being charged with a felony last week have arrested a second teenager but continue to search for the weapon — a Ruger .44 magnum revolver. 

Joshua R. Schires, 18, a former Port High student who now lives in the Madison area, was charged Monday with having possession of the stolen gun, a felony punishable by a maximum three years in prison and three years of extended supervision.

Schires also faces a misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer for allegedly lying to police.

Last week, 17-year-old Dakota Manske, a Port High senior, was charged with stealing the gun from a house across from the high school in July. 

Manske was stopped by police on his way to school Monday, Oct. 12, and subsequently arrested after police received several tips about the gun. 

People interviewed by police, many of them Manske’s peers, said the Port Washington teenager kept the powerful handgun under the spare tire in the trunk of his car and showed it to them in a city parking lot that is next to the school and used as a student parking area during the school day, authorities said. Witnesses also told police Manske showed the gun to them in the parking lot of Culver’s restaurant in Port three or four weeks ago.

Manske’s arrest and the fact the gun remains missing triggered concerns among the parents of Port High students last week, some of whom kept their children home from school on Tuesday, Oct. 13. Authorities said there was no indication Manske intended to harm anyone with the gun.

Manske and Schires each posted $500 bail and have been released from the Ozaukee County jail.

Schires’ arrest sheds some light on the case, but Port Washington Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said this week that the investigation and search for the gun continue to be complicated by misinformation.

“There have been a lot of twists and turns in this investigation,” Hingiss said. “It would be a lot easier if people would tell us the truth.

“We’re still hoping somebody will come forward and tell us where the gun is.”

According to the criminal complaint filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court, Schires was in Port Washington at the beginning of October for Port High’s homecoming and was given the gun by Manske in the Arby’s restaurant parking lot on the north side of the city.

Schires told police that he took the gun to his Madison-area home and kept it there for about a week until Manske came to retrieve it, the complaint states.

But, Hingiss said Tuesday, Schires changed his story and now contends Manske did not drive to the Madison area to retrieve the gun. Instead, Schires claims he showed the gun to a black man who took it from him in the Maple Bluff suburb of Madison, Hingiss said.

Schires told police that he reported to Maple Bluff authorities that the stolen gun in his possession was taken from him, but Port police have been unable to confirm that, Hingiss said. 

“We believe Joshua Schires knows more than he’s telling us,” he said.

Schires’ version of events conflicts with statements from Manske, who according to the criminal complaint admitted taking the gun and ammunition from a house at 404 W. Jackson St. and keeping it in the trunk of his car, which was secured by a bungee cord.

But Manske told police he discovered the gun was missing from the trunk of his car on Oct. 9 and had no idea who took it, the complaint states.

Hingiss said police have obtained the serial number of the gun, which could help police track down the weapon if it is turned in or confiscated outside of Port Washington.

According to the rough description police have, the gun is a silver-colored Ruger .44 magnum revolver with a wooden handle.

Manske faces one felony count of theft of a gun, which is punishable by a maximum three years in prison and three years of extended supervision, and a misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person younger than 18, punishable by a maximum nine months in jail. He’s scheduled to appear in court again on Oct. 28.

Schires was released from jail Monday and ordered by Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland not to possess firearms or have contact with Manske while free on bail.

He is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 5.

Police are asking people with information about the gun theft or the location of the weapon to contact them at 284-5575 or anonymously by texting to 847411, keyword PWPDTIP.

 
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