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Port Washington

What’s the best plan for city’s bluff land? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 14 September 2016 20:15

Officials debate whether to allow mixed-use development on 44-acre site earmarked for residential 

The proper uses for a 44-acre parcel of bluff land owned by the City of Port Washington was debated last week as aldermen were asked to consider an amendment to the community’s 2035 master plan.

The amendment would allow a mixed-use development on the property, such as the one proposed by Ansay Development or a neighborhood plan that includes retail and residential uses.

But Ald. Dave Larson spoke against the amendment, saying it would allow commercial and retail uses he doesn’t want to see outside the downtown.

“I am generally not in favor of anything but residential on that property,” he said. “I’m very leery about redirecting any commercial uses outside our downtown. We’ve worked so hard to redevelop downtown, and I don’t want to take anything away from that.”

Approving any other use should only be done if the “right project” comes along, Larson said.

“Why would we want to change it (the uses) unless we know what it’s going to be?” he asked, noting the master plan could be amended if and when the right project comes along.

A mixed-use development typically means a combination of residential and commercial uses, but it could also mean a mix of residential uses, such as low, medium and high-density housing, Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, said.

The Plan Commission and Community Development Authority strongly recommended the city change the land use to allow mixed use developments, Tetzlaff added.

“That doesn’t mean we just rubber stamp it,” Larson said.

The Plan Commission is expected to further discuss the proposal to change the master plan when it meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15.

A public hearing on the issue will be held during the Common Council’s Tuesday, Sept. 20, meeting, and aldermen could vote on the matter that night.

Ald. Doug Biggs argued that the mixed-use development allows the city to consider many different types of projects, including those that are residential.

“This gives us flexibility,” he said. “This could end up being entirely residential.”

Ald. Mike Ehrlich said that expanding the potential uses on the site would open the doors for another developer to consider the site, noting that right now it is only intended for low-density residential uses.

“It could hamper other submissions,” Ald. Kevin Rudser said.

But Larson said developers know the system and realize the city can amend the permitted land use if it likes a project.

“It just adds a layer of complexity for a developer that can only make it more difficult,” Biggs said. 

Ald. Bill Driscoll said, “I think it’s important we don’t do anything that could possibility limit any ideas. We’re not smart enough to know what grandiose ideas might come to us.”

But Larson said developers are smart enough to know the city would work with them if they like a proposal.

If the city decides against allowing a mixed use for the land, developers might take that to mean that the city only wants a residential use, Ald. Dan Becker said.

“Some developers might say they had a kick at the cat and kept it residential,” Becker said, adding a mixed-use development could draw more people to the community and result in a higher tax base.

Ehrlich suggested that if the city doesn’t change the land use now, it could include a clause in its request for proposals saying officials would consider amending the master plan for the right project.

Mayor Tom Mlada suggested the city talk to developers to see how they would interpret that kind of clause and whether they believe it would keep someone from proposing a project.

“That’s an incredible piece of property and we want to maximize the impact,” he said.The city acquired the undeveloped land from We Energies more than a decade ago as part of a deal in which the community agreed to support the utility’s conversion of its coal-fired plant to a natural gas-fueled facility.

Eyed through the years as a prime residential site, officials held onto the property as the real estate market ebbed and surged but decided last year to look into the potential of selling it.

In December, Ansay proposed buying the land and developing a corporate campus there, and the city negotiated exclusively with the firm until July. 

Officials again received a proposal from the firm last month, but decided they would seek proposals from other developers as well.

Grants give Exploreum new ways to teach students PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 07 September 2016 19:46

The Port Exploreum is developing a curriculum for students visiting the museum in downtown Port Washington, thanks to grants from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the Jane Bradley Pettit Brookby Foundation.

The grants, which total $53,000, will be used for the Lake Michigan Learning Lab project, which is aimed at students in grades six through nine, said Bill Moren, who is heading development of the Exploreum’s educational programs.

The project will include a curriculum for students to follow before they visit the museum, as well as materials to consider after their visit.

It will also include using the Lake Michigan table at the museum. Students will be given scenarios, then asked to make various decisions in response, and the impact on a variety of settings — urban, suburban, industrial and agricultural — will be discussed.

“We want to show students what goes into the watershed and how to make the best decisions to cut down on pollution and the like,” Moren said. “These are the people who will make these decisions in the future.”

The project fits with the Exploreum’s freshwater mission, he said.

“The lake has been the driving force in Port Washington’s history,” Moren said. “The preservation of the lake is equally important. We need to make sure the lake remains healthy.”

The learning lab program will train about 40 teachers, Moren said, adding that the Exploreum has hired an educational consultant to develop materials for the teachers to use.

The goal is to get at least 1,000 students through the program, said Wayne Chrusciel, executive director of the Port Washington Historical Society, which operates the Exploreum.

The museum hopes to offer school tours every Tuesday, when it is closed to other visitors, he said.

“We’re trying different ways to get school districts and students involved,” Chrusciel said, noting the Port Washington-Saukville School District has played an active role in creating the curriculum and working with the Exploreum.

The program can be expanded to include learning experiences in partnership with such organizations as Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville and such agencies as the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Moren said.

“This is an experiential learning experience,” he said. “We want to link the activities to reinforce the lessons they learn. It makes it more powerful.”

Clock ticking on latest Blues Factory deadline PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 31 August 2016 20:43

Port council to discuss pending sale of marina parking lot, competing lakefront development plans

The Port Washington Common Council will have two building projects that could determine the future of the lakefront on its agenda next Tuesday — the controversial proposal for Blues Factory development on the north marina parking lot and two residential projects proposed for the car-trailer parking lot across the street.

One of those residential proposals has expanded into a sweeping neighborhood plan that would also incorporate a park on the Blues Factory site if negotiations for the entertainment complex fall through. 

City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday that the council will discuss the Blues Factory proposal in closed session and is likely to extend the deadline to create a developer’s agreement and complete the sale.

The council, which agreed in May to sell the north slip parking lot to developer Christopher Long, originally set the deadline for a developer’s agreement in June and said the sale should be completed by Aug. 31. Those deadlines were later extended to Sept. 6. 

Grams said the delay has been largely due to financing and some infrastructure issues that could affect the development.

“We’re still working with them on the financial end of things and on the developer’s agreement,” Grams said.

Ald. Dan Becker, president of the council, acknowledged there is a possibility of extending the deadline again.

“Things are in motion,” he said. “It’s been quite a long process, and we’re willing to continue to work with the developer. We do want to see a resolution sooner rather than later, but we’re willing to give it some more time.”

That’s based on the path the city and Long have traveled so far, he said, and the project itself.

“It’s a project all the aldermen are behind and believe in, so we’re willing to give it a little extra time,” Becker said.

The Blues Factory proposal has proven controversial, with some residents saying the city should not sell publicly owned lakefront land. Officials, on the other hand, have said the proposal would create a year-round destination that will draw people to the lakefront and downtown. 

On Monday, Ald. Mike Ehrlich told the Community Development Authority that the council will get “an overall picture of what needs to be done yet” during the closed session.

But CDA member Erica Roller asked how long the city will take to make a final decision in the matter.

“At what point do you say we’ve wasted enough time to get the Blues Factory here?” she asked. “When is enough enough?”

Ehrlich said, “I don’t think we’ve ever set a hard date (for that decision),” adding both sides have been working diligently on the deal.

Jason Wittek, an advisory member of the CDA, said that the time frame set by the council “isn’t very long” in terms of a real estate deal.

Ehrlich noted that Long’s original time schedule called for the deal to be sealed in spring so the Blues Factory could be completed by spring 2017, for the 100th anniversary of Paramount Records.

He said that if a deal is reached, he believes construction is likely to begin in spring and be completed in 2018.

A final resolution to the Blues Factory is likely to come sometime this fall, Becker said.

The Common Council is also expected to discuss in open session two proposals for residential developments on the city-owned car-trailer parking lot across from the Blues Factory site.

Ansay Development initially proposed creating a 44-apartment building on both the former Victor’s property and the adjoining city-owned car-trailer parking lot, while architect Stephen Smith, who wants to build 11 townhouse condominium units just on the parking lot property.

That discussion is complicated by a plan Ansay, along with businessmen John Weinrich and Charlie Puckett, brought to the Common Council two weeks ago that modified his plan and expanded it to encompass a four-block area.

“He wants us to look at it as a package,” Grams said.

That sweeping “marina district” plan moves the apartment building one block north, and replaces it on the Victor’s and car-trailer lot with 20 row houses. 

Ansay also proposed purchasing the north slip parking lot if the Blues Factory plan falls through and creating a privately owned park there. A small building would also be built on the site.

His plan also calls for the NewPort Shores property at the east end of Jackson Street to be recreated into an entertainment complex.

Tuesday’s discussion will be the first public discussion of the two original development proposals, and of the larger neighborhood plan Ansay introduced.

Grams noted that officials are working to define the financial implications of each plan, noting that while Smith is not seeking development incentives for his project, Ansay is.

Aldermen need to look not just at the incentives but also the payback and how much financing is available in the tax incremental financing district, Becker said.

“I would say a decision on that is probably a little way off,” he said, particularly because it will take time to analyze all the TIF implications. 

At Monday’s CDA meeting, resident John Sigwart suggested the city create a comprehensive plan for the lakefront area, saying it could help officials get a better handle on the best use of this valuable land.

City takes pass on bid to buy bluff land PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 24 August 2016 19:20

By taking no action on Ansay’s offer to purchase 44-acre site, Port council agrees to explore other options

The Port Washington Common Council last week took no action on a proposed option to purchase 44 acres of city-owned south bluff land, effectively rebuffing developer Mike Ansay’s latest plan to buy the land for a corporate headquarters, Mayor Tom Mlada said.

That’s because Ansay’s offer to purchase the land will expire before the council meets again on Tuesday, Sept. 6, he said.

“I think the thought is that we ought to explore other opportunities,” Mlada said. 

That doesn’t mean the city has closed the door on future talks with Ansay, chairman and CEO of Ansay & Associates, he said.

“The clear feeling is there is an openness to continue with Mike,” Mlada said.

Last week, Ansay presented a neighborhood development plan for the city’s lakefront to aldermen and, as part of that proposal, said his firm had offered the city a $50,000 non-refundable six-month option for the land.

During those six months, Ansay said, his company would investigate and develop plans for a corporate center on the land.

He said he was willing to pay $65,000 an acre for the land, noting the closing would occur in 2019.

Ansay’s plan called for a corporate center to house his firm, which he said would add 100 new jobs over the next five years, as well as a conference center, an innovation center for start-up businesses, some office spaces, public viewing areas and mixed-use spaces.

Mlada said the city values and wants to keep Ansay & Associates in the community, but it needs to be good stewards and look at all options for the land.

“We want Ansay & Associates here,” he said. “But there’s a balance we need to maintain. This is a special piece of property.”

The city acquired the undeveloped land from We Energies more than a decade ago as part of a deal in which the community agreed to support the utility’s conversion of its coal-fired plant to a natural gas-fueled facility.

Eyed through the years as a prime residential site, officials held onto the property as the real estate market ebbed and surged but decided last year to look into the potential of selling it.

In December, Ansay Development proposed buying the land for a corporate headquarters, training center and boutique hotel to be developed in phases over an unspecified amount of time.

The city agreed to negotiate exclusively with Ansay for 60 days and apply for a $500,000 Wisconsin Idle Industrial Site Redevelopment Program Grant to help cover the cost of bringing sewer and water services to the property if Ansay’s proposal was approved. In return, the company would commit to creating 100 new jobs initially and as many as 250 over time.

The city did not receive the grant, and although officials continued to negotiate with Ansay over the potential sale, last month the Common Council decided to seek other proposals for the property.

Several city committees have debated potential uses of the land, but officials have taken no steps yet to market the property.

City poised to seek 5.6% increase in water rate PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 17 August 2016 20:57

Aldermen agree to ask PSC for hike they say is needed tohelp cover pending expenses

Port Washington residents should prepare for a water rate increase this year.

The Common Council on Tuesday agreed to seek an average 5.6% water rate increase from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

While that may sound like a lot, Christy Cramer of Trilogy Consulting told aldermen that it is a modest increase, noting that if averaged, it represents less than a 1% annual increase over the six years since the last rate hike was approved.   

The average residential customer will see an increase of between 3% and 4%, or $2 to $3 per bimonthly bill, she said, adding large residential users and industrial  customers will see larger increases.

“This is the type of reallocation needed to make sure the right people are paying the right price,” Ald. Doug Biggs, a member of the city’s Finance and License Committee, said. “I think it’s important to make sure we’re charging appropriately.”

Cramer noted that the city hasn’t had a water rate increase since 2010, when the price went up 3%. 

Although the utility has been generating enough money to cover its operations and maintenance expenses, debt service and capital outlay, Cramer said, major expenditures are coming up in the next few years.

These include installation of ultraviolet treatment equipment, water main replacement projects and other capital and rehabilitation projects, she said.

In addition, she said, the operational and maintenance expenses have increased, resulting in less income to finance operations.

“The utility’s in very sound financial shape. The utility has more than the minimum recommended reserves by a little bit,” Cramer said. “We’re really looking at maintaining the utility’s financial state.”

The rate increase is expected to generate an additional $157,000 annually, Cramer said.

The city’s application to increase its water rates will go to the PSC, which will thoroughly study it, Cramer said. After the review, she will update the application and the PSC will hold a public hearing before taking action on the request.

This may be the city’s first rate increase in six years, but others are sure to follow. Cramer told aldermen that over the next five years, she expects the city will seek a couple rate increases of as much as 3%.

“That will have to be reviewed on an ongoing basis,” she said.

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