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Port Washington

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.

PW-S district lauded as mental health leader PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 10 August 2016 21:45

Initiative in local schools to erase stigma of illness, educate students and staff earns praise from experts

The featured presentation at the Port Washington-Saukville School District’s opening day assembly for staff members later this month won’t focus on the latest in educational technology, current trends in curriculum or strategies for standardized test-taking. It will focus on mental health — no surprise for a district that experts say is a leader in Wisconsin and beyond in providing mental health programs for its students and educators.

“I’ve taught in special education for 25 years, and I’m here to tell you that what the Port Washington-Saukville School District is doing is extremely unique,” Carol Rybak, youth program coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Wisconsin, said. 

“This district realizes we have a mental health problem — a serious problem — and when you have a school district and a community that acknowledges that and actually does something about it, that’s very unique.”

The district’s initiative, which focuses on mental heath education for students and educators, seeks to erase the stigma associated with mental illness and provides treatment and support for young people who suffer from it, began early last year and today thrives with the support of a coalition of community agencies and organizations, Supt. Michael Weber said.

Chief among those organizations is Character Counts of Port Washington-Saukville, which in March 2015 formed a mental health committee that has fueled the school district’s programs.

“It really started as one of those side conversations at a Character Counts meeting and just took off from there,” Weber said. “It’s such a natural part of our philosophy as a school district, that we have to educate the whole child. If children are struggling with mental health issues, it’s very difficult for them to thrive in school.”

Other organizations involved in the initiative include NAMI Ozaukee County, the Ozaukee County Department of Human Services, Ozaukee Family Services, United Way of Northern Ozaukee, public libraries in Port Washington and Saukville and Wisconsin Family Ties, a nonprofit organization of families that include young people who suffer from emotional, behavioral and mental health issues.

“I’ve only been in Port Washington for three months, but I’m so inspired and impressed that the community has taken on such a difficult subject,” Tom Carson, the newly hired director of the Niederkorn Library in Port Washington and a member of the Character Counts mental health committee, told the School Board Monday.

The reason the initiative has been successful, Weber said, is that instead of just fostering a dialog about mental health issues, it’s focused on action. And instead of consisting of sporadic in-service sessions and inspirational daily announcements, the initiative is a series of ongoing programs that have become an integral part of how the district provides services for its students, Rybak said. 

“The reason we’ve attracted so much attention with what we’re doing is that we’re organized  and action packed,” Weber said. “Our mission is to take action, to do the things that are needed to help our students.”

The district’s initiative was debuted for Port Washington High School students early last school year with a Voices in my Head mental health presentation.

Beyond that, the district has made a substantial investment in mental health services.

A comprehensive counseling center has been established at the high school, where students can make appointments to meet with a therapist during the school day.

And for the 2016-17 school year, the School Board has added a fifth school psychologist, an expensive and hard-to-fill position, so each of the district’s schools will have a psychologist on staff.

The district has also invested in training for its employees. An effort to implement the national Mental Health First Aid program, which teaches people how to understand and respond to people who exhibit signs of mental illness, appeared initially to be too expensive for the district, but administrators found a way to have two employees — Port High Assistant Principal Dan Solorzano and school psychologist Jennifer Eason — trained as instructors who are now training staff members.

In addition, Weber has written a graduate course based on the book, “The Teacher’s Guide to Student Mental Health” by William Dikel. The course is available to district teachers, as well as other educators through Colorado State University-Pueblo.

Both Mental Health First Aid and the graduate courses are intended to help educators wade through the confusing array of behaviors they see in students in order to help those who need it.

“As parents or educators, every time children struggle, you don’t want to send them to the psychologist,” Weber said. “So how do you know what behavior is the product of natural development and what behavior is a precursor to mental health issues?

“It’s not so much that we’re training people to be able to identify a mental health issue but just understand where students are emotionally on a day-to-day basis.”

This school year, the district plans to expand its mental health programming by offering Raise Your Voice, a NAMI Wisconsin program intended to encourage young people to start their own dialog about mental health, at the high school and to eighth-graders at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. The program, which would be piloted in the Port schools, takes the form of a club run by students, Solorzano said. 

“It’s a club where kids can come together to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, get help from their peers and work to change the school climate,” he said. “It’s not a place to get diagnosed. It’s a place to share your story, and not just for kids with mental illness.”

In a short time, the district initiative has yielded results, not the least of which is that mental health is now a topic of discussion for students and educators, Weber said. 

“Mental health is no longer a taboo subject in this district,” he said. “The stigma is slowly  starting to go away.”

Patty Ruth, a former School Board president who works for the Ozaukee County Public Health Department and is a member of the Character Counts mental health committee, said, “There is a stigma associated with mental illness, and it’s hard to know where it’s safe to speak up about it. I think it speaks volumes that the Port Washington-Saukville School District is a place where it is safe to do that.”

Grace Boylan, a 2015 Port High graduate and member of the mental health committee, told School Board members that she suffered in silence, assuming a “secret identity” to hide her mental illness from her peers.

“Now I enjoy sharing my story,” she said. “I like touching the lives of others.”

Weber said, “I’m convinced that when Grace was in high school, if we were as far along as we are now, she would have come forward and we would have been able to help her.”

Richard Thomas, a former Port Washington police chief who was instrumental in forming Character Counts of Port Washington-Saukville and serves on its mental health committee, said the district is making long-overdue strides in dealing with mental illness.

“For years we have had a very limited understanding of mental health issues, limited especially in terms of our response to them,” he said. “What is being done now is a model. I just don’t see it being done elsewhere in the state.”

Scourge of ash borer being felt in Port PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 19:05

As deadly infestation continues to take toll on ash trees, city pursues grant that would help buy replacement species

The mortality of Port Washington’s ash trees, which have been under siege by the emerald ash borer since at least 2012, is beginning to peak, city forester Jon Crain said Tuesday.

“Mortality is exploding right now, especially in natural areas,” Crain said. 

That’s especially easy to see in areas such as the Sauk Creek Nature Preserve and the ravine, Mayor Tom Mlada said.

“You can see the impact everywhere,” he said.

To help mitigate the impact, the Common Council on Tuesday approved a resolution seeking a Forest Service grant that could provide as much as $20,000 to replace trees killed by the emerald ash borer.

If the city were to receive the maximum amount, it would be able to purchase about 200 trees to replace dead or dying ash trees, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said. Most would be planted along the streets, but some would also go in the city parks.

The city would provide the required 25% match through the labor needed to plant the trees, he added. 

“I anticipate we’ll be planting over 400 new trees next year,” Vanden Noven told the Common Council. That number includes replacements for not just ash trees, but also maple trees that are in decline as well.

Last year, the city cut down almost 250 ash trees that were growing along its streets, Crain said.

“We really focused on getting a lot of the larger ones out last year,” he said.

Of the approximately 1,100 ash trees that once grew along the city streets, about 600 are being treated against the borer, Crain said, and 400 have been cut down.

In addition, roughly 200 ash trees in parks and natural areas have been cut down, he said.

The remaining 200 or so ash trees along the streets that haven’t been treated will die in the next several years, Crain said, as will untold numbers in the natural areas.

The city will take down those in natural areas depending on the risk they pose to pedestrians, he said, while the majority will be allowed to fall naturally.

“There are a lot of areas that are just too dangerous to get to for us to remove them,” Crain said, particularly along the bluffs and ravines. “We’re going to handle them on a per-case basis.”

The emerald ash borer was first discovered in Wisconsin near Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville in 2008. 

The borer, a bullet-shaped insect about one-half inch long and one-eighth inch wide, infests all types of Fraxinus ash trees, including green, white and black ash. 

It burrows into the bark and lays its eggs. When the larvae hatch, they chew through the fluid-conducting vessels under the bark, cutting off the flow of water and nutrients to the tree and eventually killing it.

Port Washington was the second location in Ozaukee County to report the borer, and Crain said the damage it’s caused is proceeding along a timeline that’s long been predicted.

“It’s happening right on the timeline we expected,” he said.

Models show that in the first seven years or so after the borer infests trees in a community, mortality is 20% to 30%, Crain said, and in years eight to 11, it’s 80% to 90%.

“That’s what’s happening right now,” he said. The borer was first discovered in Port in 2012, but was likely in the city for several years before that.

 The trees that the city has treated are doing well, Crain said.

But the remaining ash trees are dying, he said.

“This year and the next the numbers are going to be huge,” Crain said. 

In a couple years, the borer will have destroyed virtually all the untreated trees, at which point the city can evaluate the treatments it is using and perhaps scale back on them, he said. Instead of treating ash trees every two years, the city may be able to stretch that out to three years.

“At that point, the insect is going to run out of its food source. Its numbers are going to go down, and it’s not going to pose as much off a threat,” Crain said. “We’ll see how it’s going.”

Vanden Noven said he’s sure the city will be able to scale back treatments in a couple years, or that the invasion will be on the decline then.

“I’m not quite as optimistic as Jon,” he said. 

But, he said, the city’s decision several years ago to treat many of its ash trees was a good one.

“A lot of communities have decided to let their entire ash tree population go,” he said. “To lose that in a year or two would just be devastating.”

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