Concepts for downtown praised and panned

Residents have mixed reactions to ideas that include new library with homes above, townhouses on police, fire department site

ALMOST 50 PEOPLE crowded into Port Washington City Hall last week to get a look at and comment on a proposed downtown and lakefront plan, perusing signboards with various options being considered before a presentation by Graef, the city’s consultant. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Townhouses where the Port Washington police and fire stations are located and a library with homes above on what is today  the Jadair site.

Commercial and residential uses for properties along the city’s lakefront, and major changes to the marina

These are just a few of the proposals included in a sweeping concept plan intended to guide development in downtown Port Washington and along the city’s lakefront for the next 10 years and beyond.

The plan was presented to about 50 residents last week by the city’s consultant, Graef.

The concepts, project manager Craig Huebner said, are just that, ideas for long and short-term development that will be tweaked as public comments are received.

Reaction was mixed at the meeting, with some residents critical of the way the downtown would change and others embracing the ideas presented.

One thing many said was that it will take time to consider the concepts.

“I think the presentation was wonderful, but overwhelming,” Ruth Ann Dibert said.

Barb Schiferl concurred, saying, “When I first walked in, I was flabbergasted by all the changes. It felt like it was taking the historic aspects away from Port.”

After considering the plan, she said, “Port needs something like this,” although she stressed the city shouldn’t allow overly modern design.

“Don’t make it like the Florida building,” she said.

Barb Svetkovich said, “It’s going to lose its historic look with all these modern buildings. That’s what brings people into Port Washington.”

Chuck Whitehouse said the concepts give the city much to consider, but noted that it calls for pricey improvements that will take years to develop.

“This is pretty exciting. There are several very good ideas,” he said, calling the plan “very preliminary. There are some major development concepts that need to be rethought.”

Whitehouse said he likes the idea of expanding the marina and connecting it to Coal Dock Park, saying the city needs to look at developing the parkland for multiple uses.

Noting that there is a considerable amount of housing in the plan, he recommended the city do a demographic study to determine who is moving into the area and that it select a design concept to guide the architecture of new structures.

Written comments made by those attending ran the gamut. One wrote that the residential housing proposed in the plan “looks pretty pricey for the average Port resident” while another said, “provide a diversified residential product (so it is affordable to local residents.”

Noting that several redevelopment sites are near the waterfront, one person wrote, “Leave me space to SEE the lake.”

One person questioned what they saw as a plan that caters to visitors instead of residents.

“Why are we working for tourists? Take care of taxpayers,” they wrote.

The fact that the plan included proposed uses for several downtown sites that are privately owned raised the ire of one person who wrote, “Who is telling businesses they must redevelop their property?”

Huebner said that the consultants talked to all the property owners whose land is included, adding the idea is to ensure first-floor spaces have active uses, such as shops, with residences and offices above.

“The city has an intension and vision of what it wants to see,” he said. “They can develop as desired. The plan is a guide.”

The private properties include the former Bley’s Bowling Alley on East Main Street, with the plan showing commercial space on the main floor and two stories of residential units above, and options for the Jadair land that include moving the Niederkorn Library to the site and incorporating housing above the library.

A suggestion that 15 townhouse units be built on the site of the current police and fire stations on North Wisconsin Street is included in the plan — the city is looking at moving the facilities to the current city yard on Moore Road.

One person wrote that this is a great idea, while another suggested consolidating civic uses such as the senior center, library, parks and recreation department and City Hall near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Wisconsin Street, saying it would anchor downtown and free other sites for redevelopment.

The proposed plan also includes potential ideas for using Coal Dock Park, a concept some people seemed to love and others disliked.

“Leave Coal Dock Park alone,” wrote one person, while another suggested that instead of a community center, as is included in the plan, the city consider a building that could be used by groups such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s shipwreck sanctuary and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“A community center should be in the heart of the community, not the periphery,” they wrote.

The idea of allowing cruise ships to dock at Coal Dock Park brought mixed reactions, and several people suggested the city work to improve its beaches.

Coal Dock Park, Huebner said, “is such a huge space we want to bring people out there,” noting cultural and educational activities could be held there.

Changes to downtown streets that would slow traffic and allow bicyclists and pedestrians to better access them and ensure there’s parking for visitors and customers were also in the plan.

Those ideas include a compact roundabout at Wisconsin Street and Grand Avenue, mid-block crossings for pedestrians on Franklin Street and off-road bike lanes in some areas.

Main Street would become more of a community gathering space while still being used by vehicles.

  The plan is available on the city’s website, and residents are encouraged to continue commenting on it in the coming weeks as Graef works on the final draft of the plan to be presented to the Common Council by the end of the year, Huebner said.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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