Council disagrees with staff, OKs business condos

Despite recommendation, aldermen think 23-unit development is good use of industrial park land
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A business condominium development planned for Port Washington’s business park was approved Tuesday by the Common Council.

The approval came despite a staff recommendation to reject the plan and the fact the Plan Commission once recommended denying it and later advanced the proposal without a recommendation.

The council approved an overlay planned development, or OPD, for the property, which would allow Maritime Sheds LLC to build as many as 23 units of between 3,000 and 5,500 square feet in 10 buildings on the five-acre parcel.

“Personally, I like the idea,” Ald. John Sigwart said. “This could be a little bit of an incubator (for businesses).”

Ald. Dan Benning noted that there has been virtually no other interest in developing the property, except for a proposal for self-storage.

“I’m looking for the opportunity to do something on this five acres of land,” he said.

Mayor Ted Neitzke concurred, saying, “Some development is better than no development.”

But Ald. Mike Gasper, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he doesn’t like overlay developments and argued that the city might be better off creating a zoning district for business condominiums like this.

The city staff had argued that the project does not meet the “spirit and intent” or the basis for approval in the I-2 industrial zoning district, which calls for larger scale manufacturing operations in the area, and therefore doesn’t justify the request for the overlay district, adding the series of small buildings isn’t compatible with the surrounding buildings.

But attorney James Danaher, who represents the developer, said the businesses that buy the buildings must comply with the industrial zoning.

“There are no uses we’re asking for that would violate your ordinance,” he said. “These are not (storage) sheds.”

The units would be used for manufacturing, assembly, fabrication, general  warehousing and “similar types of industrial operations,” the proposal for the development states.

Eight business owners have indicated interest in buying units, Danaher noted, adding they include construction contractors, small manufacturers, contractors who do assembly for the federal government and a warehousing operation that packs and ships to wholesalers.

The buildings would be owner occupied, and if a larger space is desired, owners could buy more than one unit and knock down the walls between them, the proposal states.

“The market is calling for this,” Danaher told the council. “There’s immediate interest.”

The buildings alone would add $6 million to $8 million to the city’s tax rolls, he said.

Scott Bretl, who represented the owners, said, the buildings, once improved, will pay property taxes between $100,000 and $150,000 compared to the current $3,300.

“This is a place where more jobs can be created,” he added.

Danaher said that if the OPD was approved, Maritime Sheds is “ready to start construction almost immediately.”

However, City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said the property still needs to be rezoned.

Eberhardt argued that the city has no effective way of knowing what types of businesses are in the condos, especially when they’ve been sold repeatedly.

Sigwart asked whether the city could have a say in developing the condo documents that would govern the development,  saying that would prevent the owners association from changing the rules to allow other uses.

Bretl said that can be done, adding he felt the zoning code would supersede any condo documents.

By approving the development, Danaher told aldermen, “you can be a leader in terms of these industrial-commercial condominiums.”

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