Height exception granted for lakefront building

Port council likes design of proposed Newport Shores development but delays vote on city land needed for project

ANSAY DEVELOPMENT’S PROPOSED Newport Shores multi-use building, depicted in this rendering by Rinka/Chung Architects from the lake looking northwest, features a modern design with plenty of glass to take in the views. The design is intended to reflect the lake and marina while drawing people to the lakefront.
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington aldermen on Tuesday  granted Ansay Development a special exception that will allow the firm to move ahead with its Newport Shores plan on the city’s lakefront.

However, the Common Council tabled a motion that would have declared the adjoining city-owned property surplus — a matter aldermen will take up again when they meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 26.

More than a dozen people spoke at the public hearing on the height exception, many in support of allowing the proposed building to be as tall as 59 feet on its east side.

The height of proposed Newport Shores development varies from 35 feet at the corner of Lake and Jackson streets, where the first floor is underground, to 59 feet on its east side, where the full building is above ground.

Others said the building is just too tall for the location.

“I love the building. It’s gorgeous,” said Jeff Lamont, 201 E. Main St. “But I don’t think it fits culturally with our city. It’s just too big for the footprint.”

Jeff Burns, 433 N. Montgomery St., agreed, saying the height is way beyond the standard of 35 feet used for the downtown district.

“You’re talking about going up 70% to 75% from the standard,” he said. At that height, he added, the Newport Shores building will block the views looking north from such places as Coal Dock Park, the marina and the Port Harbor Center.

Burns suggested the council wait until a new city planner is on board and the new mayor and aldermen are elected before making a decision.

But Bret Hoffmann, 408 Sunrise Dr., said the building  is “an excellent project.” Instead of thinking about the views that are lost, he said, “Think about the new views it will open up.”  

Steve Bennett, 1801 Windrush Dr., said the city needs to look to the future and not the past.

“This vision is something that’s just beautiful,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for our city.”

The city and its lakefront have changed throughout time, but that doesn’t mean change is bad, Mary Monday, 518 Orchard La., said.

“The people who came before us had a vision for the city when it was this big,” she said, holding her fingers close together. “There are so many things that change.”

The building height is essential to creating a presence on the lakefront, architect Matt Rinka of Rinka/Chung Architects said.

“If you get too short, that presence disappears,” he said. “You want a building that has a presence or it doesn’t do a site like this justice.”

Ansay’s overall plan would create a multi-use building at the current site of the Newport Shores restaurant and adjoining city land. The modern building, which features a bold, glassy design, would house offices, condominiums, a restaurant and pub as well as a retail store while relocating the Kiwanis shelter and fish cleaning station near the marina.

Ald. Dave Larson said the 35 foot height isn’t a standard but a rule that sparks increased scrutiny of projects.

“It acts as a trigger to make sure the project gets discussed here,” he said, adding it also prompts additional public scrutiny. 

Ald. Mike Ehrlich concurred, saying taller buildings are then forced to “go above and beyond” in order to be approved.

“It has to be an exceptional building. That’s what I want,” he said.

But Ald. Mike Gasper, the lone alderman to vote against the height exception, said he believes the city should have a specific height standard that would rule the day.

“I really don’t like the arbitrariness of this,” he said. “Until we rectify our zoning code (to set absolute heights), I can’t vote in favor of this.”

The city is currently looking at places to relocate the fish cleaning station, and Ansay initially proposed rebuilding the shelter at the entrance to the breakwater but has said it will look at other spots as needed.

The future location of those facilities, as well as concerns such as parking, were also brought up by people in the crowd.

Bob Mueller, 915 N. Holden St., said parking is a major issue for him, as well as the future location of the fish cleaning station.

While some have suggested the station be moved as far north as Guenther Pond, he said that’s the wrong place for it.

“I want to see it stay in the marina area,” he said.

Ian McCain, Ansay’s design/construction manager, said the firm is seeking input on where to relocate both the station and the pavilion. Concerns from the public have led the company to consider relocating the pavilion to the small park just north of Jackson Street between the water plant and Newport Shores, he noted.

But Don Harvey, 415 Lake St., said that’s not the right location either.  

“I see activity there all the time,” he said, with people walking, biking, picnicking and walking their pets. “I’d hate to see that park go away.”

Moving the pavilion to the park would destroy that area, he said, as would installing angle parking on the north side of Jackson Street, as Ansay has proposed.

Harvey also said he’s concerned about light pollution from the Newport Shores development, especially since the building is largely glass.

“It worries me that we’re going to have a large, glowing building down there,” he said. “It will change the views, especially at night. It’s not the height and not the size of the building that is of most concern to me, it’s the light.”

Aldermen were set to declare the city land next to the development surplus, paving the way for Ansay to acquire it for the building project.

But after learning that the designation is tantamount to a declaration that there is no public use for the land, aldermen tabled the issue. The land contains a pumping station as well as parking for the marina area and, potentially, could affect the city’s riparian rights, which the city needs to retain, officials said.

While they toyed with the idea of declaring the property Ansay requires for its building as surplus, aldermen ultimately decided to wait until their March 27 meeting to approve the measure. Ansay officials said they will provide the city with a definition of what land it needs before that meeting to aid in the declaration.



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