As Port arrives, its planner departs

Longtime director of planning Randy Tetzlaff will retire next week after years of working to make a city with potential ‘the place to be’
Ozaukee Press Staff

For years, Randy Tetzlaff said, people would point to Port Washington and talk about potential.

Today, they don’t talk about potential anymore. They talk about Port as if it’s arrived on the scene and is the right place to live and do business.

“We’re probably there right now,” Tetzlaff said. “The feedback we’re getting is that Port’s the place to be.”

And, as he looks back on a career with the city that spans 17 years, Tetzlaff said that’s one of the things he’s most proud of.

“I had a part in that,” he said. “A small part.”

Others would disagree. Tetzlaff, they say, has had a major influence on the city and its direction over the past 17 years.

That will end Monday, April 30, when Tetzlaff, who has been the city’s director of planning and development since April 2001, retires.

 But Tetzlaff has had his hand in development throughout Ozaukee County for 27 years. Before taking the job in Port, he served as Ozaukee County’s community development educator for a decade.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Tetzlaff, who has a master’s degree in planning from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and previously was the planner for the City of Neenah. 

“I’ve worked with four mayors and a lot of different committee members and councilmen. The people who have served on the council and committees are all pretty good people. Not every community has that.”

One key thing to development has been the involvement of the city’s mayor early in the process, when talks are just beginning with developers and business owners, Tetzlaff said.

“Just having that individual at the meeting says a lot to the developer or prospect,” he said. “I’ve heard so many developers and business people say they were honored to have the mayor there.”

The city also has to be responsive to businesses, and Port has made big strides in that arena, Tetzlaff said.

“You can be responsive and not give the house away,” he said, noting that Port had an anti-business reputation years ago. “I think they’re willing to work with you, and we’re always willing to listen. We’re getting better developments in return.”

The city has changed in ways large and small during his tenure, Tetzlaff said.

It’s gotten larger, both in terms of population and sheer size, he said. Many of the subdivisions that dot Port Washington’s borders didn’t exist.

More than 500 acres of land had been annexed to the city’s south side for the proposed VK Homes development, a dense subdivision that was to include everything from an industrial park to multifamily housing to estates, a golf course and marina.

That development didn’t happen, and today roughly 200 acres of the property is slated for the proposed Cedar Vineyard subdivision, which would combine homes, a vineyard and winery and a 100-acre nature preserve.

“I think we’ve made some inroads into getting people to understand you have to grow, and grow smartly,” Tetzlaff said.

Downtown Port was struggling when he came to the city, Tetzlaff said, with the former Smith Bros. restaurant among numerous vacancies and the Harbor Square project unoccupied. 

The Franklin Street project, which narrowed the street, removing the electric lines and increased the landscaping downtown, had not been done.

The We Energies power plant project hadn’t been completed, and a pile of coal sat where Coal Dock Park now stands. The south beach wasn’t accessible or public.

That project was probably one of the most significant of his tenure, Tetzlaff said.

“It led from something that was a heavy polluter to something that was a lot cleaner,” he said. “We got a half-million dollars in mitigation payments annually. We got the land that the Prairie’s Edge subdivision is going on. The coal dock was converted to Coal Dock Park, and we got the south beach. We have a good rapport with We Energies.

“It’s had a lot of positive impacts in the city, and they extend beyond that one parcel.”

The city has made a commitment to public access to the waterfront, and Coal Dock Park was a key in that, Tetzlaff said, noting that the city has ensured public access for three miles, from the north beach to the end of the Prairie’s Edge subdivision and eventually to the end of Cedar Vineyard. 

 One of the keys to the downtown redevelopment was the Main Street program, which has prompted reinvestment in the community, said Tetzlaff, who has been active with the group.

“You go up and down the street and look at what we have now,” Tetzlaff said, referring to Franklin Street. “It’s remarkable. It helped people see the value in what they had.”

In addition, he’s been active in the Port Washington Historical Society and in the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, which has built nine homes in Port.

“Port has a belief and culture of housing diversity,” Tetzlaff said. “We have housing choices. We have larger and smaller homes, multifamily housing, senior and assisted-living facilities. That’s what makes a community, diversified housing.”

Although not all the city’s planning decisions have been smooth — such as the recent controversy over lakefront development that began with plans to sell a city-owned parking lot for the proposed Blues Factory — Tetzlaff said the city has made smart choices that put it in the driver’s seat looking to the future.

He said he has no regrets, although he would have liked to see the redevelopment of the former Simplicity property and the former grocery store space in the Port Harbor Center.

But, Tetzlaff said, it’s time to move on while he and his wife Beth, who retired last year, are healthy and able. They plan to move to the Dallas area this fall to be near their son Robin and his family, to watch their two grandchildren grow up.

“I’ve got some bucket list items to tackle,” he said.


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Ozaukee Press

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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Port Washington, WI 53074
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