PRESS EDITORIAL: Beware of ‘just ideas’ from city planners

Carve away a large chunk of Coal Dock Park, including a section of its signature dock and promenade, to build boat launching ramps. Pave over acres of the park to make a vast parking lot for boat trailers and the pickup trucks that tow them. Construct a marina administration building on an adjacent piece of parkland. If these proposals are alarming to the many lake viewers, walkers, birdwatchers and others who regularly visit the Port Washington park on a peninsula extending into Lake Michigan, they shouldn’t worry. These are just ideas, merely some options thrown out for consideration. Or not. Those reassurances come from the planners who proposed the repurposing of Coal Dock Park and by some city officials, which means they should be taken with a strong dose of skepticism. In city planning, “ideas” and “options” have a way of becoming accomplished deeds. Port Washington offers an instructive example of how that works. Nearly a decade ago, at a so-called brainstorming meeting on downtown planning, the idea of taking public land at the edge of the marina as a site for a brewpub was tossed up, and the then-mayor and supportive aldermen caught it and ran with it. It was at first considered by many in the community to be a too obviously unsuitable use of public lakefront land to be taken seriously, but as the push by its city government backers gained momentum, it was met with opposition from citizens that was so strong and widespread that it should have been overwhelming. It wasn’t. The idea survived. Construction of a brewpub on the lot overlooking the harbor will start this month. The Coal Dock Park ideas may have extra resistance to fading away because they were proposed by professional planners paid by taxpayers to create a downtown master plan. Ironically, the brewpub, that frivolous idea about to become a concrete reality, influenced the Coal Dock Park proposals. The city has a parking problem in the marina district, and the brewpub will exacerbate it by eliminating nearly 50 parking spaces on the former parking lot it will occupy, while at the same time increasing demand for parking. Pressure will grow on the adjacent parking area for the marina tenants whose slip fees make the marina a cash cow for city taxpayers. Trailer parking for users of the launching ramps, which is inadequate on a few summer weekends, is a problem as well. What to do? It’s simple (picture a lightbulb switching on): Move the launching ramps to Coal Dock Park to free up marina district parking space and, as a bonus, make room for marina expansion. Simple? Hardly. Besides usurping a large area of Coal Dock Park for the ramps, parking lot and marina building, the idea would work only if the outer harbor alongside the park were rendered safe from Lake Michigan wave action by a massive breakwater construction project. Graeth, the Milwaukee company that floated the idea, is being paid $88,000 for its advice, so it’s surprising that in making its analysis it did not consult the people in the city government who know the most about the harbor and marina, the members of the Harbor Commission. Also ignored, apparently, was the abundant data on attempts to calm the outer harbor generated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Before the marina was built, the government engineers tested various breakwater designs to make the harbor safe for small boats. The project was abandoned because there was no need for it when the brilliant idea of creating a separate small-boat harbor within the commercial harbor came to fruition. There still is no need. The small-boat harbor has adequate space to provide refuge and safe, convenient mooring for recreational boats of almost any size and launching for trailerable boats. Expanding the marina to the park would create the need to redesign the outer harbor, but that is a need that could only be filled at a cost reaching far into the eight-digit range, in addition to the incalculable cost of the damage to the purpose and appeal of Coal Dock Park. It doesn’t require a consultant to figure out how to avoid those costs. Do not expand the marina beyond the confines of the small-boat harbor. Marina slips are currently filled to capacity, but that’s a good place to be, rather than an excuse to enlarge the marina. Municipal marinas in Sheboygan and Manitowoc have many vacancies, attesting to market uncertainty that could affect Port in the future. The Port marina is efficient and provides good value to its owners, the taxpayers, at its current size. Live with the parking issues. Protect adequate parking for the tenants who keep the marina profitable, but let the launch ramp problem sort itself out. If overcrowded trailer parking space at the marina causes a decrease in launch-permit fees on a few weekends of the summer, it would have little effect on marina revenue. And as for parking for commercial venues such as the brewpub, the city has no obligation to provide it in the marina district. There is ample parking elsewhere in the downtown. Customers can walk a bit. And most important, do not, under any circumstances, let those half-baked “ideas” and “options” creep into the downtown master plan, even as far-in-the-future considerations, or they surely will come back to haunt the city.

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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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