PRESS EDITORIAL: Mayor race elevated election rhetoric to sound policy ideas

The City of Port Washington mayoral race was a refreshing oasis in the desert of political cynicism that so many elections have become.

The two manifestly qualified candidates illuminated, rather than argued over, important issues facing the city and offered ideas for dealing with them that were so sound they should be melded to create an effective agenda for the winner. We urge Mayor-elect Ted Neitzke to do that.

Both Neitzke and Dan Benning correctly identified managing real estate development as an abiding challenge to the city government. In their campaigns, they confronted the issue from different directions. Benning addressed the critical need for affordable housing. Neitzke focused on the need to assert firmer control over land use so that it adheres to the city’s vision of its future rather than that of developers.

Each candidate enhanced his credibility by affirming that there is no place in that vision for the Blues Factory, the proposed industrial -styled building housing an entertainment complex on lakefront land that rightfully belongs to the public.

In the Blues Factory, the new mayor inherits a development blunder for the ages. The plan for the music venue intended to draw crowds and traffic to the congested marina district was forced on a community that didn’t want it by a past mayor and supporters on the Common Council with bizarre timing—just when dense residential development in the marina district was about to explode. Though there have been no recent signs of life in the project, the site at the edge of the harbor remains in the hands of the developer. Mayor Neitzke must make it a priority to lead an effort to reclaim the land for its proper owners, the people of Port Washington.

As a candidate, Neitzke pointed out that the city, rather than setting the course for development, has often been content to react to whatever proposals developers present, in some cases letting them deviate from plans approved by the council.

His point is illustrated by Prairie’s Edge, a project that was a can’t-miss opportunity on some of the most valuable Lake Michigan shoreland in the state (gifted to the city by Wisconsin Electric) but has morphed into something that is hard to identify though is certainly not the residential development that was the land’s obvious best use. After making numerous concessions, the city will allow developer to build a housing facility for senior citizens that for a while will be the only structure on the sprawling lake bluff site.

At times, it has seemed that city officials have acted as though they have to beg developers to invest in this appealing destination city. Yet Port Washington is in high demand. In the development game, the city government holds the winning cards, but has acted as though it holds hands of deuces and treys, when in reality they are aces.

Benning’s approach to development is also well focused. He is right that the dearth of affordable housing in Port Washington is a need that has to be addressed. Even the aging housing stock in what were once working-class neighborhoods is priced beyond the means of some families that want to live in a small town like Port with its strong school system and community institutions. Throughout its history, this city has benefitted from a vibrant ethnically and economically diverse population. That must not be sacrificed as a casualty of surging upscale development.

Tuesday’s vote was the climax of an election campaign that was a showcase of ideas and initiatives that when combined can make Port Washington a better community. The people of Port Washington are winners regardless of which candidate they voted for.

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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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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