PRESS EDITORIAL: Town owes homeowners protection from business intrusion

Can any homeowner not shudder at this thought?

You live in a city neighborhood, a suburban subdivision or a rural residential area. You love your home and yard and enjoy life there in a comforting refuge from the frenetic, clamorous world at large. And then a business starts operating in your neighborhood close to your home. Not a small, innocuous business like a discreet bed and breakfast or an occasionally open craft shop in a garage, but a commercial enterprise that attracts as many as 250 people and more than 140 vehicles at a single time and features loud entertainment in tents and under bright lights outside until 11 p.m.

This homeowners’ bad dream will become bad reality for families living in a rural subdivision in the Town of Grafton if town officials allow an estate at the intersection of Lake Shore Road and High Bluff Drive to be turned into a commercial event venue.

Zoning was invented to prevent this sort of intrusion into residential areas, but the town Plan Commission is signalling it may approve a conditional use permit to allow it.

The Town of Grafton zoning code restricts the land on which the subdivision is located to “agricultural/rural residential” uses. The ordi nance allows permits only for conditional uses that are “in accordance with the purpose” of the zoning in effect.

The property on the other side of a narrow road has both agricultural/residential zoning and agricultural zoning. The latter has been construed to allow conditional use grants for entertainment businesses. Even so, the idea that the event venue is compatible with the spirit of the zoning for the area seems an impossible stretch. Town officials, however, appear to be open to granting the conditional use petition filed by Bryan Gore, owner of Two Oaks estate.

The Plan Commission tabled the matter after hearing protests from a large group of neighboring property owners, though commission members voiced more concern about a related traffic and parking problem than the other disruptive effects of the event soperation.

The affected residents live along High Bluff Drive, the road that leads to Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve a short distance to the east, Ozaukee County’s most popular park. With 269,000 visitors in 2021, the preserve’s parking lot was frequently overwhelmed, resulting in vehicles parking bumper to bumper on High Bluff Drive, often on private property. Residents along nearby Lakeshore Road were similarly affected.

Though the traffic generated by the venue for weddings and other large-crowd events would surely exacerbate that situation, parking by the throngs visiting Lion’s Den is a stand-alone problem. It is the county’s problem to solve, and the Planning and Parks Department has a plan to do that by enlarging the Lion’s Den parking lot to add 85 parking spaces.

That will be a good start, but the ultimate solution is to open the long-planned Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve on land just north of Lion’s Den. This new park, with equally appealing natural features, would relieve pressure on Lion’s Den and offer adequate on-site parking. Which is one more reason the County Board should approve additional county funding to ensure that the Cedar Gorge preserve will not be derailed by private development.

The Grafton Town Board backs creation of the Cedar Gorge park and has committed $10,000 to its funding—with the proviso that the City of Port Washington contributes at least an equal amount. Though the park would be on land in the city, Port officials have offered no support.

The county’s steps to relieve parking pressure around Lion’s Den should not be viewed as a green light for town officials to give their blessing to a conditional use permit for the event venue on High Bluff Drive, a business that would negatively impact the adjacent neighborhood in more ways than traffic and parking.

To prepare for a final decision, Plan Commission members should imagine how they would feel if a similar business started operating in the neighborhoods where they live, and then do the right thing by enforcing the zoning code meant to prevent that from happening.

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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
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