The New Planning Commission Policy Subcommittee: the Future of Port Washington Road

East GrowthOn Monday, the Planning Commission’s Policy Subcommittee will have its first meeting. I appointed the Subcommittee because the Planning Commission has been spending most of its time reviewing applications and, often, failing to review the policies that underly those applications. Mequon’s developments and planning are only as good as the policies and ordinances the Planning Commission and Common Council apply.

Mequon has a reputation for being difficult. I have long believed part of that reputation is based on a failure to listen to the market, state to the market what is allowed and then consistently following through and approving consistently with that message – no less, and no more.

Among the Subcommittee’s highest priorities will be a review of land use on Port Washington Road.

To start the process rolling, I state below what I would allow on Port Washington Road (subject to results of the citywide survey and the Subcommittee finishing its work). Being so forthright is risky. It is easier for an elected official to keep opinions hidden and stay “flexible” so as not to rile up people. I think that is the wrong approach.

During the recent mayoral campaign, I stated the following:

With the completion of the East Trunk sewer project, there will be pressure to develop north along the Port Washington Road corridor. I will initiate a comprehensive review of that entire corridor. I share many residents’ concerns over retail creeping north, vacant stores, traffic and some recent architecture. Much of the northern portion of the corridor can and should remain residential. Whatever happens there needs to be done correctly, both to avoid sprawl and to ensure that the southern part of the corridor does not suffer. The vitality of that southern portion is important to both the vitality of our community and to our tax base.

I am not changing my position now that the election is over. We need this process.

The City commissioned a market study for the area along Port Washington Road north of Highland Road in mid-2013. That study suggested a lot of changes – four-plus story buildings, multi-family housing, tax incentives, significant public infrastructure expenditures and high-intensity development. The study said the most likely and best developments would be four-story hotels, a sporting or other entertainment venue, some office and apartments. It said that there would be limited demand for manufacturing and cautioned that it would require many thousands of new residents in the vicinity, or destination centers, for retail to work without it cannibalizing existing retail. The report effectively suggested another area as intense as the Town Center, just different.

From what I heard during the campaign, and during my years as an alderman before the campaign, I do not think that is what most Mequon residents want.

If I am proven wrong by the citywide survey, so be it. I will adjust my approach. However, until I learn that Mequon wants that kind of intensity, I will not support it.

I believe that we have adequate retail areas. The city needs those areas to thrive. We should encourage redevelopment in those areas to meet additional needs.

If I were a one-man committee, here is what I would suggest for Port Washington Road:

  • Encourage redevelopment of tired properties, particularly on the southern end of the road.
  • Direct most intense uses to the areas between County Line and Mequon Road.
  • Allow in-fill south of West Glen Oaks Lane similar in intensity, height and size as the surrounding retail and business properties (with the west side of the road being less intense).
  • Except for a couple of acres on the corner of Port Washington and Highland Roads (which could be neighborhood commercial, a restaurant or an office building), keep the west side of Port Washington Road zoned single-family residential from Highland Road to just south of Pioneer Road. The residential would be ¾ or one-acre density, in conservation-style subdivisions. These would be great subdivisions, particularly considering the amount of undevelopable land that would stay open.
  • Allow the market to dictate the east side of Port Washington Road from Highland Road to just south of Pioneer Road, but exclude retail uses, large apartment buildings and uses similar to retail (e.g., hotels). Missing Links is great there. That area would be a fine location for another Newcastle Place, senior housing (not to exceed two or three stories), duplex or townhouse condominiums, light industrial, medical or office. Some of the deeper parcels might even be appropriate for single-family housing.
  • Allow a limited neighborhood commercial or business park node near the on-ramp for I-43 at Pioneer Road.
  • Keep uses so that Port Washington Road, north of Highland Road, remains a two-lane road for the foreseeable future.

It is worth noting that there are hundreds of acres of wetlands along Port Washington Road that will never be developed. That is good. It provides open space.

In my opinion, this would be a realistic plan. Details would need to be worked out. For example, I believe that we need decent architectural guidelines for the area to avoid some of the more controversial buildings that have been built on Port Washington Road in recent years.

However, this plan would enable property owners to utilize their properties while not creating problems, exploding our population or cannibalizing existing uses. Coupled with the hundreds of acres of wetlands, it would be consistent with the character of Mequon. The development of the Highland Road interchange will further assist with traffic issues, particularly south of Highland Road. Sewer and water would either be extended, or property owners might be allowed to develop their properties under this plan using on-site facilities with the expectation that they would hook-up when sewer is extended.

Unless and until the comprehensive study or the citywide survey dictates something else, developers have the existing zoning or they can apply for rezoning along the lines described above. Until then, I will oppose rezoning applications that are inconsistent with the above-described plan.

Hopefully, this gives the Subcommittee, and the public generally, a starting point for discussion.

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