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Voters Will Decide if Town Buys $1.4 Million Property to Expand Fish Creek Beach

On Aug. 31, property owners in the Town of Gibraltar will vote on whether the town should purchase a $1.4 million property adjacent to the Fish Creek Beach. The property at 4108 Main St. would allow the town to nearly double the size of the beach.

“When the opportunity presents itself, jump on it,” said Town Board Chair Dick Skare, who never thought a property like this would come up for sale. “The generational aspect of it, let’s say someone other than us were to purchase it, I don’t know when that’s going to come back up.”

WHAT: Special meeting of electors

WHEN: 7 pm, Aug. 31

WHERE: Gibraltar Town Hall, 4176 Maple St., Fish Creek

WHO CAN VOTE: Any U.S. citizen age 18 or older who has resided in the election district for 28 consecutive days before the election is an eligible elector.

The property acquisition comes after a long discussion about improvements to Fish Creek’s waterfront in tandem with the highway redevelopment that is currently slated for fall of 2018. The town started working with planners from Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) in 2015 to develop a master plan for Fish Creek’s waterfront and public access areas. Planners with SEH floated the idea of property acquisition next to the beach to allow for expansion, but even then, the idea seemed decades in the future.

Brian Hackbarth, town board member and chair of the Parks and Lands Committee, said the town approached the owners of the property while working with SEH, but saw little hope.

“Just a year ago, the message was more like I’m probably not going to see it in my lifetime,” said Hackbarth. “Now we get close to finishing the waterfront plan and they come out of nowhere and contact one of our board members.”

The property acquisition could dramatically affect what Gibraltar planned for improvements at the beach. It provides more land with which to manage storm water runoff from the highway, the potential for bathroom facilities in the house that is currently on the property and expansion of what is often a crowded beach.

Skare emphasized that the priority goals in the town’s comprehensive plan are access and availability of the town’s waterfront resources.

The $1.4 million price tag, along with other projects the town is planning including the highway resurface, will require the town to issue municipal bonds.

“Long-term availability of financing for our township is good,” said Skare. “We have a very high rating and municipal bonds [interest] at this point are a couple percent.

“For some people that’s a point of contention,” said Hackbarth. “They support buying it but they don’t like the price.”

In June, the town originally offered $490,000 for the property that was originally being sold for $1.6 million. Over two months of negotiation, the property owners accepted the offer of $1.4 million. But a township needs the supportive vote of electors to buy property with taxpayer dollars.

“The town board has done as much as they can do,” said Hackbarth. “We do not have the power to buy property so now the power is in the hands of the electors so it’s going to depend on who shows up that night and how everyone votes that night.”

“We won’t have many chances at this so this is a once in a lifetime thing,” said Skare. “That’s the way I’m approaching it with people. When the opportunity presents itself, jump on it.”

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