Controversial Sturgeon Bay hotel prompts more citizen interest

The public involvement in city affairs that began last fall with the revelation of a multi-story hotel as part of the city’s Westside Waterfront Redevelopment project continues, most recently with a full house for the Common Council’s March 17 noon meeting.

The meeting included approval of minutes from 10 closed meetings sessions of the Waterfront Redevelopment Authority (WRA), the seven-member group responsible, according to the city website, for “redevelopment of all waterfront areas of the city, so as to eliminate the economic and social liability as may exist and to improve economic growth and aesthetics of the city.”

During the public comment period, a common theme was the lack of transparency by the WRA and city government in general.

Sturgeon Bay resident Hans Christian said he had read through the recently released WTA minutes and saw that the original proposal was for a 30-room hotel, but when made public it jumped to 90 rooms and then 76.

“No wonder people got upset,” he said.

Christian also asked why the Pollmans decided to withdraw their plan for a 300-seat brewery/restaurant as part of the waterfront plan. He said the word was that they pulled out over the controversy the hotel raised, but he also heard that the site, a landfill, has an engineering problem. He asked if the site was ever professionally assessed by an engineer.

Third District Aldermanic candidate Kelly Catarozoli said the public has no way to talk to the people making decisions in the WRA when those decisions are being made behind closed doors. She said the authority should only go into closed session for the benefit of the city, not the developer.

“We have a huge cry for transparency in the city and we’re not getting it,” she said.

A disturbance erupted when Sturgeon Bay resident Kelly Avenson pointed out that the chamber hall was filled and that people were gathered in the hallway outside. When that happened at a Dec. 3 meeting, the meeting was canceled by the Fire Chief Tim Herlache, who said the 90-person capacity of the chambers had been exceeded. Avenson asked why this meeting wasn’t being shut down.

Herlache said at the Dec. 3 meeting, there were many more people standing in the chambers and in the hallway, while at the current meeting, everyone was seated in the chambers and capacity in the hallway was not exceeded.

“We are in compliance,” he said.

The council then moved on to approve a Certified Survey Map (CMS) for the waterfront hotel. Third District Alderman Dan Wiegand amended the motion to approve by adding that recording of the CMS is dependent on developer Bob Papke securing financing for the hotel project.

The meeting was opened to the public again for non-agenda items.

Kelly Avenson asked the council to hold the meetings at night rather than in the middle of the work day.

“I know at least 10 people who could not attend,” she said.

Jim Newman asked the council to slow down on the waterfront project. He said the fact that there are two write-in candidates for the city’s aldermanic elections in April “speaks for itself.”

“Every alderman sitting here is going to face this kind of opposition,” Newman said. “I think the council has basically been ignoring the public.”

He asked them to reconsider the hotel decision.

“It’s not too late to change your minds and it would be statesmanship to do so,” Newman said.

Melaniejane of the Holiday Music Motel said no one should have the idea that opposition to the waterfront hotel is coming solely from hotel owners who are against competition.

“We want healthy competition,” she said, adding that the project detracts from the charm of the city.

“You can’t go back,” she said.

Susan Howe admonished the council for not listening to “smart, creative people” in the community.

“I condemn your behavior and your whole development,” she said. “Don’t steamroll over citizens you serve.”

Elliot Goettelman suggested the council make its website more user friendly by telling citizens how to get their concerns before the council and items on future agendas.

Gerald Pelrine, who was eliminated in the Feb. 17 primary as a candidate for 3rd District alderman, reiterated Newman’s call for the council to back off its support for the hotel.

“Everyone would admire you for it,” he said.

The final speaker was Laurel Hauser, co-chair of Center Line Community Forum, a group that has grown out of the controversy over the hotel.

Mayor Thad Birmingham ended the meeting with a couple of announcements, including the creation of a “super committee” comprised of the Park and Recreation Board, the Plan Commission and the Waterfront Redesign Board for the purpose of reviewing the Westside Waterfront Redevelopment plan. The first meeting is scheduled for 6 pm Tuesday, March 24, at Sturgeon Bay High School.

He also said a preliminary engineering analysis regarding the waterfront tugboats will be available on or about June 1, adding that nothing is set in stone about moving the tugs.