Fish Creek Begins Work on New Beach

After Town of Gibraltar board members walked through the newly expanded beach property on Feb. 22, they met to discuss plans for the lot. While the board hopes to have the property open to the public by the summer, managing zoning changes and working with the Department of Transportation (DOT) on highway resurfacing plans has complicated the process.

“My first primary goal is to get this usable by the summer,” said town board Chair Dick Skare. “Trim it up, get it usable, porta potties on the east property line so people can use it and enjoy it. Do some clearing so you can get the view and then over the next year plan what’s best possible.”

A big part of making the property usable is making sure the properties can act as one, and that will require a zoning change to kick things off.

“We can’t make a decision on what we can do with the property unless we know if it’s rezoned or not,” said board member Brian Hackbarth.

Currently, Fish Creek Beach is zoned as village commercial while the new property is zoned as village residential. Both types of zoning have their own rules regarding setbacks and, more importantly, an ordinary high water mark near the shore will prevent the town from doing almost anything with the shoreline.

In order to begin work on the beach, the town will have to rezone the new beach property into village commercial and then combine it with the current property. That will also include the annexation of Brown Avenue, or the beach parking lot that is actually a town road.

The town is planning on applying for rezoning and will also apply for a variance to cut trees within the ordinary high water mark, where thick shrubbery currently acts as a barrier between the two properties.

The board seeks a variance from the ordinary high water mark in order to clear the trees that currently separate the new beach property from the original Fish Creek Beach. Photo by Jackson Parr.

Another discussion on the beach property is what to do with the house on the lot. The town is not able to expand the footprint of the house, but it can alter the building to provide a permanent bathroom structure. Some were calling for an evaluation of the house for historical significance as one of the original bathhouses in Fish Creek, but the majority of the board felt that at least part of the house would be taken down, partly to provide a bigger view of the water from the road.

“One of the things we did was purchase this property so people could see the water and with the building there you can’t see the water,” said board member Barb McKesson.

The decision about what to do with the building is intimately tied with the question of stormwater runoff and beach closures.

Jeremy Ashauer, project manager with the DOT, said that ideally the town would have given them their plan to manage stormwater runoff two months ago. But without knowing what the final plan for the new beach property is, the board found it difficult to come up with a plan for Ashauer.

“How can we make a decision [on stormwater], we don’t know what we’re going to do there yet,” said board member Brian Merkel.

The current stormwater pipe near the beach rests on the west property line. The town board has said that the current of the water, which flows west to east across the beach, pulls all the bacteria from the stormwater into the swimming area, leaving Fish Creek Beach closed after any rain event.

“Our beach does get closed many times throughout the years. I view this as the one chance in 50 years to not have the stormwater as it is now,” said Hackbarth.

While Skare opted for the less expensive option of extending the stormwater pipe out past the swimming area where it currently is, most of the board felt the stormwater drainage should be moved to the east property line.

“Relocating wouldn’t dump it onto our beach, it would wash out into the bay,” said Hackbarth.

Merkel said the town still has some work to do before deciding where to put the stormwater system. His concern was riddled with unknowns.

“There is a [sanitary] lift station there and I don’t know where that pipe could be placed. I don’t know how close can we put it to the property line. I don’t know how big of pipe it has to be to facilitate that and how is that going to possibly affect the building that we have?” said Merkel, noting that the town is still unsure what that building is going to be. “Without knowing what we’re going to do I can’t make that decision.”

Despite these unknowns, the town will move forward with clearing some trees from the property with the goal of making it safe and accessible for the public as soon as possible.

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