Letter to the Editor: Redevelopment Means More Publicly Owned Land, Not Less

Recently a letter written by Dan Collins dated Oct. 25, 2016, on behalf of the Friends of the Sturgeon Bay Public Waterfront was delivered and printed by several media outlets in Door County. Mr. Collins’ letter is very misleading and outright erroneous. The letter relates to the issue to the proposed hotel development on Sturgeon Bay’s west side. In it he states that the city has not received an Ordinary High Water Mark determination from the DNR. That is incorrect. The DNR has reviewed the development plan in relation to the ordinary high water mark. In fact, the city was required to make significant adjustments to the plan to accommodate the DNR’s determination. There are no objections to the project from the DNR. Clearly, the Friends group is dissatisfied with the decision of the DNR regarding where the new development can occur, but to imply that the DNR was not consulted or aware of the situation is ridiculous. The Friends group acknowledges that the DNR is the authority in matters pertaining to the ordinary high water mark, yet they chose to sue the city, not once but twice, while never pursuing DNR with their claims.

It is important for the people of Sturgeon Bay to know that the redevelopment plan for West Side enhances public use of, and access to, the waterfront. The proposed sale of land for the hotel development amounts to less than an acre and is less than one-quarter of the overall site. The largest portion of the site is proposed to be developed into a public park and promenade, including all of the land fronting on the water. If the site is developed as currently envisioned by the city, there will be more publicly owned land after the project is complete than before the project started.

Mr. Collins’ letter brings up a recent act of the legislature to define a section of the ordinary high water mark in Milwaukee and he contends it bears no resemblance to the Sturgeon Bay situation. On the contrary, the Milwaukee situation is nearly identical to Sturgeon Bay’s. Both involve a parcel that has been dry land for decades, both involve the sale of land for private development, both have the approval of the local government and acquiescence from the DNR, and both involve basing the ordinary high water mark on an historical documents (in Sturgeon Bay’s case on the shoreline from the state-approved bulkhead line ordinance along with other maps and data frequently used by DNR in making such determinations). One difference between the two cases is that in Milwaukee the subject site was publicly owned and used for quite some time, while in the majority of the property to be sold for the hotel has been owned by the city for just a few years. It was purchased for the purpose of spurring development and creating a public park and was privately held for over one hundred years prior.

Finally, the Collins letter states that an alternate location for the hotel was rejected by the city. The city has not formally reviewed or made any decision on any alternate hotel sites. It did, however, review and reject a settlement offer from the Friends group relative to the location of the ordinary high water mark. The offer was deemed to be a worse outcome for the city, and those that live here, than if the city lost the lawsuit. Furthermore the alleged compromise sought to bind other property that is not a part of the Friends complaint.

With its redevelopment effort, the city is trying to remediate and improve a blighted property, (remember the old Co-op buildings?), increase the economic vitality of the west side downtown, and improve public use and access to the waterfront. While some are opposed to the specific hotel project, it will be a catalyst for accomplishing those worthy goals. Why the Friends and listed plaintiffs see these objectives as contrary to the public interest is beyond me. In my time on the council, and as mayor I have always thought it a good outcome when public access to the waterways can be improved while removing blighted property without an impact on local property taxes.

Mr. Collins, the named plaintiffs and Friends are free to issue as many statements, press releases, Facebook posts, websites and other forms of communicating their disinformation in an effort to justify their position and actions as they see fit. Unlike the Friends group, the city has an obligation to act in the best interest of, and on behalf of, all the residents of the city and the city as a municipal corporation. The Friends and Mr. Collins, only have the burden of acting in their interest and serving their own point of view. Fortunately for the residents of the City of Sturgeon Bay this matter is before a judge and the issues will be resolved as a matter of law, not opinion and misinformation.

Thad Birmingham

Mayor, City of Sturgeon Bay

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