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Sister Bay Waterfront District Master Plan in the Works: Helm’s purchase inspires effort

The Village of Sister Bay is moving forward with its plans to develop its waterfront district. Committee members and the public discussed forming a Waterfront District Master Plan at meetings held all day August 21 and 22.

The Citizens Advisory Committee is made up of business owners, swimmers, artists, and residents and is coordinated by Sharon Doersching, a village board member.

Public interest was high at the meetings. Over 200 people came and went during the public sessions, which accounts for almost 20 percent of Sister Bay’s year-round population.

The Waterfront District includes the current public waterfront land and the soon-to-be-acquired Helms Four Season Resort property. The purchase of Helm’s is scheduled for Nov. 15, and the first phase will ideally be completed by next summer. The village agreed to purchase the property last spring for $4.9 million.

There will also be connections with the business district and along the North Bay Shore Drive area.

Sister Bay hired JJR, an experienced waterfront design and coastal engineering group that has an extensive portfolio of Great Lakes waterfront projects. JJR consultants attended the meetings and will use all the input received there to create two master plans, one including the land across Mill Road in the park and one based on the idea of selling that land for private use. The committee will review those plans, make modifications and send the plan with their recommendations to the Village Parks Committee, who will then pass it to the board.

“It’s important to note that JJR is coming back with two designs to choose,” said chairperson Sharon Doersching. “This way we can pick and choose which aspects we like best and then fit them together into a final plan.”

While plans are still tentative, there are some aspects that are definitive.

The entire Helm’s resort will be demolished, including the pool. It was debated whether or not the pool should be saved, but due to cost and maintenance issues it was decided the pool would not stay.

The current beach will be expanded to where the Helm’s property ends, and sand will be added in an environmentally sound manner. Studies will be done to determine the environmental impact of adding the sand beach, and also on how to keep the beach working naturally.

Safe and redesigned parking that does not detract from the park and is aesthetically pleasing will be created.

A silent watercraft area will be added on the south end of the beach for kayaks, canoes and small sail boats. There will be an area for privately owned crafts to launch and also a place for rentals.

A connecting walkway from the Helm’s property to Marina Park will be added for people to walk uninterrupted along the entire shoreline. Bike paths will also be created for better access to the waterfront.

Environmental issues topped many attendees concerns.

“Thinking about the demolition of Helm’s responsibly, we should explore everything that can be reused before the demolition crew comes in and it all ends up in the trash,” said Juliana Neuman, a Sister Bay employee. “Sister Bay would be seen as very forward looking if we could use some green facilities – solar water heating and maybe air driers instead of paper towels.”

Doersching also commented on environmentally friendly practices, “I would like to design attractive recycling and trash cans. I want to encourage recycling and I want to see cans integrated as part of this park.”

Other ideas that had broad support include adding natural gardens and a landscape with minimal structures and lots of open space. Lighting in the park will also be minimal and unobtrusive so the stars in the night sky will not be affected.

Possibly eliminating parking on the water side of Bayshore Drive through Sister Bay, adding sand volleyball courts, and the removal of the docks at Helm’s were also discussed.

“Door County is a natural beauty,” said Roberta Larsen, a regular swimmer at the beach. “The more open and less structured the park is the better.”

Also covered at the Monday night meeting were the Sister Bay Sports Complex plans. JJR will also be working on the Sports Complex. The ice rink will have a concrete slab as a base, the baseball diamond at the top of the hill will be moved to the sports complex, and input was taken on adding a skateboard bowl at the park. JJR will create the design, and then fundraising efforts will be needed to pay for the cost of the facility.

“This three-day effort has brought forward the importance of both of our parks in making Sister Bay a year-round destination,” said Doersching.

Within three weeks the initial two plans will be presented, and development will begin next year.

“The Village Board is committed to substantial change in the waterfront district by summer 2008,” said Doersching.

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