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The Year In News 2023

New Developments Planned and Completed

One of the largest, income-qualified housing projects in the area opened this year in Sister Bay. Supported by tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), and assisted by other federal, county and village contributions, Mosaic Property Ventures completed The Shoals off state Highway 57. Once open, the project’s 45 units were rented out within weeks to a mixture of individuals making either 30%, 60% or 80% of the county’s median family income of  $57,700. 

Other new and planned developments were centered in Sturgeon Bay in 2023. The city created three more Tax Increment Financing Districts to aid projects with financial incentives, bringing the total number of city TIDs to 10 by year’s end (though one of those doesn’t officially begin until 2024). 

The former Pamida building at 1023 Egg Harbor Road in Sturgeon Bay was renovated into an events and activity center known as the Door County Gala and Sand Box. The facility located in Tax Increment District #6 opened in December and was eligible for $211,500 in financial incentives from the city. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Dec. 20. Photo by Kevin Boneske.

Some of those projects introduced or continued this year included a 91,952-square-foot Fleet Farm retail store on land the city annexed from the Town of Nasewaupee, south of where Grant Avenue connects with state Highway 42/57. The development had been proposed in late 2022, advanced through city committee approvals earlier this year but generated no additional news by year’s end. Other developments in the works this year included 19 duplexes for 55-and-older residents and one single-family home on an 11-acre site along the north side of Colorado Street; a N. 14th Ave. housing project known as Crown Condominiums that will add 30 housing units to the city; a plan to open an events/activity center at the former Pamida building at 1023 Egg Harbor Road to be completed in 2024; a 62-room Cobblestone Hotel on property at the corner of Egg Harbor Road and 12th Avenue; and a 50,000-square-foot building and space for about five tenants in the Industrial Park.

This drawing depicts what a new Fleet Farm store would look like as proposed along the west entrance to Sturgeon Bay. Submitted.

Plans are also moving forward for the County of Door to build a 14,614-square-foot addition to the Door County Historical Museum and Archives Facility along North 4th Avenue in Sturgeon Bay; and the Door County Granary project on Sturgeon Bay’s West Waterfront is now slated for substantial completion in July 2024. 

Projects that opened this year in Sturgeon Bay included the $10.2-million, donor-funded expansion to the Door County YMCA’s Sturgeon Bay Center; Kwik Trip’s second store on the city’s west side after its east-side store near Walmart opened in October 2022; and a Starbucks with a drive-through in a three-unit commercial building at the southwest corner of state Highway 42/57 and Duluth Avenue. The construction for this development began in 2022, with the other two units occupied by a Door County Medical Center clinic and an AT&T retail store.

The Year Of Local Government Involvement

Plus a coin flip to decide Sister Bay’s Village president

It wasn’t a typical outcome when the candidate filing period closed Jan. 3, 2023 for the April election season. Local governments are generally fortunate if they can simply find enough people to fill available seats. This year, four municipalities required a primary, another four had contested races. All the rest – with the exception of the Town of Sturgeon Bay – had enough candidates willing to serve.

Once the April 4 election results were tabulated, the race for Sister Bay Village Board president came down to a roll of the dice. Nate Bell and incumbent village board president Rob Zoschke each received 256 votes. The high roll and seat went to Bell.

Decisions, Decisions: Canvassers chose dice to break an election tie in Sister Bay. File photo by D.A. Fitzgerald.

An early start to a competitive spring election came this year when Door County Judge D. Todd Ehlers announced this summer that he will retire at the end of his current term on July 31, 2024, ending his 23-years on the bench. The election to succeed Ehlers will be held April 2, 2024, with the new judge taking office on Aug. 1, 2024. Two candidates have already announced their intentions to run for the judgeship – Door County Family Court Commissioner Jennifer Moeller and attorney Brett Reetz.

Door County Judge D. Todd Ehlers announced this summer that he will not be seeking re-election next year and will be retiring at the end of his current six-year term after 24 years on the bench. Submitted.

Childcare Spaces are Added – and Taken Away

Door Community Child Development Center (DOCO) was cleared for construction in February of this year and is expected to open in January 2024. The new child care facility on Gordon Road just west of Culver’s in Sevastopol will have a capacity for 146 children. DOCO currently operates at 1743 Egg Harbor Road in Sturgeon Bay with a licensed capacity for 83 children.

A rendering of the new Door Community Child Development Center in Sevastopol slated for a January 2024 opening. Submitted.

In Northern Door County, Northern Door Children’s Center kicked off phase II of its capital campaign in November, aiming to raise the final $1.25 million of its $3.6 million-campaign to improve its Sister Bay facility. The building originally had a capacity of 112 kids, increased that in 2022 to 130, and could serve as many as 160 children once the final phase is completed.

Even as the peninsula’s two largest child care facilities were expanding, a mid-Door facility in West Jacksonport announced it was closing. Citing a loss of half of its staff and weekly loss of revenue in winter, Zion Early Childcare Center notified the families of 60 children enrolled that it would be closing as of Dec. 22. 

Potawatomi State Park Tower Stabilized

The political roller-coaster ride determining the fate of the Potawatomi State Park Tower continued throughout 2023, with many twists and turns that kept the tower’s fate in the balance. By the end of the year, however, a positive outcome: the tower was stabilized, with the work crew finishing the job Dec. 18. Gov. Tony Evers had set aside $500,000 in emergency funds to stabilize the tower earlier in the year, and then authorized that work to be done in the fall. There is another $500,000 earmarked in the state’s biennial budget – also passed this year – requested by legislators Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and André Jacque (R-DePere). As we went to press, we awaited word from the Department of Natural Resources on what remains to be done, and when the agency anticipated reopening the tower, which has been closed since 2017.

Contractors work to stabilize the observation tower at Potawatomi State Park. Photo by Brett Kosmider.

Room Tax Dollars Fund 12 Projects by Year’s End

Destination Door County announced in January its new room-tax-based Community Investment Fund program that will grant money to nonprofits, community business associations and local governments, but only if those projects benefit visitors and local residents. The program administered by the Door County Community Foundation awarded a total $828,917 for this inaugural year, benefiting 18 different projects across the peninsula. 

According to results released this year by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Door County’s visitor economy generated $582.4 million in total economic activity in 2022 – an increase of $51.7 million over 2021 and a figure that represents nearly 2.5% of the state’s overall visitor impact. Visitor-associated state and local tax revenue in the county increased nearly 12%. 

Communities Prepare for Broadband

We reported all year on the plans municipalities are making to provide reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to all residents and businesses. These efforts, bolstered by last year’s creation of a County of Door broadband coordinator position, have included the selection of internet service provider partners, grants awarded and applications made, and decisions to borrow dollars to fund projects. 

All municipalities – with the exception of the villages of Ephraim and Forestville – are positioning for some of the $1.05 billion apportioned to Wisconsin this year from the federal government from the Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment Program to deploy or upgrade their broadband networks. 

A New Fire Department Forms

The Town of Nasewaupee officially split off from the Southern Door Fire Department (SDFD) in late September to form its own department, Nasewaupee Fire Rescue (NFR). The split resulted in the SDFD having gone from two stations – one in the north in Nasewaupee and the other in the south in Forestville – to just the Forestville station after the north station and much of the equipment in it was purchased by Nasewaupee. Divisions related to personnel at the two stations and how the SDFD was financially supported led to Nasewaupee going its separate way. Personnel who left the SDFD to join NFR included Jacob Schartner, who took over as NFR’s first chief.

Nasewaupee Fire Rescue Chief Jacob Schartner. Submitted.

General News

Five children who were ice fishing were among 11 people rescued with help from the U.S. Coast Guard. Photo courtesy of Salvatore Del Rosario.

•In February, the U.S. Coast Guard and local, county and state responders rescued 11 ice fishing enthusiasts near Sherwood Point in Nasewaupee after a large crack in the ice appeared and 18 mph winds separated ice sheets from the mainland.

Stone Bridge Health Care purchased Scandia Village in September, a retirement center and long-term care facility that is home to about 13% of Sister Bay’s population, and is the village’s largest employer. 

Stone Bridge is a holding company, and Continuum Healthcare, a company based in northern New Jersey, will be the new operator of the center. The shift was originally expected to take place Dec. 1, but administrative and licensing delays have pushed that date back, probably after the first of the year.

•The highway redevelopment project through the Village of Egg Harbor was wrapped up this year, with the village borrowing $7.5 million to pay for its share of the improvements that will be done when the state resurfaces about seven miles of state Highway 42 through the village in 2024. The first of the village’s bids came back high before year’s end, prompting the village to consider borrowing more in the near future.

The County of Door made temporary safety improvements this year at the Culver’s intersection to prevent motorists from turning north on the highway from Gordon Road. Photo by Craig Sterrett.

•The County of Door made safety changes to the dangerous intersection at Gordon Road/County BB and state Highway 42/57. The work done at the Culver’s intersection was done to block access to motorists attempting to turn north from Gordon Road/County BB onto the highway. The county’s improvements are expected to be temporary pending the construction of a traffic improvement, such as a roundabout. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation secured roughly $2 million this year for that project, but the work won’t be done for several years. 

•In August, it appeared that the Sister Bay Village Hall might be on its last legs, but sentiment among village officials shifted after a Sept. 6 public input session favored preserving the structure that stands in the center of Waterfront Park. The parks committee recommended forming an ad hoc committee to research possible improvements. 

•The Washington Island Sportsman’s Club advocated this year for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to bring back Pilot Island for all to enjoy. The FWS manages the island as a migratory bird nesting area that’s closed to the public and the Sportsman’s Club wants FWS to give the birds the boot. The Door County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in February disapproving of the island’s current use. By year’s end, the Sportsman’s Club had arranged its second meeting of the year with FWS to discuss the island. 

•After nearly a year of deliberation and many hours spent crafting an ordinance with the village attorney, Ephraim’s board of trustees voted against issuing Class A liquor licenses for the retail sale of wine and liquor for off-premise consumption.

This overhead photo shows the layout of the main site for the Forestville-based S&S Jerseyland Dairy, which received a new Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for an expanded operation. Submitted.

•A group opposed to the expansion of the Forestville-based S&S Jerseyland Dairy developed a list of concerns for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), as S&S sought a new five-year discharge-elimination-system permit to increase its existing operation from 7,654 animal units to 14,711. In the final determination, the DNR capped the expansion at 10,231 animal units and required S&S to install groundwater-monitoring wells at the main production site and to submit a groundwater-monitoring plan.

•The Peninsula Pulse received 34 awards in the 2022 Better Newspaper Contest hosted by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. 

•The finishing touches were put on a plan to bring a Green Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Visitor Center to Sturgeon Bay. Completing a prospectus that touted the area’s natural features, generous community of science and its status as a tourist destination was a first step for the city to bid on getting the visitor center to locate in Sturgeon Bay.

Boat tours between Lake Michigan and Sherwood Point in the bay of Sturgeon Bay – which were offered for several years using a fireboat docked by the Door County Maritime Museum before they ended in 2018 – resumed in summer 2023 with a pair of 40-foot Liberty Launches. 

The Fish Creek Sanitary District scuttled a project that would have created 49 units of workforce housing on land it owns at 3815 County F.

The official decision followed a month of controversy about the housing project, and just as the County of Door was about to hold a hearing on the rezoning petition needed to construct it. The Sanitary District cited unanswered questions as the reason behind the board’s vote.

•The Liberty Grove town board agreed to contract with Ayers and Associates to create a layout plan for Mariner’s Park in Gills Rock at a cost of $6,500, plus an additional commitment of $5,000 for a grant assessment. 

An illustration of a Constellation-class frigate to be built at Fincantieri Marinette Marine. Submitted.

Fincantieri Marinette Marine was awarded a $526 million contract to build a fourth Constellation-class frigate. Construction on the first frigate began in August 2022 in Marinette, and FMM is scheduled to deliver that ship – the future USS Constellation – in 2026. Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding builds sections of the ships in Sturgeon Bay.

•The Town of Gibraltar awarded its Class B liquor license to Welcker’s Lounge, a new restaurant and bar located in the former Whistling Swan restaurant space. Welcker’s was up against three other applicants for the $20,000 license: the White Gull Inn, Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille, and Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil. 

Jacob Brey showed the Peninsula Pulse many of the modern practices to prevent runoff and the loss of topsoil and nutrients at his dairy farm.

A fire destroyed a portion of the Rowleys Bay Resort in Ellison Bay on Sept. 5, when firefighters from every Door County department, and some in Kewaunee and Brown counties, battled the blaze. Resort owners Jewel and Bob Ouradnik said in the immediate aftermath of the fire that they planned to repair and rebuild, but later announced they would be putting the property up for sale. The resort reportedly had a buyer under contract by year’s end, though the owners said they could not divulge any information at this time.

•The Door County Board of Supervisors voted 14-7 on Sept. 26 to approve a policy for the types of flags the county will allow to be flown on its flag poles, and that no longer includes the Pride flag that the county has flown in June for Pride Month over the past couple of years.

The policy will only allow the display of the American flag, the State of Wisconsin flag, the County of Door flag, POW-MIA flags and military flags.

•Eight years after neighbors first fought to halt construction of an expanded dining hall and gathering space at Camp Zion in Ellison Bay, the battle continued this year, with the Door County Board of Adjustment ultimately deciding in December with the 77-year-old religious camp on Door Bluff Road. 

Ropes lashed from the floating dock system to the jetty rock in the Egg Harbor Marina kept the dock secure temporarily after a late summer storm unmoored the floating dock system. File photo by D.A. Fitzgerald.

•The season ended early for boaters who had a slip at the Egg Harbor Marina after high winds blew through the harbor in August and busted chains, shifting the floating dock system about 10 feet south away from the breakwater. The event didn’t cause any boat damage or damage to the marina’s infrastructure and by November, the village had repaired the damage with heavier chains.

The Forestville Dam, owned and operated by the County of Door at the Forestville Dam County Park along the Ahnapee River, now requires a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources before the county may draw down the millpond north of the dam. File photo by Kevin Boneske.

•The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) ordered the County of Door in October to maintain a minimum water level at the millpond dam the county owns and operates at the Forestville Dam County Park along the Ahnapee River. The Friends of the Forestville Dam had petitioned the DNR for a minimum water level after having previously objected to the county’s drawdown of the millpond’s water level in November 2019, before refilling the 94-acre site in September 2021. The county will now have to obtain a permit from the DNR to draw down the millpond.