Sister Bay Waterfront Planning Update

From the notes of Myles Dannhausen Jr., a member of the Sister Bay Waterfront Citizens Advisory Committee and a Pulse staff member.

A four-phase plan for the development of a new waterfront park in Sister Bay was presented to the public Nov. 7, yielding mixed response from the public and officials alike.

Most in the audience of about 40 residents lauded the overall plan presented by Jessie Fink of Madison-based JJR consultants, but many expressed reservations about the cost estimates and various details in the plan.

The village recently approved a borrowing package of $6.5 million to pay for the Helm’s Four Seasons property, demolition work, and completion of various other village projects. Those funds will only cover basic landscaping of the new park addition.

The plan presented by Fink planned for an expansion of the public beach, removal of the existing Helm’s piers and the lengthening of the public swimming pier, and construction of a boardwalk. These projects would be part of the short-term, phase one plan, to be completed by 2009. Phase one costs would exceed $2.9 million.

Phase two, at a price tag of $1.55 million, would include the most contentious portion of the project, the relocation of Mill Rd. The consensus from the public to this point has been to relocate the road to connect the portion of the Helms property across the street from the motel to the rest of the park. This phase would involve the relocation of restroom and changing facilities, playground expansion, and construction of a plaza/memorial entrance to the park on the corner of Bayshore Drive and Mill Road.

The plan’s third stage would incorporate the reconstruction of Bayshore Drive by the state Department of Transportation in 2011-12. That project will likely include significant street-scaping work that could entail a widening of sidewalks, removal of parking on the west side of Bayshore Drive, and new lighting. Fink suggested incorporating relocation of the Village Hall into this phase if the community chooses to do so. Fink put the cost of this phase at $185,000.

Phase four, slated for 2016 and beyond, would call for the removal of the post office when their lease expires, and removal of the existing parking lot. Costs associated with this phase would be about $125,000.

The total cost of all four phases, by Fink’s estimate, would approach $5 million, not including the cost of DOT work, property acquisition (such as Al Johnson’s boutique or the Sister Bay Café), or demolition and relocation work. This would bring the minimum cost of the project, including the purchase of the property, to over $10 million.

Denise Bhirdo informed the audience the village approved a $6.5 million borrowing package to cover the cost of the Helm’s purchase and demolition, as well as funds to finish other village projects. That measure will result in a six percent increase in village property taxes, she said.

Sister Bay board member Ken Church implored the village to sell excess property to offset some of the costs. He said if that isn’t done, “people should be prepared for another six percent increase in taxes or more.” Church said he would anticipate the real cost with property acquisitions and unknowns as three to four times Fink’s estimate.

Property that may be considered excess includes Old Schoolhouse Park near the intersection of Highway 57 and 42, the hardball field (slated for relocation to the Sports Complex) behind Johnson’s Park, and the property on the south side of Mill Road purchased with the Helm’s motel.

Fink said there were options for making the sticker price of the project less intimidating.

“There is a lot of cost-sharing available out there,” she said, including stewardship funds, waterways grants, and others.

Both Bhirdo and Church said they would lean against removing parking on the east side of the street. Fink’s plan called for relocating some of that parking to Mill Road, but also for making up for it by planning for shared parking behind businesses on the east side of Bayshore Drive. Church and Bhirdo were skeptical.

“Shared parking won’t happen as that development is at best decades away,” Church predicted.

Earlier in the evening the citizens advisory committee met at the Corner of the Past Museum to tour the facility and view historical photos from Sister Bay’s past. The tour was meant to help members gain historical perspective as they formulate a vision for the future of the village.

When the group reconvened at the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Fire Station after the tour, village administrator Bob Kufrin stressed the importance of including the entire downtown area in waterfront planning, lest the community risk designing and building a beautiful waterfront buttressed by a wall of bad development across the street.

“Consider the east side of the street as well,” he said. “One of the results that should come out of this is a consensus on height, design, and setbacks…You should get some sense of direction that can go back to the plan commission and the board to change the zoning code.”

No decision on the park plan was made at the meeting. The committee will meet again Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 6 pm at the fire station.

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