I attended your meeting of May 25. At that meeting, the board discussed several projects, one of which is the proposed Seaview Senior Independent Living Facility on lower Main Street.
The project sits on one of the most visible parts of Port Washington - the area across the street from the Town Dock, park and band shell. For this reason, the project requires a high level of scrutiny, which, unfortunately, has been so far lacking.
At the outset, let me say that I am no great fan of the current structures that occupy the site. However, I do not believe that one mistake should be replaced by another. For that reason, I am urging the Board of Zoning Appeals to take a long, hard look at the project.
Port Washington, like most of the metropolitan area, grew up in the age of industrialization. During this period, the natural resources of the Earth were used for manufacturing purposes, to create wealth from the spoils of the land. Our waterfront was nothing more than a "highway" by which our natural resources could be transported to where they were needed.
A lot has changed since then. Now, Port Washington, like the rest of the metro region, is post development. There are no other natural resources to take out of the land. Instead, we are now devoted (and rightfully so) to cleaning up the excesses of the past. Brownfields are being cleaned up. Industrial waste is being removed from Sheets Creek. Oil storage tanks are being removed, and, in general, people in and around town are starting to understand the true beauty and worth of waterfront land. It turns out that our waterfront is not just a "highway," but an asset to be treasured and preserved in its own right.
Which brings me to my point. As we correct the deficiencies of the last 150 years of development, we are trying to make the waterfront a more attractive and inviting place. More attractive means more people. More people means nicer shops. Nicer shops means greater economic activity for all, and greater tax revenues. The great success of Harborfest is an example of how these efforts can pay off.
Why then, would the BZA consider granting a series of variances to allow for the construction of a monolithic structure, across the street from the Town Dock, which would thwart the efforts of revitalization? As I understand it, the developer is requesting at least five variances to allow for the construction of this project. We know that the developer will benefit from the granting of these variances. But how will the town benefit? How will the greater good be served?
My major concern is that the project will not open to Main Street, but will only back up onto it. It will present one long unbroken (and uninteresting) face on Main Street. The project will have sidewalks, but there will be no reason for anyone to use the sidewalks, because there are no stores or other amenities in the immediate vicinity. There will be no pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk, since the entrance will be from the rear. In many ways, the project reminds me of the architecture down south: ample sidewalks, all underutilized.
In my opinion, the lack of pedestrian traffic will make the street forboding. In short, exactly the opposite of what one would hope for in such a prime location. What other town would allow such a project?
The project also completely ignores our nautical heritage. This building would be just as plausible in Kansas as anywhere else. Couldn't the developer somehow find in his or her imagination some way to play to the nautical history of Port Washington, rather than ignore it? Or is this asking too much? And if we are asking too much of the developer to make the project relevant to its surroundings, perhaps, just perhaps, the developer is asking to much of the BZA in granting the variances.
In speaking with architects and other professionals, I understand that there are numerous other issues, including fire and safety issues. I also understand that there are many technical deficiencies in the plans. I will not address those here, but will rather leave these to others with the technical credentials to discuss the merits.
My point is only that this is an extraordinary parcel, with great potential. It is too great to be lost to mediocrity for the next 100 years. Let's learn from our mistakes of the past, and dare to be a more beautiful waterfront town. Our efforts will begin one project at a time.
Daniel D. Donatelli, Esq.