City officials are, for the most part, pleased with the preliminary architectural plans for the Pabst Farms Town Centre that were presented in a joint Architectural and Plan Commission meeting Wednesday evening.
The group praised the architects' diverse design, which they said will reduce "visual fatigue" that can be found in shopping centers that have one style and shape for a strip of retail buildings. They also commended the architects' ability to conceal the loading dock areas in the backs of the buildings and views from residential areas as well as I-94.
However, the commissioners did voice some concerns about the amount of asphalt or parking in the planand lack of green space, the large chunk of buildings that will be among the first completed and the presence of sustainable practices or options going into the project.
"Oconomowoc residents have a lot of interest in sustainability and what comes up a lot is photovoltaic and solar (systems)," said Plan Commissioner Stan Sugden. He noted that many businesses require these types of renewable energy and that the developers should consider making it an option for retailers here. He also said that solar panels or sustainable-type instruments don't even need to be hidden behind the mall, but rather could be out in the open so visitors to the shopping center could see them.
"The public is very perceptive of 'green.' Instead of hiding it, put it out where the public can be aware of it," Sugden suggested.
Mayor Maury Sullivan said that city staff has prepared a list of alternative, green ideas that can be shared with the developer.
"I agree it is an initiative expressed by the public," he said.
Architectural Commissioner Michael Day expressed concern about the first phase of development, the "major retail" strip of grouped buildings along the southwestern portion of the Town Centre.
"I'm concerned about the length," Day said. He suggested possible alternatives for breaking up the strip of buildings, including some rearranging of their locations as well as parking space to reduce the mass. Pabst representatives said the suggestion wouldn't be an easy fix at this point and have concerns about locating parking farther from storefronts, especially considering the winter climate.
Architectural Commissioner Paul Schultz worried about the site being pedestrian-friendly enough to enable patrons to walk from one retail section to another.
"It seems there should be more green space and not so much parking everywhere. It's a sea of parking. Could you add more green space or something more than just asphalt?" Schultz asked.
Plan Commissioner John Gross said he's more interested in the plaza area of the center because he's not a huge shopper and prefers to frequent those types of places to "people watch."
"It's not all about pounding the pavement to the stores at Christmas," Gross said. "I like the fire pits; given that it's Wisconsin, there are a lot of chilly nights, and this will be a popular feature," he said.
Representatives said the space is designed to encourage public interaction, and calls for programming in the area such as music and other such activities.
"I'm going to need a refresher on the whole thing," said Plan Commissioner John Snyder III after Pabst Farms spokesman said the last time the group met to discuss the plan was February 2008.
Snyder added that six years ago, he asked about the financial health of then-developer General Growth Properties and was told everything was fine; however, now the company has tangling with possibly facing bankruptcy, he said.
Sullivan said those concerns would be addressed.