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'Contrarian' paints historic picture of local preservation



Yaeger_Ed
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Yaeger
January 21, 2014 | 02:54 PM
It’s a new year. The traditional holidays with the joy of family fellowship laced with love, laughter, storytelling and even occasional tears, is behind us.

It seems like a proper time for a contrarian report and evaluation of the past year. But first a little background information...

Our beloved and perceptive editor by recognizing and naming our group has improved our status within our community. That is appreciated.

He has stated that contrarians are needed and have a purpose, and has even offered advice on how we might become more effective.

The first contrarian group was diverse in nature and started live in the mid 1990s. At that time our city’s future was in question.

There were many perceived problems. Consequently, several of the group sought and obtained official positions.

The basic motto was to “protect and preserve” our city and lake. During the five or six years of that initial group of contrarian’s involvement, worthwhile and long-term benefits were established.

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2013 had some gratifying happenings. One was the apparent resolution of the 17-year costly, messy, legalistic lakefront issue. There still are concerns. Let’s hope it is really over.

Then on the east side of town, on North Edwards, attractive new mall stores were completed and opened for business.

This “attractive” happening relates back to the aforementioned contrarian tenure period.

There were extreme development pressures at that time for the yet-to-be completed North Edwards area and road.

The existing zoning ordinance seemed to be “a blueprint for disaster” and therefore would not address what was proposed. A “timeout” was requested and approved.

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After due course, a new so-called “Big Box ordinance” was created with a carefully worded new city mission statement.

“The city of Lake Geneva seeks to preserve its small city atmosphere, reasonable cost of living and high quality of life by carefully controlling land use and development, and by delivering high-quality programs and services in a fiscally responsible manner.”

The new ordinance, with the new statement easily survived legal challenges. Everyone knew that “Big Money” seemed always to win.

It was determined that in keeping with the thought that Lake Geneva was a “special place” that the ordinance should be designed to make what we would have to accept be of high quality and appearance. Also, the design of the parking areas should be mandated as to structure and with generous landscaping.

This was again based on the “special place” thought since backsides of huge buildings facing the freeway were not in keeping with the Lake Geneva image. that area was to be developed as parkland.

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Hence — the attractive new mall area.

So it can be seen that the early contrarians had concern for green open space and parkland. There are other instances of park interest. The South Edwards Business Park drafted their own building and zoning standards and included much open green space and parkland areas. This was welcomed. However, the proposed helicopter port and high multi-story buildings were subsequently removed from that ordinance.

Again because they were not in keeping to the mission statement and with the consideration of the hundreds of homes on the west side having to be disturbed by helicopter noise. The Donian Nature Park was proposed and built during that early contrarian period.

The construction of an unsightly Library Park storage building was proposed and was later rejected after contrarian intervention with the DNR proved the existing concrete dingy pad area could still be used. Contrarians saved historic Seminary Park from becoming the city government center which was the chosen location favored by the ruling authorities. And what about lakefront Baker Park? Well. Let’s get back to 2013.

Since it has been verified that contrarians like parks, one issue that was again disappointing in 2013 was the lack of activity and the stonewalling of the historic railroad park proposal. In 2007 it was discovered and validated that the 1871 Chicago & Northwestern Railroad engine service site at Sage Street still existed in its original configuration. A proposal was then brought forth to make that historic site along with the connecting original compacted mainline road bed and the remaining 1908 concrete arch bridge over the White River into a “Railroad Park.”

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This seemed to be a good idea for a city that claims to be an historic destination for the traveling public. After all, the coming of the C&NW RR in 1871 predates many of our historic entities and served as the catalyst for the subsequent development boom that followed. So why has this proposal failed? As recorded in the July 29, 2010 Regional News article “Preserving Lake Geneva’s railroad history” by former editor Lisa Seiser, it seems that the initial opposition was from the public works director. That was and still seems to be the ruling factor for the non-action.

The property is owned jointly by the city and the Utility Commission. During this time period the mainline area of the proposed park has been mowed regularly and the roadbed area trimmed. But the business areas with the former turntable, engine house and water tower location are disgraceful. There are broken and falling trees, briar bushes and dump-like conditions at the turn-table site. The engine house area looks like a jungle. All this in the downtown of what we believe to be this classic historic city called Lake Geneva.

In a singular effort by this contrarian for the next seven years, meetings, contacts and correspondence have happened with just about every city committee, board and department. Correspondence has been forwarded to all council members on numerous occasions, including the mayor and the Utility Commission,

There was an on-site visit with the city arborist and an on-site visit with the president of the Utility Commission.

A formal complaint was even sent to the city code enforcement regarding the poor condition of the area with copy to the clerk. Nothing has been done — it’s still a disgrace.

Using professional researchers it was undertaken to attempt a state and/or national nomination for Historic Register status. The strict qualifications could not be met due to the site’s lake of structures. However, no one has ever challenged the validity of the historic site’s existence or date.

In conclusion, one can only hope that the folks who run this town can wake up and realize that trains and train-related entities are internationally attractive to people of all ages and origins.

When we think about our country’s Civil War ending and that after a few years Lake Geneva had a railroad connection to Chicago and the rest of our new country, it just seems amazing.

To not recognize this 1871 historic gift and protect and preserve it for future generation is reprehensible.

Contrarians are realists and until some real historians with authority, connections or other attributes get on board, nothing is going to change. So until that time this contrarian will be first in line, God willing, to help the C&NW Railroad Park on its historic journey.

Thank you. Save our city.

Ed Yaeger

Lake Geneva

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