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January 19, 2011 | 09:02 AM
Lake Geneva city officials are a few steps closer to purchasing about 60 acres of environmentally sensitive land which weaves along the White River through the former Hillmoor property.

While the long-term future of the Hillmoor land remains unknown, the city apparently is moving toward buying part of the property with help from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Urban Rivers Grant.

City Administrator Dennis Jordan said the 50-50 grant is expected to be about $90,000. He said the city will have to chip in the same amount as the state.

A purchase of the land would expand the White River Trail area.

It is currently unknown whether the owners are willing to let go of the wetland areas, but obtaining the property would connect the trail to the Edwards Boulevard extension. The land also abuts the currently city owned 19-acre WE Energies property on the north side near Sheridan Springs Road.

In summer 2009, the Hillmoor property, which was owned by developer George Wight, went to a sheriff's auction, where Kennedy Funding was the only bidder for $17 million. Wight apparently owed more than $20 million on the property.

In May, the council approved funding for the appraisal of the 60-acre portion of the environmentally sensitive property. The appraisal was required in order for the city to apply to the DNR for the grant money.

Jordan said earlier this week, the May 10, 2010, appraisal for the 60 acres was $2,800 per acre. That figure was used by the DNR to arrive at the grant amount.

Jordan also said any possibility of a purchase revolve around whether the owners of the property, which is believed to officially be Kennedy Funding, are interested in selling the 60 acres.

"They could want more for it, they could want less," Jordan said.

The city has included in its Tax Incremental Financing project list for the White River Trail expansion, $200,000 for possible land purchases. Jordan said the grant would be one way to get some of that money back if the city purchases the land.

The city already owns more than 30 acres on the south side of what was known as the Hillmoor Golf Course, where some of the back-nine holes were located and along the White River near Dunn Field and Eastview School.

"We would have control over all the environmentally-sensitive areas up there," Jordan said in May. "We can make it as nice as possible up there with bike paths, nature trails and a place to put a kayak in and kayak down the river."

Jordan said the use of the area would be passive and not require a lot of maintenance.

In May 2010, the council voted 7-1 to use TIF No. 4 funds to pay for the appraisal so the effort to pursue the grant can move ahead.

In March 2010, the council voted 4-3 to pay up to $3,000 to appraise based on the Hillmoor Green Ribbon Committee recommendation.

Nearly four years ago, a development plan proposed by the Wight Group was approved for 278 residential units, a hotel, clubhouse and renovation of the golf course. However, the ownership situation changed, financial struggles ensued and precise plans were never filed. For the past two summers, the course has been considered an eyesore.

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