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Curtain closes on play idea



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Golden Oaks Mansion, 421 Baker St. in Lake Geneva was the proposed site for and outdoor tent theater to hold commercial entertainment performances this summer.

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March 28, 2012 | 08:57 AM
No tent will sprout up at the Golden Oaks Mansion, 421 Baker St., and summer stock theater will have to summer somewhere else.

On Monday, Bethany Souza, a partner in the Geneva Bay Club LLC, withdrew the club's request for a conditional use permit for outdoor commercial entertainment to allow summer stock performances in an outdoor tent theater on the old mansion's grounds at the City Council meeting.

However, Geneva Bay Club's request for a conditional use permit for group development was approved. "Group development" will allow two businesses, a catering business and restaurant, to occupy the property.

Souza said she withdrew the outdoor entertainment request because it aroused a lot of anger from neighbors during the city's Plan Commission meeting on March 19.

"We didn't understand how angry people would be" because of the request, Souza told the aldermen.

Two of those who opposed the tent proposal at the Plan Commission meeting also showed up at the council meeting to urge the aldermen to vote against the conditional use.

Diane Muzzy of 420 Baker St., said no one from the Geneva Bay Club came to the neighbors to explain what they wanted to do and to answer residents' questions.

Muzzy said she also opposed a proposed change in the city zoning code that would cut the setback between residential areas and businesses offering outdoor entertainment from 300 feet to 75 feet.

Bill Huntress, a former alderman, also showed up in support of Muzzy, also arguing that the 300-foot setback between residential zoning and outdoor entertainment "was there for a reason."

The revised ordinance was approved for first reading only. Approval will have to wait for the next City Council meeting.

Souza and her business partner, Andrew Fritz, brought the conditional use permit before the Plan Commission.

According to minutes from that meeting, Souza said she wanted the outdoor theater to make people happy and bring more people into town.

Under the proposal, the four-sided, walled tent on the Golden Oaks Mansion grounds would have been set up on the Plaza Motel side of the property. The 40- or 30-by-60-foot tent would have hosted six performances a week for six weeks during the summer. Tent capacity would have been 300 people. But Souza said audiences in the tent would be held to no more than 100. Performances would have ended by 9 p.m. Several 150-watt lights would have provided safety lighting, she said.

Souza also said the YMCA, less than a block away, offered overflow parking that exceeded the minimum required by city regulations.

Souza said the four-walled tent would muffle most of the sound from the performances and the noise from the tent would be less than the noise from the concerts in the park.

Some amplification would have been needed to make sure the audience could hear the performances, she said.

During public comment at the Plan Commission meeting, the minutes show 10 residents spoke in favor of the proposal, with eight speaking against.

However, one of those opposed, Bernard Peterson of MPC Property Management, registered agent for the Villas of Lake Geneva at Baker and South Lake Shore Drive, represented an undisclosed number of opponents to the proposal. He said the owners at the Villas like to open their windows and not have to worry about noise. He also questioned whether parking was adequate for the proposed tent theater.

The Plan Commission unanimously approved the conditional use for group development.

However, the outdoor commercial entertainment permit faced some initial resistance. Mayor Jim Connors moved, and Kristen Olson seconded, to deny the permit. On a roll call, commissioners Connors, Olson and Sarah Hill vote to deny. Commissioners Doug Skates, Cindy Flower, Bryan Poetzinger and Thomas Hartz voted against denial.

Hartz moved and Skates seconded a motion to approve the permit. Only Connors voted against.

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