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April 18, 2012 | 08:39 AMIt's apparently over.
Plans for a huge development south of Lake Geneva are apparently dead — at least any plans led by Geneva Ridge, communally known as Hummel.
Yes, the debate that has dominated Lake Geneva politics for much of the last four years, the one that led to lawsuits in excess of $100 million, appears to be over at least in terms of the Hummel group.
They've decided to sell the 710-acre property. The price tag: $22.4 million.
According to Michael Mooney, representing the group, they're simply tired of fighting and find selling the logical next step.
It had appeared that plans for development might move forward based on events that occurred last summer. Then the Lake Geneva City Council approved a change in its master plan that would have allowed for development. That controversial decision was made on the eve of a deadline in the lawsuit that had plagued the city for years. It also came in the wake of a presentation by a Hummel attorney in support of the change.
A few weeks later Hummel and the city settled with the city's insurer, paying the developer $2.1 million to end the case.
By the end of 2011 the city had settled with Mirbeau, another player in the development project, for $1.75 million.
All that seemed to point toward a new push by Geneva Ridge to develop the area.
So what happened to change the developer's plans?
Mooney, who is chairman and principal of MLG Commercial, a commercial real estate company located in Brookfield, said the decision to sell the property came after Geneva Ridge officials mulled over their project since last year's events.
After the uproar and the lawsuits of the last few years, Mooney said, Hummel executives decided to sell instead of continue with a development. Mooney compared it to a divorce. "You're not likely to go into business with your ex-wife," he said, paraphrasing a Hummel executive. "They're done fighting."
Mooney made the rounds last Friday to announce his company's plan, dropping in on the Regional News and city hall where he met with City Administrator Dennis Jordan.
"I want to be transparent," Mooney said, in explaining his visit. "I don't want there to be any surprises," Mooney alluded to the long-standing controversy over the property. "I want people to know what's going on before they see the for sale signs popping up."
The property is what Mooney calls "an assemblage of nine parcels." He wants to make sure people realize part of the value of the property is that they're contiguous. Mooney, who said he'd worked with similar parcels in the past, said it can often take years to buy up such a large tract of land. We "may" divide it he said, emphasizing the word "may." Even if they did sell parcels, he said, every effort would be made to keep as many parcels contiguous as possible.
Mooney said future land owners would be responsible for working with the city to obtain appropriate zoning should that be necessary.
Mooney said he became involved in the project after attending city council meetings on the subject. During a hearing he spoke before the council. Mooney said was perplexed by the city's decision making process at the time. He accused the council of listening more to Linn residents than those from Lake Geneva."
Mooney said he had no financial connection with Hummel at the time of his comments to the council.
A sales brochure touted the land as having "gently rolling hills, fabulous vistas, oak savannahs and picturesque wetlands."
However, there's been nothing gentle or picturesque about the controversy the property engendered the last few years. It started when Geneva Ridge proposed a development that would include 883 residential units, a 100-room inn/spa, and a winery. The project was short-circuited when the city council decided to reject the idea following a referendum, and the lawsuits followed. For a timeline, see related story.
When asked for a comment, Lake Geneva Mayor Jim Connors replied in an e-mail that "Mr. Mooney notified staff in person last week that the property was being put on the market. We appreciated Mr. Mooney keeping us informed, but offer no comment regarding the listing or property in general."
A group called Care for Lake Geneva issued a press release, saying: "With the news of Geneva Ridge Joint Venture's plans to abandon the development of the property and put it up for sale, local residents can breathe a temporary sigh of relief."
"We are excited to learn that Geneva Ridge will abandon its plan to develop the property and put the property up for sale." says Casey Schiche, a Lake Geneva resident and president of the group. "A majority of voters and residents opposed this project due to the dramatic impact it would have on our community and our lake and we are glad that our voices have finally been heard but we remain concerned about what may be proposed in the future. The plans for the Hummel property were just not in the best interests of the city of Lake Geneva."
"With the for sale sign soon to be up on the property, the community needs to be more vigilant than ever to ensure the property is developed in a responsible manner so that local property values are protected and the lake is not threatened by development of the property," the press release said.
"We understand that this land may be developed some day but it must be developed in a responsible manner which includes open space preservation and consistency with the character of the Lake Geneva community," Schiche said.
Other city officials or those tied to the long-term controversy chose not to respond or could not be reached by press time.