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Homeowners: Don't raze our paradise to put up a parking lot



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January 14, 2014 | 04:56 PM
Owners of two homes in an area listed as one of the possible sites for a city parking garage, said they will do what they can to fight that proposal.

Charlene Klein, owner of the house at 815 Wisconsin St., and Marcus and Jodeen Immer, who live one door west, met with other area residents and interested parties on Friday evening at Klein's home to discuss what they can do to dissuade the city and school district from considering their properties for parking.

Ten area residents and friends of Klein attended, along with an alderman and an aldermanic candidate.

The Regional News was also invited to attend.

Alderman Gary Hougen, who attended the neighborhood meeting, suggested that the homeowners hire legal counsel to accompany them to meetings.

"They don't have to do anything, they just have to sit there and look important," said Hougen, who represents District 1.

Other suggestions considered by persons at the informal meeting would be to send letters to the local newspapers and to the city council, and to get the Maple Park Area Homeowners Association involved.

Klein said she feared that if the homeowners and neighbors keep silent the proposal may go through.

Hougen, who is not running for re-election, said he thought replacing homes with parking was a bad idea.

Elizabeth Chappell, the only candidate on the April 1 ballot for Hougen's seat, also attended the meeting. She said she agreed with Hougen.

"A lot of people think a parking structure is a good thing. But not here," Chappell said during the meeting.

The consensus was that a parking garage at the proposed location would create more traffic problems than it would solve and that it is too far from the downtown and the beach to be attractive for tourist parking.

Also at the meeting was Dee Bark, a member of the Lake Geneva Historical Preservation Commission, and a friend of Klein's.

Because the plan came from the school district and was announced by the city, the homeowners believe they'll have to keep an eye on both the city council and the elementary school board.

Klein said she bought her house 10 years ago.

She said when she first saw the house it reminded her of the farm house her grandmother owned.

She said the previous owner had already started renovating the property when she bought it. She completed the renovations and added her own touches to the house, which includes an enclosed outdoor porch and a downstairs wine cellar.

"This is my family home, where I intended to stay and live until I was a little old lady with her hair in a bun," Klein said.

Her home dates back more than 130 years. A historic commission plaque on the house bears the date 1875.

Jodeen and Marcus Immer are new owners of a house in the block. They bought the house in May and intend to move here from Illinois. Jodeen Immer said she had been coming to Lake Geneva from the Chicago area for the past 45 years.

Hougen brought his comprehensive plan book, which, through colored maps, shows that the residential properties (colored yellow) are wedged between downtown business (brown), representing the McCormick & Etten Architectural firm and the BMO Harris Bank and institutional (blue), representing Central-Denison school across Cook Street from the small, four-property enclave.

Hougen said the parking structure on their properties would violate the city's plan map,

Hougen said the comprehensive plan notes that the area could be in conflict with its surrounding uses.

"Anything in there about historic preservation?" Chappell asked Hougen about the comprehensive plan.

"There's a ton of stuff in here about preserving historic neighborhoods," Hougen replied.

In early 2012, the city hired Rich & Associates, Southfield, Mich., to do a study of the city's parking.

The consultants' preliminary report identified a daily shortage of 350 parking spaces in the city during the peak summer tourist season.

One Rich & Associate recommendation was to build a parking structure. Rich also identified the Cook Street Parking lot, which is behind the Geneva Theater, as a possible site for parking structure.

The proposal to put a parking structure on the block directly across from Central-Denison first came up at the December meeting of the Lake Geneva Parking Commission.

City Administrator Dennis Jordan told the commissioners that the school district intends to make a major investment into Central-Denison to make the building viable for another 20 to 30 years.

The district is also seeking nearby land for additional surface parking.

Mayor Jim Connors said the city should consider the option. However, in a telephone interview on Friday, Connors said the site near Central-Denison is just one of four or five alternatives the city is now considering for parking.

"There are multiple moving parts," Connors said.

He said the site where Klein and Immers own their homes probably presents the most hurdles for the city.

Jim Gottinger, Lake Geneva superintendent of schools, said no offers have been made to any property owners.

"I think it's good to get this alternative off the table," said Klein.

Klein said she had "an extensive conversation" with Connors and found him "unsympathetic."

"My impetus in getting people together is to squelch this thing," she said.

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