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City's attorneys deny Geneva Ridge's claims



DEFENDANT ADDED TO CASE Geneva Ridge Joint Venture recently summoned Lake Geneva resident Martin Smith, adding him to the lengthy defendants list in their case against the city of Lake Geneva. Smith was named several times in the 61-page amended complaint filed by Geneva Ridge on May 13. According to the complaint, Smith was "appointed to the city's Smart Growth committee and asked by the city to prepare, compile and interpret the results of a community-wide survey." On page 30, the complaint cites that the Smart Growth process "was comprised of city officials who prepared a draft of the smart growth plan. Some of these city officials maintained conflicts that, if disclosed, would have barred their participation in the process." It cites Smith's involvement in the community wide survey as being "drafted, distributed, analyzed and advocated by Smith." The complaint states that Smith was a member of the Friends of Geneva Lake, which campaigned against Geneva Ridge's projects, was an instrumental member of the Vote No Mirbeau-Hummel group and was affiliated and in direct communication with persons and representatives of entities seeking to acquire parcels owned by Geneva Ridge.
June 09, 2010 | 08:59 AM
City of Lake Geneva attorneys have filed in U.S. Eastern District Court their denials of the allegations made in Geneva Ridge Joint Venture's recent amended complaint.

Geneva Ridge annexed to the city in early 2005 and proposed three different development plans for the 710-acre property formerly located in Linn Township. None of the plans — including a venture that involved New York-based Mirbeau of Geneva Lake to include a 100-room inn, spa and winery — received final approval from city officials.

Now, Geneva Ridge — also referred to as Hummel — is suing the city in federal court seeking $99.8 million. The claims allege that the city is in violation of equal protection under federal and state constitutions; retaliation in violation of First Amendment rights; conspiracy to retaliate in violation of First Amendment rights; declaratory judgement voiding denial of zoning amendment; declaratory judgement voiding adoption of comprehensive plan; mandamus, damages, punitive damages and attorney fees under open records laws; violation of open meetings laws; taking under the Wisconsin Constitution and conspiracy to defraud.

In separate defendant answers, filed May 26 and June 1, city attorneys denied the claims made by Geneva Ridge. Joe Wirth, of Piper and Schmidt, represents former mayor Bill Chesen; current aldermen Todd Krause, Don Tolar and Frank Marsala; former alderman Gary Dunham; former Plan Commissioners Don Rutkowski and Al Kupsik; Plan Commissioners Tom Hartz, Matt Kuehl and Dennis Lyon; and resident Martin Smith.

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Amy Doyle, an attorney with Crivello Carlson, is defending current alderwomen Mary Jo Fesenmaier and Arleen Krohn and former aldermen Tom Spellman and Penny Roehrer.

In the documents, the defendants deny all major claims and also provided a lengthy list of affirmative defenses, which are used to "limit or excuse a defendant's liability even if the plaintiff's claim is proven, based on facts outside those claimed by the plaintiff" according to lawguru.com.

Some of the affirmative defenses listed include the defendants "enjoy all immunities from claims and limitations on actions and damages provided by Wisconsin statutes," "the plaintiff's injuries and damages, if any, may have been caused, in whole or in part, by the conduct of others over whom these responding defendants had no control or right of control," and that "the actions of the members of the City Council are legislative in character and, therefore, the motives, if any, are not subject to judicial scrutiny."

Both defendant answers ask for a judgement dismissing Geneva Ridge's complaint.

According to the Geneva Ridge amended complaint, the entire case "arises from unlawful conduct by certain city officials who control the local government." It involves a "systematic and ongoing pattern of intentional unequal treatment of Geneva Ridge Joint Venture from others similarly situated without any rational basis. These city officials individually and collectively have abandoned and ignored legal obligations of their elected offices, as well as the rules, regulations and procedures of their own municipal zoning ordinances.

"These individuals are motivated by an illegitimate objective of intentionally inflicting sufficient economic harm and delay upon Geneva Ridge, to cause it to abandon its plans to develop its properties, convert Geneva Ridge into a seller, force a sale of its properties to a 'more desirable developer' and leave the community."

In the amended complaint, Geneva Ridge states the referendum and the treatment of the property during the Smart Growth process as violations of equal protection.

Another claim includes citations to then mayor Chesen's suspensions and effort to charge Spellman, Fesenmaier, Krohn and Roehrer for misconduct and open meetings law violations. The claim states that those involved in Friends of Geneva Lake, Vote No Mirbeau, Lower Density Development and other opponents of the development, Fesenmaier, Roehrer, Spellman, Gary Dunham and other city defendants and Plan Commissioners planned and agreed to retaliate against Geneva Ridge.

In the open records claim for damages, Geneva Ridge cites not only did city officials fail to produce public documents, information was destroyed.

Geneva Ridge also contends that those involved engaged in "a planned and concerted effort to devalue the property and hinder Geneva Ridge's ability to develop it through manipulations of the zoning and planning process, to force a sale of the property at a price substantially below fair market value, all for the benefit of others, has effectively rendered the property valueless to Geneva Ridge."

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