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Some communities annex land, others lose it

A decade of towns fighting to preserve rural character, control destiny

January 05, 2011 | 08:56 AM
Everyone lives in one of three types of communities — a city, a village or a town.

It's easy to be confused about this distinction, especially if you live in a community such as Genoa City, which in fact is a village and not a city. But no matter, cities and villages can annex land from a nearby town at a property owner's request.

That's what has fueled the decade's top stories in the Bloomfield-Genoa City and Geneva-Linn Townships areas.

This was the decade the city of Lake Geneva annexed 718 acres of land from Linn Township. The Bloomfield Town Board began the lengthy process to make what could have been the largest village in Walworth County — and are still trying to obtain state approval. Genoa City annexed land from the towns of Bloomfield and Randall, but village and Lake Geneva officials showed concern about Bloomfield's incorporation attempt.

One of the reasons for Bloomfield's effort is the concern over losing land through annexation.

Officials from the towns of Bloomfield, Linn and Geneva called for meetings with nearby city and village officials to hash out border agreements as one way to preserve their communities.

It's a fear which even prompted town of Geneva officials to get serious about incorporation in 2006.

But no municipality went as far, talked so long and asked for as much as Bloomfield.

"It goes back to controlling our own destiny," Bloomfield Town Chairman Ken Monroe said during a July 2006 interview.

Manifest destiny

Fran Merkel, who was a Bloomfield Town Board supervisor in 2003, estimated about 4 square miles of township land had been annexed by Lake Geneva and Genoa City.

Bloomfield Township was roughly 32 square miles back then.

That's why two ideas — incorporation and the proposed Charter Towns bill — remained at the forefront of talks by town of Bloomfield officials for years.

But it became more serious for the Bloomfield Town Board in 2003, when it approved working on an incorporation feasibility study with the South Eastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

At one point, the Charter Towns bill was a beacon of hope for town officials.

"Under the bill, we would be protected from any attempts to take our land," Monroe said. "It would be like we'd be able to freeze our borders."

But the bill went nowhere, and in 2006, Bloomfield Town Board members began considering the other option — incorporation.

This has been touch-and-go.

After results of a town survey in 2007, the board nixed the incorporation idea.

Then, in April 2008, a group of residents presented the board with a petition of 645 signatures directing it to take another look at incorporation.

In August 2008, the town filed a petition to turn a 21-square-mile region of Bloomfield, northeast of Highway H, into a village.

Lake Geneva and Genoa City filed motions to intervene.

Although Monroe cited annexation and a desire for his town to control its own zoning matters as reasons to allow it, former Lake Geneva mayor Bill Chesen and Genoa City Village President Barry Goad expressed concerns over their communities losing room to grow.

"We're not trying to stop them from incorporating," Chesen said in December 2008. "We're just concerned about the borders."

"We do want to support Bloomfield, but (the proposed village borders) cut off our possible expansion to the north," Goad said in November 2008.

In 2009, negotiations and attempted negotiations between the three communities stalled the incorporation request.

Then, last June, the state Department of Administration determined the proposed village of Bloomfield didn't meet the incorporation requirements.

However, the DOA allowed the town to refile, which it did last month — for a smaller area northeast of Highway H, excluding this time Lake Ivanhoe and areas near the Lake Geneva and Genoa City borders.

One of those areas included the Kloppstein farm property, which last year, was annexed by the Genoa City Village Board.

For Monroe and several others in Bloomfield, it has been a fight to control the destiny of their community.

"Keeping what we have, that's what it boils down to," Monroe said last July.

Other towns

The town of Linn may have lost the biggest chunk of land of the decade due to annexation, but it sought to preserve its rural character through border agreements.

At first, town of Geneva officials followed Bloomfield's lead and began discussing incorporation.

That was after Margaret Downing, then a Walworth County Board supervisor, presented a petition in 2006 to the Geneva Town Board of 325 signatures directing it to study incorporation within 90 days.

Joe Kopecky, who was town chairman at that time, agreed with the group.

"The intent is to control our boundaries," he said in June 2006. "That's the primary impetus behind this."

Initially, Kopecky said he hoped for more support of a whole-town incorporation effort, but other town officials supported the idea of a "sham" incorporation.

By incorporating the more densely populated area of the town, that new village could annex the remaining town land, at the request of those landowners. That's a belief attached to Bloomfield's current effort.

But in the town of Geneva, the tide turned.

In April 2007, Kopecky and two Town Board supervisors lost their re-election bids to three newcomers.

Shortly after that election, Geneva Town Chairman Dan Lauderdale announced holding off on incorporation efforts to explore the idea of border agreements.

"We shouldn't leave that avenue unexplored. ... I think border agreements are a better solution than incorporating as a village," Lauderdale said.

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