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Geneva Ridge development coming?



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Hartz

SETTLEMENT DETAILS NOT RELEASED - It appears a settlement could be on the horizon in the case between Geneva Ridge Joint Venture and the city of Lake Geneva. According to United States Eastern District Court documents filed earlier this month, the "parties have resolved the plaintiff's claims." Mediation/settlement conferences were held on April 5, May 11 and follow-up conferences were held by phone on June 3, June 10 and June 17, according to the federal court documents. Geneva Ridge Attorney Lisle Blackbourn said he couldn't comment as talks continue. The order by United States Magistrate Judge William E. Callahan states "this action is being referred back to Judge Stadtmueller for entry of an appropriate order of dismissal after the parties finalize settlement documents." Geneva Ridge, owners of 718 acres of land on the southeast side of the city and also known as Hummel, sued the city for $123 million, claiming "unlawful conduct by certain city officials who control the local government." Geneva Ridge claims 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." Although not a part of the mediation or settlement discussions, Mirbeau of Geneva Lake also is suing the city of Lake Geneva for $29 million alleging similar activities as cited by Geneva Ridge. Mirbeau and Geneva Ridge had teamed up to try to develop the 718 acres of land, to include an inn and winery. Later, Geneva Ridge tried to develop the land. All development efforts failed and the court cases ensued. According to the city's liability insurance policy, up to $5 million per lawsuit is covered. In October 2009, Wisconsin League of Municipalities representative Dennis Tweedle said he didn't know of a lawsuit against a municipality that has exceeded the insurance amount. The League of Municipalities is the insurance carrier for the city of Lake Geneva. A recap Lake Geneva annexed the Geneva Ridge property in early 2005. The developers proposed three different development plans for the 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. Geneva Ridge also accused city officials of engaging in racketeering activity as defined by state laws. That notice claimed misconduct in office, tampering with public records and notices, false swearing, perjury and threats to injure, occurred with the intent to "inflict economic harm and delay upon the Geneva Ridge, who is the victim, so as to abet an accomplice of the (city officials) in obtaining ownership of the property of Geneva Ridge."
July 20, 2011 | 09:26 AM
The property in the city that has caused so much controversy during the past few years with large development proposals and multi-million dollar lawsuits could be developed sooner rather than later after all.

On Monday night, despite disapproval from Linn Township residents and neighbors of the 710 acres on the southeast side of the city, the Lake Geneva Plan Commission voted 5-2 to recommend the change to the master plan for the property. The change, if approved by the council, would revert the property back to how City Planner Mike Slavney defined it in a May 2009 future land use map which was created during the city's Master Plan process.

Slavney's map defined the property as planned neighborhood with some areas for commercial development. That land use draft map was consistent with the city's 2004 South Neighborhood Plan and was also how the property was zoned when Bob Hummel annexed the land in early 2005.

Slavney said changing the Master Plan would "indicate that at some point within 20 years, development of the property would be appropriate."

The change would be from the property being a rural holding zoning with a long term ex urban growth overlay. The current zoning designation means the property is not "likely to be ready for development" for 20 years. That was the zoning defined in the 2010 approved Lake Geneva Smart Growth Master Plan after several public meetings.

The issue now will go to a public hearing in front of the City Council on Aug. 22. The recommendation still needs to be approved by the council to make the Master Plan amendment a reality.

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Alderman Tom Hartz, who made the motion for the change, which also included extending the future water and sewer urban service area to include the Geneva Ridge property, said his desire was to see this item go to a public hearing.

For the past few months, Geneva Ridge Joint Venture representative Mark Sansonetti has attended Plan Commission meetings. He said the request for the zoning change would be consistent with how the land is cited for use in maps over the past 20 years by the city, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, town of Linn and Wisconsin Department of Transportation. He also talked about the consistency of the zoning map agreeing with the wording in the city's Comprehensive Master Plan document.

He told planners Monday that Geneva Ridge doesn't have a specific development plan, but a change would allow talks with possible developers.

Sansonetti said if the amendment is approved, he would hope for productive discussions with the council and development groups who may want to partner "with us." He said everything was "very much in infancy."

Sansonetti called the current zoning map in the Master Plan inconsistent with itself along with other maps.

But those in the audience were opposed to the change. Several of them spoke during public comments on the item.

Linn resident Richard Malmin called the potential change "either deja vu or insanity."

He said the planners and the city have "been down this road before." He said eventually, if the Master Plan amendment is made on this piece of property, the owners will be back asking for a rezone.

Malmin also called those involved with Geneva Ridge Joint Venture people who use harassment, abuse and intimidation against people who don't agree with them.

Malmin wasn't the only one to speak against the master plan change. Linn Township resident and neighbor of the property, Margaret Lass-Gardiner said the city approved a "good" master plan that supported the no growth opinion of many local residents.

"The Lake Geneva plan provides a great blueprint," Lass-Gardiner said. "It needs no correction, let's stick to it."

Linn Township's Grace Hanny also spoke against a change to the plan.

"Time and again, people have said they want to preserve the small town character of Lake Geneva," she said. "We can't take this place for granted."

Hanny also talked about the importance of the property being a natural buffer to Geneva Lake and that development on the property would be "detrimental to the environment."

Attorney David C. Williams focused more on the technical aspects of Geneva Ridge's master plan change. He said he was speaking on behalf of clients Lois and Susan Whiting, Lower Density Development Inc. and himself.

He called Geneva Ridge and Sansonetti's argument a "stretch" and that previous maps don't mean anything as the city's most recent Comprehensive Master Plan is what dictates planning and zoning. In a letter he submitted to the Plan Commission, he called the request "unwarranted."

Williams also cited that there remains a large number of approved, but undeveloped lots in the city. He talked about the former Hillmoor Golf Course proposal, which never happened.

"There is no justification for this," Williams said. "There are failed properties all over town like Hillmoor. There were overly optimistic developers and now it's a problem for the city."

His letter stated that "there is no justification whatsoever for changing the future land map designation for the Geneva Ridge property, and every provision of the current Comprehensive Plan screams against allowing such a change by amendment at this time or at any time in the near future. What Geneva Ridge demands is that it be allowed to leapfrog over large undeveloped areas where specific projects have already been approved and which are located much closer to the city's center."

"This is exactly the wrong thing the city needs," he told the planners.

After about two hours discussion on the item, planners recommended the change. Hartz, Mayor Jim Connors, Kristen Olson, Brian Poetzinger and Zoning Administrator Barney Brugger voted in favor of the recommendation. Doug Skates and Sarah Hill voted against the recommendation.

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