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Hummel Master Plan map amendment receives nod, again

WHY FIRST VOTE WAS NULL AND VOID - The Aug. 22 City Council vote that changed the city's Master Plan regarding the Geneva Ridge Joint Venture 710 acres south of Big Foot Beach State Park was deemed null and void late last week. The problem occurred when city officials realized that six positive votes were needed to suspend the rules to go through a first reading, second reading and then approve the ordinance all in one evening. That night, the vote to suspend the rules was 5-4, which meant the council should have just held the first reading and moved on to the next agenda item. The second reading and vote then would have been placed on the agenda for the next council meeting. City Attorney Dan Draper said Monday during the first special council meeting, which was called to deal with the error, that he "missed the boat" and he "took full responsibility." "I should not have fallen asleep up here," he said. Instead, believing they could vote on the issue because of the 5-4 vote to suspend the rules and move onto a second reading and adoption, the council members voted 5-3 to approve the Master Plan change. Prior to the vote, audience members also asked the council to "call the question" which meant they wanted discussion to end and a vote on the issue. But the lack of six votes for suspension of the rules wasn't the only problem. According to a 2007 city procedural ordinance, the Comprehensive Plan ordinance change should have been read in its entirety as the first reading. Instead, only the title of the ordinance was read on Aug. 22. That led to the special meetings being called for Aug. 29 and 30 — the first meeting with the agenda item for the first reading on it and the second meeting for the second reading and adoption of the ordinance. During the public comments portion of Monday's special meeting, some of those in attendance weren't buying the explanation. Former Mayor Spyro "Speedo" Condos said "everyone" even children know that six votes are required to suspend the rules. "How can you sit up there and not know that?" Condos asked. "That's an easy one." Condos said the council is in the mess it is in because it doesn't follow "policies and procedures." He also said the special meetings seemed to be "in a hurry" and suggested that "somewhere along the way there's a deal being made" and "something doesn't add up." Linn Township resident Grace Hanny said she believed the second vote was occurring for a reason. "This gives you a chance to regroup, and rethink your vote," she told the aldermen. Hanny asked them to do the "honest" thing and vote against the plan change. She also asked for an explanation from those who vote yes. "We deserve that explanation," she said. Hanny wasn't the only one who wanted an answer. Joan Thompson questioned the council's openness during the process. She suggested there was a "stench" regarding the process of representative government. "If you come clean and explain to us why you're voting the way you are, maybe we wouldn't be so adversarial," she said. "Perhaps we could stand with you against your enemies." Local attorney David C. Williams said he sees a "great deal of distrust as to the intentions" of the aldermen who voted "yes" on Aug. 22. He asked if there was a settlement in the $124 million case between Geneva Ridge Joint Venture and the city of Lake Geneva, contingent on the Master Plan change. He said there is suspicion based on the court filings, which show proceedings in the case will be delayed until Aug. 31 "in anticipation of a possible settlement in the suit." Williams said in his experience it doesn't take two months to finalize a settlement. He criticized the council for keeping the public "in the dark" regarding the possible settlement. After about 45 minutes of comments, all of the speakers opposed to the amendment, City Clerk Jeremy Reale read the ordinance change. Alderman Terry O'Neill, who read from a statement, said he wanted to table the ordinance change until the there are more answers regarding how the change will help the city of Lake Geneva or the lake. His effort to table failed 6-2. O'Neill and Alderwoman Arleen Krohn voted in favor of tabling the issue. Then, with no further action, the council agreed to adjourn on a 6-2 vote.
August 31, 2011 | 08:22 AM
Claims of illegal meetings and settlement deals behind closed doors, threats of lawsuits against the city and criticisms of aldermen and city staff didn't change the minds of most City Council members Tuesday night.

After a second straight night of special meetings to deal with the Master Plan Amendment process for the controversial 710 acres owned by Geneva Ridge Joint Venture, the council voted 5-3 in front of a three-quarters full City Council chambers in favor of amending the plan map.

On Aug. 22, the City Council said yes to a Master Plan amendment requested by Geneva Ridge Joint Venture, but that later turned out to be an improper vote. So, the council voted again Tuesday night, with the same results, even though a pair of aldermen switched their votes.

Aldermen Frank Marsala, Todd Krause, Tom Hartz, Ellyn Kehoe and Al Kupsik voted in favor of the change. Aldermen Terry O'Neill, Arleen Krohn and Bill Mott voted against. Last week, Hartz voted against and Mott voted in favor. After the meeting, Mott would not say why he changed his vote. Hartz said he voted against the change last week because he wasn't in favor of moving through the first reading, second reading and adopting it all in one night.

The approval of the amendment reverts Geneva Ridge Joint Venture land on the Master Plan to a planned neighborhood with some areas for commercial development. Prior to the approval, the property was designated on the 2010 plan as rural holding with a long-term ex-urban growth overlay, meaning the property was not likely to be ready for development for the next 20 years.

The amendment now appears to pave the way for Geneva Ridge to propose development on the land. Eventually, before any development can occur on the property, a zoning change would have to be approved by the council. City Planner Mike Slavney has said at previous meetings the amendment is the first step of many toward eventual development of the property.

While several of those who addressed the council for 25 minutes total on Tuesday, urged council members to explain why they were voting in favor of the change, only one alderman explained.

Alderman Tom Hartz, who made the motion to approve the amendment ran down a list of what he called 17 facts before offering the explanation for his "yes" vote.

Among some of his stated facts included that the Master Plan on page 68 shows the property for future development and the text of the plan affirms that. He also reminded those in the audience there is no plan or concept for development of the property. He said this change is amending a map, not a zoning amendment.

Hartz said the passage of the map change will "not destroy the lake" because it is a plan amendment. He said the city will still have zoning control over the property, which includes at least four steps to get to the point of a development. Hartz also said the property is currently being farmed, which "constitutes liquid manure" being put on the soil, which eventually makes its way to the lake.

"The threats of lawsuits and business boycotts have no effect on what we do here," Hartz said. "We evaluate and make reasonable decisions."

He also stated several reasons for why he made the motion to amend the map. Those included the decrease to 621 the number of lots approved and not yet developed in the city. That is a 44 percent decrease from what it was in 2008. Hartz also said the 120 Bypass was designed and created to direct city growth to the south.

"These are some rational and unemotional reasons for passing this plan amendment," he said.

O'Neill was the only other alderman to speak before the vote.

He said the council did not follow procedures for the amendment. He also suggested the plan could be "reversed" next spring.

O'Neill also said the council should not be "making agreements behind closed doors." He said that type of behavior loses the trust of the citizens.

He wasn't the only person questioning the members of the council.

During the public comments portion of the meeting several said the situation seemed shady and that it was moving too fast.

"Something smells fishy in Denmark," said city resident Nancy Alberty.

She said she moved to Lake Geneva nine years ago after watching 20 years of Illinois politics.

"Lake Geneva offered me the small town environment I craved and wanted," she said. "Give us honesty at all costs."

Dona Palmer, a city resident and wife of former Alderman Tom Spellman, held up a feather, cited an Indian quotation and pleaded with the council to preserve the land. Then, she handed out battery-powered tea lights asking them to vote against the map amendment.

Linn Township resident Dick Malmin spoke about a "sleeping giant," which is a financially successful group which is "willing to make monetary sacrifices to protect the lake."

Malmin directed his comments toward the council, stating, "you are being warned" if the "yes" votes are part of a settlement. He also said he's "talked to aldermen who admitted over the phone that is the case."

"It's obvious, the city residents don't want Hummel," Malmin said. "If you vote for Hummel you risk your names."

Marsala, Krause, Hartz, Kupsik and Krohn all are named as defendants in litigation between Geneva Ridge and the city of Lake Geneva. Hartz and Kupsik were members of the Plan Commission, while Krause, Marsala and Krohn were members of the council during the Geneva Ridge development proposals.

What happened on Aug. 22

More than a week ago, during a public hearing on the proposed change, there was about three hours of public comments, where all but two of the more than 30 who spoke were firmly opposed to the Master Plan change to the property owned by Geneva Ridge Joint Venture, also known as Hummel. The public hearing was part of a process to change the plan regarding the 710 acres on the southeast side of the city.

Despite the opposition and the large crowd, which filled the council chambers and overflowed into the upstairs senior center room, and numbered an estimated 160 to 175, aldermen voted 5-3 in favor of the change.

During that meeting, Alderman Frank Marsala, who along with Bill Mott, Todd Krause, Ellyn Kehoe and Alan Kupsik voted in favor of the change, said he believed the amendment was in the "best interest of the future of Lake Geneva."

"There will be a tomorrow and we have to make plans for that," Marsala said.

Mayor Jim Connors said the Master Plan is a "working document" that is subject to change. He said it is not in the best interest of the city to restrict growth. He added that the change does not affect the zoning of the property.

But, Alderman Terry O'Neill, who along with Tom Hartz and Arleen Krohn voted against the change, compared what was happening in council chambers to the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. He said the student who stood in front of the tank represented the citizens of the city, while the driver of the tank was the City Council.

"You're just going to drive bureaucracy over the citizens," O'Neill said.

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