Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Hummel says master plan invalid, void

by Lisa Seiser

January 06, 2011

Geneva Joint Ridge Venture, the ownership group of 718 acres on the southeast side of the city, is asking a federal judge to make a determination that the city's comprehensive plan adopted in December 2009, is invalid and void.

According to a motion filed Dec. 29, in U.S. District Court, Geneva Ridge (also known as Hummel) is asking for a summary judgement on its claims regarding the city's master plan.

The motion states city officials have "intentionally inflicted economic harm and delay upon Geneva Ridge, hoping to cause Geneva Ridge to abandon its plans to develop its properties and force a sale to a more desirable property owner. They arbitrarily and improperly modified the planned use designations for the Geneva Ridge properties during the city's Smart Growth planning process to retaliate against Geneva Ridge for the exercise of its Constitutional right to petition for a redress of grievances."

Geneva Ridge is suing the city for $123 million, claiming 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.

The Geneva Ridge property was annexed to the city in early 2005 and 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.

The motion states the master plan is invalid and void because "it was not adopted in compliance with applicable statutory procedures and ordinances."

Geneva Ridge attorneys are claiming then alderwoman Penny Roehrer interrupted and interfered with discussions regarding Geneva Ridge's property with regard to the Smart Growth planning process. The claim states Roehrer said there would be no talking to Geneva Ridge as long as there was a lawsuit pending.

"The unequal treatment of Geneva Ridge during the Smart Growth planning process is consistent with the strategy Roehrer had adopted early on with regard to thwarting attempts by Geneva Ridge to develop its nine properties," the claim states.

The motion also states Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier sent another e-mail to Roehrer Tom Spellman and others, "indicating she intended to use her influence on city staff, as a member of the Personnel Committee, during 'employee evaluations' to stop the 'continued communication and positive relationship with Hummel and Mirbeau groups despite litigation, referendum results, and SMART Growth survey results."

Then motion states Roehrer "interfered" with the Plan Commission's Smart Growth planning process "as it related to the Geneva Ridge properties." According to the motion, Roehrer contacted City Planner Mike Slavney claiming there was a mistake made and to change the property to agriculture and rural use without talking to Plan Commissioners and their intentions for a part of the property.

At the December council meeting, Roehrer proposed an amendment to change the long range urban growth overlay of the property to "what she called long range ex-urban."

According to the motion, "the ex-urban amendment was not ever been considered by the Plan Commission." That was the amendment considered at the City Council meeting "without providing any opportunity for property owners or others to comment."

The motion states the revised plan was never published or resubmitted to the Plan Commission or council for further public debate.

"The City Council created an entirely new ex-urban overlay district that did not previously exist," the motion states. "The change from long range urban growth to long range ex-urban growth overlay purportedly reduced the potential development density of vast tracts of land by a factor of at least 25."

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.

Geneva Ridge also contends 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."

Geneva Ridge also has claimed city officials have engaged in racketeering activity as defined by state statutes. They may seek an additional $247 million in damages, which is twice as much as the damages Geneva Ridge has cited in its federal suit against the city.

That notice claims that racketeering activity, including 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."