Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Remove Images

Lawsuit against city on hold
Geneva Ridge requests plan amendment

by Lisa Seiser

June 30, 2011

United States District Court Judge J.P. Stadtmueller has put the $123 million case between Geneva Ridge Joint Venture and the city of Lake Geneva on hold until the end of August in anticipation of a possible settlement in the suit.

The order to stay the case, filed late last week, followed a June 17 motion asking the court to delay the proceedings until Aug. 31. Geneva Ridge and the city have been in negotiations since April to resolve the suit.

"The parties have participated in a mediation process supervised by the Honorable William E. Callahan Jr., Magistrate Judge," the motion stated. "That process has produced an understanding and agreement on certain principles, which, if finalized would result in full settlement between the parties and a dismissal of this litigation. The parties anticipate resolution of the mediation process, one way or the other, on or before Aug. 31."

Geneva Ridge, owners of 718 acres of land on the southeast side of the city and also known as Hummel, is suing the city 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."

That wasn't the only action during the past week regarding Geneva Ridge.

The City Council voted unanimously to forward a request to the Plan Commission from Geneva Ridge Joint Venture to consider a Comprehensive Plan Amendment. The council also set a date for the public hearing on the plan amendment for Aug. 22.

City Administrator Dennis Jordan said following Monday night's meeting the negotiations and zoning amendment request are not related in any way.

"There is no deal," Jordan said.

In a letter written by Geneva Ridge Joint Venture representative Mark Sansonetti, Geneva Ridge is requesting modification of the Master Plan. The letter states the request is to have the Comprehensive Plan "conform substantially to those contained in the city of Lake Geneva South Neighborhood Plan. That was the previous zoning on the property, prior to the adoption of the city's newest Comprehensive Plan in late 2009.

Sansonetti's letter also cited specific requests, including making the northeast portion of a part of the property designated as planned office, about 15 acres on the southwest of a portion of one of the parcels as a planned mixed use and the rest of the properties designed as planned neighborhood and that all is included in the urban service area.

Currently, the Geneva Ridge property is zoned as rural holding.

Lake Geneva attorney David C. Williams said during the public comments that he and others in opposition of Geneva Ridge will watch both the city and the developer in this process.

"Despite the attempt to fly under the radar, the opposition is not flying under the radar," Williams said. "There won't be any shortcuts."

During the past three Plan Commission meetings, Geneva Ridge representatives have been in attendance and have asked the city to amend its Master Plan. There was no procedure set up for amendment requests. However, on Monday night, city officials approved a resolution establishing the public participation procedures for consideration of amendments to the Comprehensive Plan.

The city adopted its Comprehensive Master Plan on Dec. 14, 2009. The public participation strategy follows state statutes, City Planner Mike Slavney said. According to the document, the major goals of the public participation are to provide opportunities for people to participate, adopt a plan that reflects the ideas, desires and objectives of most residents and property owners, meet both the letter and spirit of Wisconsin's Smart Growth legislation, use the Plan Commission as a foundation for guiding the plan amendment process and recognized that the goals expressed must be balanced with the need to complete the amendment within a reasonable time frame.

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.