Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Council OKs Hummel Master Plan change

by Lisa Seiser

August 25, 2011

They came in quietly, one by one, wearing round, green stickers on their shirts that said "Vote no to Hummel."

They left hours later Monday night after directing such comments toward the City Council as "you bastards," and "the fix was in" and threatening to start recalls against the aldermen who voted in opposition of their wishes.

There were nearly three hours of public comments, where all but two of the 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.

The approval of the amendment reverts the property 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.

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 bureacracy over the citizens," O'Neill said.

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 said the amendment is the first step of many toward eventual development of the property.

O'Neill also talked about the city being boxed into a corner, but that he couldn't reveal what was going on, other than the residents of the city will "suffer the consequences."

While O'Neill was reading his statement, City Attorney Dan Draper cautioned him about continuing to speak about what may have been revealed during closed session meetings. When Draper warned O'Neill, several in the crowd groaned.

During the public comments, several threatened lawsuits against the city if the amendment was approved, others said it was a promise they would no longer shop, eat or spend money in the city again.

Hartz had some harsh words for those in the audience whom he said did not follow the council's goal of bringing more civil discourse to the chambers.

"We have disagreements, but that doesn't result in threats of lawsuits or removal from the council chambers or suspensions," he said.

"Every single person up here has been listening," Hartz said. "We have to take a tough issue and resolve it."

Hartz said a careful consideration of the facts, without emotions, should be made. He also said it sounds as though whatever decision the council made, there will be a lawsuit.

"I would like to think that there is some way to resolve this without going in front of a judge," he said.

Those opposing the amendment Monday night didn't want to hear that this was the start of a process that could lead to development, but they already appeared to understand the implications of the proposed change.

Geneva Ridge attorney Mark Sansonetti said during his presentation that there are no current plans for the property. Geneva Ridge representatives first brought up the idea of the Master Plan change in April and Sansonetti said the hope for the property is to start a "productive dialogue" about the future of the land.

"There is no plan, no number of homes, there isn't even a concept," Sansonetti said. "We want to revert the city's plan to what it was."

Sansonetti presented several previous maps, including the 1997 and 1999 city comprehensive plan, the 2004 South Neighborhood Plan, and the town of Linn's current Master Plan, which all deem the property as a location for future development. The property was annexed from Linn Township to the city of Lake Geneva in early 2005.

Former alderman Ed Yaeger said development of that large piece of property does not fit in with the city's planning mission statement. He made a prediction of what would happen.

"If you choose to disregard the citizens and modify this plan, you will be creating the new blueprint for disaster," Yaeger said. "Be assured, it will not be a small disaster, it will be a huge disaster."

Others spoke about the affect a large development on that piece of property would have on Geneva Lake.

"My motivation has and always will be the lake," Linn Township resident Grace Hanny said. "Someone has to speak for it. It is one of the most pristine lakes in the state. We all know this would stress the lake."

City resident Marcie Hollmann agreed with Hanny.

"We all love and share the beauty of this lake and want to keep and protect it," she said. "We are here to protect the quality of the lake."

Some of those opposed suggested the vote be delayed until the lawsuits are settled. Geneva Ridge attorneys are in settlement discussions with the city regarding the $124 milion lawsuit.

City resident Don Getzen said there is information that has not yet been made public, that could affect a decision. He admitted the property would be developed at some time, but urged the council not to rush it and to follow the proper process.

"Stand tall and vote no," he finished.

Some of those opposed also suggested a vote in favor of the change by aldermen named in the lawsuit could be part of a settlement with Geneva Ridge.

Linn Township resident Jim Hanny said it is a bad time to be dealing with a litigant. He said if there is no deadline on this change, delay the vote. Others wanted to know answers as to what the basis for the aldermen's decisions before the vote was made.

But, Jim Hanny was not done with his comments. He also said local residents will be ready to engage in any legal means necessary to protect their own property.

Nicholas Egert, who was representing some of the area property owners said a decision in favor of the Master Plan change would be "contrary to the best interest of Lake Geneva" and could increase the city's exposure to legal problems.

""You may be exchanging one lawsuit for another," Egert said. "The new lawsuits will be with the area residents."

Many of those who spoke Monday night were with the Friends group, which led the Vote No Mirbeau/Hummel effort during the 2008 referendum on the development project. The referendum on the plan, which included 882 residential units, retail businesses and an inn and spa failed as 77 percent of the people voted against the plan.

On July 18, despite disapproval from several Linn Township residents, some city 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.

At the July 18 Plan Commission meeting, Connors, who was part of the Vote No Mirbeau Hummel group prior to being elected, and Hartz voted in favor of recommending the amendment. During that meeting, Hartz said he wanted the issue to go to a public hearing in front of the council.