Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Remove Images

Geneva Ridge saga has many chapters to go

by John Halverson

September 08, 2011

Last week's Lake Geneva City Council meetings may have seemed like an unfortunate example of democracy gone awry.

Virtually all the speakers wanted the council to turn down the proposal that might pave the way for a new development in the Geneva Ridge area.

Not only did the council members support the change in the comprehensive plan on a 5-3 vote, but they gave very few reasons for their vote. Only Alderman Tom Hartz provided any explanation.

For many, the lack of explanation was as irritating as the vote itself. They had the impression they were speaking to a wall. That lack of explanation and the hurry up nature of the vote made many suspect that the pending lawsuit against the city was behind their voting. It's hard to ignore that possibility considering the circumstances.

All that said, the decision was far less final than the protestors seemed to think.

For one thing, there are many more steps, including zoning changes, which must occur before any development can occur on the property. I would not be surprised if there will be more support for developmental restraint as the proposal moves ahead. Getting the comprehensive change made was a start, to be sure, but it could just have been a hurdle some council members were willing to take in consideration of the legal issues if, indeed, those were factors.

There will be much more time to change their minds as time goes on. And, as Alderman Terry O'Neil said, the plan could be changed again come spring. I'm not in favor of teeter-totter politics, where political changes swing policy from one extreme to another. I'm certainly not in favor of recall or law suits to settle political differences. As a country, as a state, we've gotten far too reactionary. However, the fact remains — if those speaking at the meetings the last two weeks want a change bad enough, it may come. Whether or not it's the right change or right method is a different issue.

In any case, nothing is settled.

The other thing that might occur is that the city might actually get logical growth. Since the original development proposal was rejected by 77 percent of the public in a referendum the developers would be fools to propose it again.

They'll have to come up with something more refined and livable and acceptable to the public.

The public, too, must keep an open mind. As Hartz pointed out, it's almost inevitable that there will be development in the area. The Highway 120 bypass and other factors push the city in that direction. There are legitimate concerns to be sure, but emotions also have a way of exaggerating concerns. The fact is there's no development plan on the table, so there's no way the naysayers can factually claim that the developers are planning an environmental and urban sprawl disaster.

The city, and the citizenry, should view this as a blank slate upon which they can sketch their preferred view of long-term development. Since the developers have already been chastised for their original plans, they'll have to be more amendable to input. It might all turn out for the best.

We're naive to think that Lake Geneva will not grow. The efforts ought to be in the direction of smart, environmentally and culturally sound growth.

When the dust is settled, that's what we should be pointing toward. And, maybe, just maybe, the swirl of politics will have a good end for Lake Geneva.

The final piece of the puzzle which can't be ignored is that it's highly unlikely that any sort of real development will occur over the next decade or so. Construction has nearly evaporated in the current economic climate and it takes a long time to develop that much property.

Each step of the way will provide a chance to look at how development is shaping the area, and what should be done next. That may be driven by market forces and/or political forces. That's how the government seems to work best. The various forces push and shove and eventually some sort of consensus comes about. Since the lawsuits and controversy have made everyone hyper-aware of expansion, the multiple forces will be evolving under a bright light that can only be good for the community.

I understand why those against development feel they have to nip it in the bud, and why they're frustrated by the current politics - or their perceptions of it — but the end is not near. There's plenty more time and politics to go.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.