Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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No Hummel ending, yet

by Lisa Seiser

September 15, 2011

There is no resolution in the $123 million lawsuit between developer Geneva Ridge Joint Venture and the city of Lake Geneva.

Lake Geneva City Attorney Dan Draper told the Regional News "no settlement and no resolution" has been reached regarding the lawsuit. While it appears as though attorneys for the city and Geneva Ridge, also known as Hummel, continue negotiations, there is no timetable for an end.

That announcement comes on the heels of the city's change of the Comprehensive Master Plan regarding the property owned by Geneva Ridge. The amendment, which was approved on a 5-3 vote Aug. 30, reverts the 710 acres of Geneva Ridge Joint Venture land on the Master Plan to a planned neighborhood with some areas for commercial development.

The council vote occurred just one day before what was a deadline regarding a delay in the federal court proceedings. The delay was in favor of ongoing negotiations and what appeared to be an understanding and agreement on certain principles, which could lead to a settlement of the litigation.

During the meetings on the Master Plan amendment, some of those who spoke against the change, including Alderman Terry O'Neill, suggested the change was part of a settlement with Geneva Ridge.

Five of the eight aldermen on the council are named in the Geneva Ridge lawsuit. Four of them voted in favor of the Master Plan Amendment. Alderwoman Arleen Krohn did not vote for the Master Plan change, along with O'Neill and Bill Mott.

However, the aldermen, including Tom Hartz, Todd Krause, Al Kupsik and Frank Marsala, who voted in favor of the Master Plan change and who are named as defendants in the lawsuit, said their votes had nothing to do with a settlement, saying that there was "no settlement."

Prior to Aug. 30 map amendment, 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, 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.

The order to stay the case occurred in late June and followed a previous 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."

A problem with Master Plan?

In one of the city's documents filed Jan. 28 in federal court, attorneys state Geneva Ridge "wrongly attempts to create theories and liability on the defendants for causes of action which are not before this court for consideration.

"The majority of these 21 pages is simply a litany of allegations against certain council members of alleged conspiracies, unequal treatment and constitutional violations that have nothing to do with the process of preparing and approving the Comprehensive Plan," the city's brief states.

The Feb. 17 filing by Geneva Ridge continues to claim the Comprehensive Plan was not adopted in compliance with statutory procedures and that changes made to the plan violated proper procedures.

A Feb. 11 brief responding to the city's opposition for summary judgement, states the City Council "improperly circumvented the Plan Commission's role in forming the Comprehensive Plan," and that the city "circumvented public participation at key points in the Smart Growth process."

"Contrary to what the city argues, Geneva Ridge has never wanted an agricultural-rural designation for the properties. Geneva Ridge in fact made repeated attempts to communicate with the city regarding its desire to develop the property consistent with the master plans that had been in place at least 10 years. One such occasion (former alderwoman Penny) Roehrer blocked that effort. the city cannot seriously say it thought Geneva Ridge consented to the agricultural-rural planning designation."

The brief also states, "While the city's actions affecting the Geneva Ridge properties were riddled with bias, back room dealings, and improper procedures, the city's specific failures, at the final hours, to comply with the Smart Growth statute in adopting the Comprehensive Plan are sufficient to invalidate the plan, or at least the improperly adopted provisions. Whether the city's discrimination against Geneva Ridge provides a basis for relief under other theories must be determined later."