Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Council decisions will determine city’s future

by Lisa Seiser

August 18, 2011

Monday night is going to be quite a battle.

It’s been a long time since such important city decisions were expected to be discussed and possibly voted on all at the same meeting.

Probably the most controversial will be the public hearing on the recommended change to the Master Plan for the Geneva Ridge Joint Venture property on the southeast side of the city.

I expect the council chambers to be overflowing for that item on the agenda. It should be interesting.

Geneva Ridge Joint Venture, which currently is in settlement talks with the city’s insurance attorneys, is requesting a change to the Master Plan that would revert the property back to how the city planner defined it in a May 2009 future land use map which was created during the city’s lengthy Master Plan process. The map defined the property as planned neighborhood with some areas for commercial development. During the Master Plan process two years ago, that designation changed to rural holding.

Then, without input from the Plan Commission, at the council meeting when the Master Plan was approved in December 2009, aldermen unanimously approved adding to the rural holding designation a long-term ex-urban growth overlay. That meant the property was not “likely to be ready for development” for 20 years, according to the Master Plan.

That long-term ex-urban growth overlay should never have been placed on the property, especially at the last minute like that. It is up to the owners of a given piece of property to decide when to try to develop it, not a governmental body. The owners decide and then propose what they would like to do with their property and that’s when the government body can approve or deny the concept based on its qualities and how it fits in with the rest of the community.

It’s also not right to change the rules in the middle of the game. Planner Mike Slavney’s May 2009 land use draft map was consistent with the city’s 2004 South Neighborhood Plan which was also how the land’s future was designated when it was annexed into the city in early 2005. The owners of the land annexed believing the city’s intent for the property was for a future planned neighborhood.

There have been many arguments for leaving the Master Plan the way it is, including area residents are against a large development on those 710 acres, a development would negatively affect the health of Geneva Lake, development would be costly for the city and property values would drop. It is true, a majority of people are against large development on that property, but there are no absolute facts that prove the other points. Those are opinions.

Very simply, I believe there’s a right and a wrong way to do things and not much of this entire situation has been done right by most involved. It’s been a huge mess that has now been in litigation for quite some time. Changing the Master Plan to what it was before would go a little way toward righting some of what has been wrong with the processes over the years.

The council is not voting Monday on a development, a number of houses or even a concept. The council members shouldn’t be voting a certain way because they are upset with the multimillion dollar lawsuits or whether they like or dislike Bob Hummel, Mark Sansonetti or Geneva Ridge Joint Venture.

It is true if this Master Plan change is approved, there could be future development on this land. But, aldermen and residents shouldn’t be tricked into thinking that if the plan amendment is made, the next day 1,000 homes will sprout from the soil and hundreds of cars and boats will immediately be flooding our streets and Geneva Lake. About 25 years after it started, only a portion of the Geneva National development is complete and I see this as quite similar.

It also has always been unrealistic to believe this land will never be developed in some way. Like it or not, the owners of the property bought it to develop it and make a profit. The only way to guarantee it won’t be built upon is for a group or an individual to purchase it and create a conservation easement on the land.

Until then, if and when ready, the owners still must obtain approval from the city for zoning of the property to allow just about any type of development on the land. That’s the time for the governmental body to vote one way or another based on all aspects of the plan’s merits, not on emotions, threats or scare tactics.

City improvements could

make difference

Two large city projects also are expected to be on Monday’s agenda. The city is looking at spending about $1 million on a new parking pay station system and at least another $500,000 on improvements to traffic signals to improve traffic flow through the downtown.

Just like other projects, the money for these already has been collected through the Tax Incremental Financing District. How the TIF money was going to be spent was approved by the council a few years ago.

There is no question, much more can be done to modernize things here in Lake Geneva, especially when it comes to traffic and parking. We are definitely behind the times with our coin-operated parking meter heads and poorly timed traffic lights.

It’s about time to spend this designated money and reap the benefits of technology. Traffic flow will improve and there will be opportunities to change rates for parking in different areas of the city and during peak times. People will be able to use their credit cards to pay for parking just like every other tourist city.

It may take a few years, but I believe increased parking collections eventually will pay for the new system and much more.

Seiser is the editor of the

Regional News.