Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Locals ready to oppose amendment
Geneva Ridge public hearing Monday

by Lisa Seiser

August 18, 2011

If last Wednesday night was any indication, several local people are riled up about the proposed Lake Geneva Master Plan amendment on the City Council agenda for Aug. 22.

A public hearing is scheduled for that night to consider a change to the city’s Smart Growth Master Plan regarding the 710 acres on the southeast side of the city, owned by Geneva Ridge Joint Venture. The amendment, if approved by the council, would revert the property on the master plan back to a planned neighborhood with some areas for commercial development.

Currently, the property is designated on the 2010 plan as rural holding with a long-term ex-urban growth overlay, meaning the property is not likely to be ready for development for the next 20 years.

However, if the amendment is approved, the change in the master plan would indicate that “at some point within 20 years, development of the property would be appropriate,” according to City Planner Mike Slavney.

On Aug. 10, more than 60 people attended a public meeting at Horticultural Hall organized and led by the Friends of Geneva Lake to find out what was happening and to talk about what they could do to stop the amendment.

The Friends group 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.

The Master Plan amendment is necessary if Geneva Ridge Joint Venture is going to move forward and propose any new type of development of the land.

Attorney David C. Williams talked about the amendment process. He said if the amendment change is approved that would open the door for the developers to apply for a zoning change, which would permit future development.

Williams said he and others were surprised with the Plan Commission’s decision to recommend approval of the change last month.

On July 18, despite disapproval from Linn Township 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.

Mayor Jim Connors, who was part of the Vote No Mirbeau Hummel group prior to being elected, and Alderman Tom Hartz, both voted in favor of recommending the amendment. During the meeting, Hartz said he wanted the issue to go to a public hearing in front of the council.

But last week, Williams told the 60-plus in attendance, that didn’t make any sense because the issue would have had to go to the council anyway. He said the Plan Commission didn’t need to send it on with a positive recommendation for the change.

“It was a surprise to us, especially the way it came up,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of speculation about why it went forward.”

The city’s insurance company attorneys currently are in negotiations with Geneva Ridge Joint Venture to settle the nearly $130 million lawsuit against Lake Geneva for the failure of its development proposal.

“There’s a suggestion that it’s connected with the settlement of the lawsuits with the city,” Williams said about the recommended amendment change. “If there is, that would be legally improper and the city attorney agrees. But we cannot come up with any other rational explanation for this.”

Williams said this is the time to battle Geneva Ridge and “put a crimp in their plans.”

“If this passes, and we have to oppose it in court, it is an uphill fight,” Williams said. “This is about local politics. If you don’t get involved now, don’t expect a lawyer to come up with some magic.”

One are resident in the audience asked if Williams had “an action plan.”

Williams suggested “pressuring your aldermen” if a resident. He also said nonresidents, can join groups like the Friends of Geneva Lake.

Prior to that discussion, Linn Township resident Dick Malmin presented a history of the property, from purchase, to annexation in early 2005 to development proposals and all the way until now, including a brief mention of the lawsuits.

He called the 2000 purchase of the land by Bob Hummel “a development lottery” where the land is bought “on the cheap” with hopes to develop it and make a significant amount of money.

He also said Geneva Ridge has used the court system and lawsuits as an effort to “bully” the community and called Geneva Ridge attorneys “high priced, crafty lawyers.”

Linn Township resident and Geneva Lake Conservancy Advisory Board member Grace Hanny focused more on the environmental aspects of development occurring on the Geneva Ridge property.

She said Geneva Lake would be threatened by development of the property. She said it makes up 11 percent of the watershed of Geneva Lake.

Hanny also focused on the amendment.

“This is the first step toward a slippery slope of development for this land,” she said.

But Hanny was confident the Friends and those in the audience could make a difference.

“We have made a difference and we still can make a difference,” Hanny said. “We need to hold the elected officials accountable.”

Along with those comments, others were made stating the city “already has a 30-year supply of approved but unbuilt housing” and “now is not the right time to add more development.”

Other statements were made that this development would “lower your property values,” that it would increase traffic on the roads and the lake and increase taxes.

Former Geneva Lake Conservancy chairman Charles Colman said he considers the Mirbeau-Hummel projects already failed.

He questioned the audience asking what they think Hummel wanted. Colman said Hummel is looking for “hope” and he said that can be accomplished with the Master Plan amendment and future zoning changes.

“That’s what they want from the city,” Colman said.

He said Geneva Ridge’s interest is no longer in a large 1,000 unit residential development project. Rather, they will “find small developers and home builders and sell” the pieces off for a higher value.

“I believe this should be voted down for economic reasons,” Colman said.