Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Hummel Master Plan map amendment receives nod, again

by Lisa Seiser

September 01, 2011

Claims of illegal meetings and settlement deals behind closed doors, threats of lawsuits against the city and criticisms of aldermen and city staff didn’t change the minds of most City Council members Tuesday night.

After a second straight night of special meetings to deal with the Master Plan Amendment process for the controversial 710 acres owned by Geneva Ridge Joint Venture, the council voted 5-3 in front of a three-quarters full City Council chambers in favor of amending the plan map.

On Aug. 22, the City Council said yes to a Master Plan amendment requested by Geneva Ridge Joint Venture, but that later turned out to be an improper vote. So, the council voted again Tuesday night, with the same results, even though a pair of aldermen switched their votes.

Aldermen Frank Marsala, Todd Krause, Tom Hartz, Ellyn Kehoe and Al Kupsik voted in favor of the change. Aldermen Terry O’Neill, Arleen Krohn and Bill Mott voted against. Last week, Hartz voted against and Mott voted in favor. After the meeting, Mott would not say why he changed his vote. Hartz said he voted against the change last week because he wasn’t in favor of moving through the first reading, second reading and adopting it all in one night.

The approval of the amendment reverts Geneva Ridge Joint Venture land 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.

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 has said at previous meetings the amendment is the first step of many toward eventual development of the property.

While several of those who addressed the council for 25 minutes total on Tuesday, urged council members to explain why they were voting in favor of the change, only one alderman explained.

Alderman Tom Hartz, who made the motion to approve the amendment ran down a list of what he called 17 facts before offering the explanation for his “yes” vote.

Among some of his stated facts included that the Master Plan on page 68 shows the property for future development and the text of the plan affirms that. He also reminded those in the audience there is no plan or concept for development of the property. He said this change is amending a map, not a zoning amendment.

Hartz said the passage of the map change will “not destroy the lake” because it is a plan amendment. He said the city will still have zoning control over the property, which includes at least four steps to get to the point of a development. Hartz also said the property is currently being farmed, which “constitutes liquid manure” being put on the soil, which eventually makes its way to the lake.

“The threats of lawsuits and business boycotts have no effect on what we do here,” Hartz said. “We evaluate and make reasonable decisions.”

He also stated several reasons for why he made the motion to amend the map. Those included the decrease to 621 the number of lots approved and not yet developed in the city. That is a 44 percent decrease from what it was in 2008. Hartz also said the 120 Bypass was designed and created to direct city growth to the south.

“These are some rational and unemotional reasons for passing this plan amendment,” he said.

O’Neill was the only other alderman to speak before the vote.

He said the council did not follow procedures for the amendment. He also suggested the plan could be “reversed” next spring.

O’Neill also said the council should not be “making agreements behind closed doors.” He said that type of behavior loses the trust of the citizens.

He wasn’t the only person questioning the members of the council.

During the public comments portion of the meeting several said the situation seemed shady and that it was moving too fast.

“Something smells fishy in Denmark,” said city resident Nancy Alberty.

She said she moved to Lake Geneva nine years ago after watching 20 years of Illinois politics.

“Lake Geneva offered me the small town environment I craved and wanted,” she said. “Give us honesty at all costs.”

Dona Palmer, a city resident and wife of former Alderman Tom Spellman, held up a feather, cited an Indian quotation and pleaded with the council to preserve the land. Then, she handed out battery-powered tea lights asking them to vote against the map amendment.

Linn Township resident Dick Malmin spoke about a “sleeping giant,” which is a financially successful group which is “willing to make monetary sacrifices to protect the lake.”

Malmin directed his comments toward the council, stating, “you are being warned” if the “yes” votes are part of a settlement. He also said he’s “talked to aldermen who admitted over the phone that is the case.”

“It’s obvious, the city residents don’t want Hummel,” Malmin said. “If you vote for Hummel you risk your names.”

Marsala, Krause, Hartz, Kupsik and Krohn all are named as defendants in litigation between Geneva Ridge and the city of Lake Geneva. Hartz and Kupsik were members of the Plan Commission, while Krause, Marsala and Krohn were members of the council during the Geneva Ridge development proposals.

What happened on Aug. 22

More than a week ago, during a public hearing on the proposed change, there was about three hours of public comments, where all but two of the more than 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.

During that meeting, 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 bureaucracy over the citizens,” O’Neill said.