Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

What is the next step for Hillmoor?

by Chris Schultz

October 11, 2012

With the possibility fading that Hillmoor will ever reopen as a golf course, the Lake Geneva Board of Park Commissioners is looking to the future of the city-owned portion of the former links.

What the 34.85 acres of city-owned land will become is still up in the air.

But there’s little doubt the Lake Geneva Board of Park Commissioners doesn’t want it developed.

“I’d like to keep it open,” said commissioner Rich Steinberg during the Oct. 3 meeting.

That may not be a problem, according to Mayor Jim Conners, who attended the meeting.

“I think it’s all in the flood plain and not buildable,” Conners said. “I believe it should be explored for recreational use.”

Connors said the city twice received grants from the DNR for a White River Parkway that would start in the city-owned portion of the course, but the city couldn’t find a willing seller for the sections of White River property that runs through the rest of the park.

For nearly 80 years, those 34 or so acres were part of a public/private arrangement that created the 220-acre Hillmoor Golf Course. The property comprised the course’s seventh and eighth holes.

The city-owned property is on the other side of the fence from Dunn Field, behind Eastview School, and close to the new skate park.

In 2004, Illlinois developer George Wight bought the property and presented the city with plans to develop a housing project, a hotel and a redesigned golf course at Hillmoor.

Those plans never reached the development stage. By 2007, Wight was in financial trouble.

The last full season of golf at Hillmoor was in 2008.

In 2009, the course was purchased at sheriff’s auction for $17 million by a financing company called Kennedy Financial. Wight has passed from the scene, and ownership of the private part of Hillmoor is still unknown.

The only part of the course that’s still open is the driving range.

With the privately-owned part of Hillmoor in limbo, and re-opening the property as a golf course now in serious doubt, the city has been taking serious interest in what it can do with its section of Hillmoor.

Citizens have already made their choice, Conners said.

“There are already people who ride their bikes and run their dogs there,” he told the park commissioners.

Conners said the land is now zoned “rural home,” which allows it to be used as a park.

“Mr. Mayor, what is our first step?” asked Doug Skates, commission chairman.

Connors said the board could dedicate it as a park. “But I need the city attorney to research how that process works.”

“It’s a good property to own and protect,” said Commissioner Dave Quickel.

What the land might be used for as a city park is now up for consideration. Several alternatives have been discussed.

- Skates has proposed a Frisbee golf course, which requires about an acre a hole.

- During the September park board meeting, commissioners also talked about creating a dog park on the site.

In 2011, the park board began to survey possible locations for a dog park, and interest focused on the city-owned land in the former Hillmoor Golf Course.

Funding for the park might come from the Tax Incremental Financing district or from park impact fees.

- The city has also been planning for a White River Trail, along the 66 acres centered on the White River. The parkway would start at the city-owned property and extend along the Hillmoor property to the city limits. The White River Trail extension might include bike paths, nature trails and a place to put a kayak launch.

However, the confusion over ownership of Hillmoor is stymieing the project, because the city can’t find a willing seller.

City Administrator Dennis Jordan has said the city attorney is now researching whether the city has the authority to claim the property under eminent domain. At some point, the city council would also have to make a decision to go ahead, Jordan said.