A divided Lake Geneva City Council has agreed to order a new study on future redevelopment options for the former Hillmoor Golf Course property.
The city council voted 6-2 on Sept. 9 to authorize planners to create a possible blueprint for the 200-acre site, which has been at the center of heated debate in recent years.
Landowner White River Holdings LLC has encountered local opposition from residents and city leaders who want to see the former golf course left largely undeveloped.
Aldermen Tim Dunn and John Halverson voted “no” on directing the city planning firm Vandewalle & Associates Inc. to prepare a new concept plan for the property.
Dunn said the property owners should be conducting such a study rather than the city.
“We don’t own that property,” he said. “This is exactly turned around.”
Other aldermen, however, said that by drafting their own plan for the site, city officials could establish a framework for productive discussions with White River Holdings.
Alderwoman Shari Straube said after some initial reservations, she decided that ordering the study would be a good way to give the property owner some direction.
“We’re telling them, ‘This is what we’re okay with, this is what we’re not okay with,’” Straube said.
The concept plan will cost the city about $29,500 and will take about two months to complete. Planners will be directed to to present three potential development concepts for the old golf course site, and the city then will lead public discussions on the topic.
The final concept plan is set to be completed by early November and will be available for public review for 30 days, then discussed during a public hearing scheduled for Dec. 9.
Brian Munson, representative for Vandewalle and Associates, said the concept plan will give the city an opportunity to tell White River Holdings the types of development the city wants to see.
“Instead of a proposal to come and be reactionary, it is an opportunity for the city to be proactive,” Munson said.
Alderman Ken Howell said the the concept plan would allow the city to determine how they property could be developed, or if it should be left undeveloped as green space.
“I want to see what’s possible, and I want everybody to know what’s possible,” Howell said. “I want any developer that may want to come in to know what we think is possible, and that includes leaving it alone.”
Alderwoman Selena Proksa said the concept plan is for the benefit of the city, not White River Holdings.
“We want to make sure this huge piece of property maintains a character we want in Lake Geneva,” Proksa said.
Some audience members at the city council meeting continued fighting any movement toward redevelopment of the Hillmoor property.
Rick Steinberg of Lake Geneva said the city should ask local residents to develop a plan for the property.
“You don’t have to pay an expert $30,000,” Steinberg told the aldermen. “We got plenty of experts here — all you have to do is reach out to them.”
Sherri Ames of Lake Geneva said the city should not be making new plans when White River Holdings bought the land knowing that it had a zoning designation for a golf course.
“This group brought this property knowing what it was zoned for,” Ames said. “That’s the bottom line.”
At an earlier committee meeting on the matter, Halverson said he was opposed to spending city money on a new Hillmoor plan.
“The deeper we get into it, the messier it gets,” Halverson said. “I don’t think this is a wise decision.”
At the same committee meeting, Mayor Tom Hartz said developing a concept plan would allow the city to consider the best potential uses for the property.
“That’s why it makes sense to spend this money, to see what is the best option,” Hartz said.
Alderwoman Cindy Flower said the concept plan would allow the city to tell White River Holdings how Lake Geneva wants the property developed.
“This is our opportunity to look at it for what we want, not what the developer wants — what we want,” Flower said. “I don’t think it’s as scary as everyone is making it out to be.”