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Hearing April 21 to explore direction for lakefront land development
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Hearing April 21 to explore direction for lakefront land development

Yerkes Observatory and University of Chicago land

The University of Chicago donated Yerkes Observatory and nearly 50 acres surrounding it to the Yerkes Future Foundation and has prepared its remaining 8-acre lakefront parcel for sale.

A public hearing will be held April 21 to discuss the proposed rezoning of eight acres of privately owned lakefront land for low-density residential purposes.

Owned by the University of Chicago and marketed for sale, the land currently carries an institutional zoning which allows high-density development for uses such as medical treatment, worship, recreation and conference centers. The proposed rezoning allows for no more than one single-family residence on each of three subdivided lots. Studies have confirmed that the land would support this level of residential development.

The land is located on Constance Boulevard across from Yerkes Observatory, which the University owned for more than 120 years. In 2020, the University donated the Observatory, together with nearly 50 acres of surrounding land, to the Yerkes Future Foundation (YFF), ensuring its preservation for current and future generations.

To facilitate sale of remaining parcels of land, along with handing over stewardship of Yerkes Observatory to YFF, the University also submitted a rezoning application to the Village of Williams Bay.

If the University’s plans are approved by the Village, the land would include an easement preserving the existing pedestrian path from the lakefront path to Constance Boulevard, and Village water and sewer lines running across the land would be improved by the buyers before residential construction occurs. Village ordinances governing matters such as clear-cutting and steep slopes would continue to apply to these parcels.

In contrast to the current institutional zoning, the new homeowners would pay property taxes, providing ongoing revenue for the village. On the other hand, uses under the current institutional zoning might attract people who would further contribute to the Williams Bay economy.

Since filing the rezoning application, the University has worked closely with Village administrators to address preferences and concerns. In response to the community, the University commissioned extensive archaeological, tree and driveway studies. Their findings are available on the Williams Bay Village website for review.

In one study, Midwest Archeological Research Services found “no evidence of a prehistoric earthen mound within project boundaries.’’ The firm has 35 years of experience, including in Wisconsin, providing governmental agencies, Native American tribal nations and private companies with information to comply with historic preservation regulations.

After an initial public hearing, the Village of Williams Bay Plan Commission recommended that the Village Board amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow for rezoning. While the second public hearing is not required by law, it ensures ample opportunity for public comment, Village Board President Bill Duncan said.

The April 21 hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Williams Bay Middle/High School. No action will be taken. University leaders will attend to hear from the members of the community and to participate in the dialogue.

The rezoning request will be considered by the Williams Bay Plan Commission and Village Board at a public meeting in May.

Story sponsored by the University of Chicago.


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