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Hillmoor strategy remains elusive among city leaders
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Hillmoor strategy remains elusive among city leaders

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An effort to move forward on the future of the former Hillmoor Golf Course has fallen flat, after members of the Lake Geneva Plan Commission abruptly adjourned without taking action.

Audience members opposed to large-scale redevelopment of the vacant Hillmoor property objected that one member of the plan commission was absent, and also said that the public had not gotten sufficient notice of the meeting.

The seven-member commission was scheduled Nov. 26 to discuss whether to endorse a redevelopment option laid out by professional planners hired by the city.

However, after hearing objections from the audience, Mayor Tom Hartz proposed adjourning the meeting, and the rest of commission voted unanimously to adjourn without any debate or decision.

Hartz declined to explain the adjournment later except to say that City Attorney Dan Draper had advised the mayor to halt the meeting.

“I think you would have to address that with him,” Hartz said, referring to Draper.

The city attorney later said he not certain whether the city had made adequate public notice of the meeting in accordance with Wisconsin’s open meetings law.

“I couldn’t verify that there was proper notice,” Draper said, “so I advised the mayor to adjourn the meeting as a cautionary measure so we would not be violating state statute.”

The plan commission meeting at City Hall had been posted on the city’s website, and state law requires that agendas be posted publicly and published in a local newspaper.

Some audience members urged the plan commission not to move forward on the Hillmoor issue.

Karen Yancey, executive director for the Geneva Lake Conservancy, said she did not learn about the Nov. 26 meeting until about an hour beforehand. Yancey urged commission members to take more time before trying to make a decision.

“This is way too soon to make this major of a decision,” Yancey said.

Landowner White River Holdings LLC of Chicago has signaled a desire to restart talks with the city about possible redevelopment options for the former golf course. The estimated 200-acre property has stood largely dormant since the golf course closed more than 10 years ago.

Resident Sarah Hill, a former plan commission member, told commissioners that she favors redeveloping the property and that she believes the city should make a decision soon.

“It’s about putting it back on the tax roll and not having an empty 200-acre parcel in the middle of your city,” Hill said. “It’s just time to do something with it.”

The planning firm of Vandewalle & Associates has presented new options for the Hillmoor property, ranging from large-scale redevelopment focused on either residential or a mix of commercial and residential, to no redevelopment plan so that White River can pursue choices allowed under the land use designation left from the old golf course.

After the city’s hired planners outlined those possibilities last month, the plan commission was expected to vote on whether to endorse one option, sending a recommendation to the Lake Geneva City Council.

Draper said he is unsure whether the plan commission — after the aborted Nov. 26 session — will make another attempt at reaching a decision.

“That’s not my decision,” Draper said. “I know they were trying to narrow it down to one concept.”

Next up is a public open house 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at Badger High School for residents to have another opportunity to express their views on the matter of the old Hillmoor property.

White River Holdings purchased the vacant property in 2016 for about $3.4 million and made an unsuccessful attempt in 2017 to persuade city officials to embrace a redevelopment strategy.

While many in the community favor redevelopment of the former golf course site, some have fought hard to prevent redevelopment, arguing that White River Holdings instead should preserve the 200 acres as unused green space.

Mary Jo Fesenmaier, a former alderwoman who has opposed redevelopment, urged plan commissioners Nov. 26 to adjourn their meeting without taking any action on the issue.

“If you don’t have the heart to do that, then at least make no recommendation,” Fesenmaier said.

Another development opponent, Lake Geneva Municipal Judge Henry Sibbing, asked the commission to abort its meeting because one commissioner, Michael Krajovic, was absent.

“Voting without this member is unfair to this commission and to the community,” Sibbing said.

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