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Williams Bay moratorium petition moves forward, legal questions remain
Williams Bay

Williams Bay moratorium petition moves forward, legal questions remain

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Observatory woods map

A map showing what is commonly referred to as the Observatory Woods is shown. It’s a property near Yerkes Observatory that a local land preservation group is trying to halt development on.

WILLIAMS BAY — A petition to place a one-year moratorium on residential development on about nine acres of forest lakefront property in Williams Bay has been certified by the village clerk after being sent back to organizers for amendments.

Wilmot/Williams Bay's Leeza Patterson executes her balance beam routine at the sectional meet in Hartford on Feb. 20.

But it is unclear whether the petition to delay development of the land owned by the University of Chicago will pass the village board.

Village attorney Mark Schroeder advised the village board in a written statement that he does not believe the petition can establish the moratorium under state statutes.

Members of the Williams Bay Association for Land Preservation created the petition for direct legislation in response to a request from the University of Chicago to rezone about nine-acres of wooded, lakefront property from institutional to residential.

The university hopes to rezone the property and sell it for future residential development but some residents have protested the request in hopes of conserving some of the last wooded lakefront property left on Geneva Lake.

Legal concerns

Speaking about concerns about the legality of the petition, Schroeder said in the statement that the petition involves executive or administrative matters rather than legislative ones and thus, “is not an appropriate subject for direct legislation.’’

In the statement Schroeder also said the petition cannot enact the moratorium because doing so would conflict with existing ordinances, which states that a development moratorium cannot be established without first holding a public hearing.

Williams Bay Association for Land Preservation organizer Sandy Johnson said she is aware of the village attorney’s advice to the village board but that the association’s lawyer believes the petition can establish the moratorium under state statutes.

She said because petitions for direct legislation are not commonly used, legal determinations involving them can change as they progress.

“It’s kind of being defined with each new case,” she said.

University statement

University of Chicago spokesman Jeremy Mainer said in a written statement that the rezoning the university is requesting would prevent the possibility of high-density institutional development and bring in additional tax revenues to the village.

He added that a study of the village’s infrastructure determined it could easily support the construction of three single-family homes on the property and noted that the Yerkes Future Foundation will receive an undisclosed portion of revenue from sale of the land.

Manier also said in the statement that an archeological survey of the land found no evidence of Native-American artifacts — a concern some village residents had regarding development on the property.

“The university appreciates input from residents of Williams Bay and we look forward to the rezoning request moving forward for the village board’s consideration,” Manier said in the statement.

Collecting signatures

The association gathered the needed amount of signatures for the petition to move forward and submitted the document to the village clerk, Jackie Pankau, for review on Jan. 27.

Village president Bill Duncan said during a Feb. 15 village board meeting that the petition met its requirement for the quantity of signatures needed but that the village clerk found several defects in the ordinance the petition aims to codify.

“The clerk has determined the petition had enough signatures, at least 15 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election; however, there were three defects regarding the form of the ordinance as provided by state law,” he said during the meeting.

During the meeting, interim village administrator David Bretl provided details on which aspects of the petition needed to be corrected.

Bretl said one issue involved specific language required under state statutes for the adoption of an ordinance, which were not used in the petition. He added that the petition had an internal inconsistency where a section of the petition was referenced but did not correspond to the actual section.

Bretl said the third error was that under state law, a moratorium statute must explain why a particular time period for the moratorium was selected, which was not included in the petition.

“The moratorium statute, state law, requires that a moratorium ordinance state why the particular time period was chosen,” he said.

The petition was returned to association members who amended it and returned it to the village on Feb. 19.

Bretl said in an interview the petition was subsequently certified and will now move onto the village board for consideration.

The village board has 30 days from the day it was returned to consider the petition under state statutes.

Bretl said he is not yet sure if the village board will consider the petition during their next March 1 village board meeting, or if village committees will consider a recommendation for approval prior.

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