2019 In Review

“Somehow, all these amazingly coincidental issues [Starry Stonewort, Hillmoor, the Riviera & Yerkes Observatory] are linked, when it comes to doing anything other than talking.” – Geneva Shore Report, October 23


It has been another eventful year at Care for Lake Geneva.

Fierce debates heightened over strategies to combat Starry Stonewort; a nonprofit organization saved Yerkes Observatory from an uncertain future; Lake Geneva approved a multi-million-dollar contract to begin renovations on the historic Riviera; and city officials began the 10-year update to Lake Geneva’s Comprehensive Plan, a central component being a potential map change to the former Hillmoor Golf Course.

Hundreds of community members signed petitions on the Care for Lake Geneva website, attended public meetings and directly contacted city and state officials this year, sending powerful messages to the Mayor’s office, City Council, Plan Commission, Wisconsin DNR, Wisconsin Governor’s office and other influencers / decision makers regarding critical issues facing the Geneva Lake community.

Throughout 2019, your advocacy protected the Geneva Lake community from commercial threats and held our leaders accountable. Your continued efforts will be the key to a bright future for this beautiful community.

Highlighted below are the key issues facing the Geneva Lake community this past year.


2019 Key Issues

Starry Stonewort

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In late 2018, the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency (GLEA) identified Starry Stonewort (SSW), an aggressive and invasive species of algae, in Trinke Estates Lagoon and quickly announced its appeal to the Wisconsin DNR for funding assistance for a multi-faceted abatement program to stop this species’ spread. This program included hydraulic dredging, the only hope of safely removing the ecological threat.

164 community members signed the petition that Care for Lake Geneva submitted to Governor Tony Evers in June in support of swift action by the DNR to responsibly stop the spread of Starry Stonewort. Unfortunately, this petition fell on deaf ears. Several community members have also contacted city leaders, urging them to step up before SSW spoils the health, beauty and vitality of our cherished Geneva Lake.

Lake Geneva officials continue to balk at the cost of hydraulic dredging, remaining the only local municipality (1 of 5) yet to agree on a plan to responsibly dredge Geneva Lake. The strategy has instead shifted to chemical treatments – this raised several concerns for us at Care for Lake Geneva, as chemical treatments are not only dangerous to the ecosystem; they are possibly the very reason why SSW first took hold in the lagoon. They kill everything that grows and creates the ideal environment for SSW to spread.

We hope Lake Geneva officials have a change of heart... and quickly. The future of Geneva Lake depends on it.

GLEA update: The agency raised about $50,000 in private donations for its battle against Starry Stonewort, but it announced in November that it was shutting down the Go FundMe page and will check with donors to see if they wish to contribute to costs for chemical treatments.

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Lake Geneva Comprehensive Plan Update

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Care for Lake Geneva shared the community’s deep concern for the lack of transparency and collaboration in the development of the 10-year update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, as it will severely impact future development plans, preservation and city services. Scheduled meetings, public forums, and agenda items regarding this critical Plan (particularly regarding a potential map change to the former Hillmoor Golf Course) quietly appeared, disappeared and then reappeared on the city calendar with no public notice other than a blurb on the city website calendar.

City Council members John Halverson, Tim Dunn and Shari Straube consistently spoke out in favor of more opportunities for public input on the Comprehensive Plan revision. We thank them for standing up for what's right!

We agree, as Alderman Straube stressed in a September 23rd meeting, the city’s Comprehensive Plan should be the guide for development on important properties (e.g. Hillmoor), not the other way around.

City officials are expected to complete the revised Comprehensive Plan in February 2020. We hope they develop a responsible plan that truly incorporates residents’ input and prioritizes community needs over commercial interests.

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Hillmoor Map Change 

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Earlier this summer, the Plan Commission approved a plan, presented by Mayor Tom Hartz, for a new study on development options for approximately 200 acres at 333 W. Main Street, the former home of Hillmoor Golf Course. The city hired planners Vandewalle & Associates to map out options. This news followed the dismissal of a $55 million lawsuit that White River Holdings, LLC had filed against the city after the Lake Geneva City Council blocked an earlier development effort. It also reinvigorated the debate about a map change, which is the first step to re-zoning the property from Private Recreation use to Residential, Commercial or Mixed Use – a necessary move in order to allow commercial development.

The map-change threat has been the central point of concern for us at Care for Lake Geneva, as our goal is to seek developments that offer long-term benefits for the community instead of those that serve immediate commercial interests. Beyond the obvious loss of precious green space, the city should also consider the hefty cost of creating new and improving our roads/sewers around Hillmoor. This work would be necessary if the map is changed and it is re-zoned for commercial real estate.

A combined Plan Commission/City Council meeting in November marked a possible turning point in the Hillmoor discussion, as the idea of the city purchasing the property came back onto the table. The sanctuary in Williams Bay was used as an example of how volunteers and donors could support all expenses of its maintenance and continuance. We hope city officials seriously consider this option as they develop the final Comprehensive Plan revision in the coming months.

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Yerkes Observatory

The beautiful 122-year-old facility recognized by many as the birthplace of modern astrophysics officially closed its doors in October 2018, but it remained in public focus throughout 2019.

Good news came this November, when the University of Chicago announced it had reached an agreement in principle to transfer ownership of Yerkes Observatory along with "related property" to the Yerkes Future Foundation, a nonprofit group formed last year after the university announced plans to close the observatory. The Yerkes Future Foundation’s plans reportedly include restoration and refurbishing of the observatory and telescopes inside, as well as reopening the facility for visitors, education and research. Restoration dates have yet to be announced, but we are thrilled that this beautiful landmark will open its doors again in the near future.

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Riviera 

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On October 21, the Lake Geneva City Council unanimously approved $2.15 million in contracts to begin exterior work on the Riviera. City officials have not identified funding sources for other work on the property, which is projected as a two-year restoration project potentially costing $5 million. Exterior work is on pace to begin in February 2020 and to be completed in late April.

Mayor Hartz signed a deal in 2018 with architect-builder MSI General Corp., an Oconomowoc firm that aldermen had previously selected, to renovate the historic building. MSI Project Director Jennifer Guslick stated that community meeting(s) on the Riviera will be the deciding factor on whether to repurpose the Riviera or to maintain its current use as a grand ballroom and historic lakefront facility. There have yet to be public meetings dedicated to this issue. In the meantime, it is important that the community truly thinks about the future of the Riviera and to attend the meeting whenever it is to be held.

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Social Media Engagement

Hundreds of supporters engaged with Care for Lake Geneva social media posts this year, helping to alert their networks to important advocacy opportunities, community needs and environmental news around the area. Thank you for spreading awareness!


Thank you again for your continued efforts to preserve what makes the Geneva Lake community so great. 

We are happy that other local organizations are also doing incredible work to help preserve lakeside communities. To name a couple, The Genera Shore Report consistently provides in-depth reporting on critical issues and shares insights into public meetings, and Friends of Hillmoor is working specifically to protect Hillmoor from commercial development. 

We are proud of the incredible work that community members have done this past year, and we are confident that you all will continue to organize and advocate in 2020. 

Wishing you and yours a safe and happy holiday season,

Care for Lake Geneva Team

 

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