During its July 8 meeting, the Lake Geneva City Council voted 5-3 against commissioning a new consultant study on future development possibilities for the former Hillmoor Golf Course property. This is a direct result of your advocacy! The council voted down the study idea after hearing community members voice concern. The council's decision puts on hold - at least for the time being - threats of a map change to Hillmoor that would lead to commercial development.
The Lake Geneva Plan Commission has approved a plan, recently 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. This news follows 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, and it reinvigorates 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 city was working through the State of Wisconsin's mandated 10-year update on the Comprehensive Plan when suddenly the Hillmoor Feasibility Study was brought into the picture. This is incredibly frustrating since there have already been two completed Comprehensive Plan vision sessions leaving Hillmoor zoned as Private Recreation. The Citizens Vision Session was hurriedly arranged without widespread notification; it was buried on the city website and was not promoted. The Stakeholders Vision Session was a separate, closed session with selected members of the business community.
Mayor Hartz and City Attorney Dan Draper put the Hillmoor Feasibility Study on the Plan Commission Agenda in June without any time for public input or a public hearing on a “study” that will become the actual Future Land Use Map Change on Hillmoor. This was a complete undemocratic action and a rush to judgement, taking advantage of two new Plan Commission members appointed by Hartz. One has lived in Lake Geneva for less than 6 months. And sure enough, it was one of those new members, Michael Krajovic, who made the motion to send the study immediately to the City Council without going through the Finance Committee. The community spoke out loud enough that Hartz was forced to follow the correct procedure and put the costs (so far $53,000 but certain to go higher) on the July 2nd Finance Committee Agenda.
With a big decision regarding the map change looming, now is the time to ensure our interests laid out in the Comprehensive Plan are properly represented during these conversations. We have a critical chance TONIGHT, JULY 2 at the Finance Committee Meeting, 6:00pm at Lake Geneva City Hall, to make our voices heard! Learn more about the meeting on the city website.
Be sure to also contact City Council members to make your concerns known. Their contacts are found at the bottom of this page. Read and share this update with your friends and neighbors!
2005: George Wight Jr. of Schaumburg, Illinois purchased Hillmoor from his partners in 2005 with promises to keep it a smaller golf course.
2008: Hillmoor Golf Course closed after 8 decades of operation.
July, 2016: Hillmoor was purchased by convicted felon Larry Freed of Joseph Freed & Associates (White River Holdings, LLC) as a holding place for the $3+ million made in selling another property before that money could be taken and secured by the courts in the many lawsuits against Freed. Paul Fitzpatrick and 11 East Partners were Freed’s agents in the purchase. Paul Fitzpatrick gave city staff and City Planner Mike Slavney complete control and full reign to produce a “Development Plan” that could get approved by the City Council. So, the Plan presented to the Plan Commission and City Council in 2017 was exactly what Slavney wanted all along. He was already paid for this plan by Freed, so the city doesn’t need to spend more money to find out what Slavney wants.
September, 2017: 11 East Partners LLC, a Chicago-based real estate development company that specializes in mixed-use retail developments, officially acquired approximately 200 acres at 333 W. Main Street (the former home of Hillmoor Golf Course).
After the purchase, Paul Fitzpatrick and his partners met with city staff and aldermen to discuss development on the property. The Geneva Lake Conservancy (GLC) wanted Freed to make the 60 acres of wetlands on Hillmoor into a Conservancy for which the GLC would be paid. Some local activists wanted the city to buy Hillmoor under Eminent Domain using the Tourist Tax as the incentive, but unfortunately city leaders didn't bite at this suggestion.
October 16, 2018: The Planning Commission voted (6-2) in favor of the map change that would allow the former Hillmoor Golf Course to develop into, among other things, a subdivision. The City Council was expected to vote during their October 23 meeting, but for an undisclosed reason (feeling the pressure from an outraged public, perhaps???), they postponed their decision until November.
November 13, 2018: The City Council voted to deny the proposed amendments regarding the Recreational Use of the property. Council Members Elizabeth Chappell (who is no longer a Council Member), Cindy Flower, Shari Straube and Ken Howell were the four who voted to protect Hillmoor. Nearly 40 community members signed our letter on the Care for Lake Geneva site that we submitted to those council members who stood up to prioritize community needs over commercial interests.
June, 2019: Mayor Hartz and City Attorney Dan Draper put the Hillmoor Feasibility Study on the Plan Commission Agenda without any time for public input or a Public Hearing on a “study” that we all know will become the actual Future Land Use Map Change on Hillmoor. Michael Krajovic, one of the two new Plan Commission members appointed by Hartz, made the motion to send the study immediately to the City Council without ever going through the Finance Committee. Hartz fortunately followed the correct procedure and put the costs on the July 2nd Finance Committee Agenda.
June 17, 2019: The City Plan Commission voted 4-1 to approve paying up to $53,000 (this amount could go even higher) for the city planning firm of Vandewalle & Associates Inc. to conduct a feasibly analysis for the property.
The map-change threat is 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.
Another area of concern involves the motives of the Geneva Lake Conservancy. The organization was formed in the 1970's with a mission much like ours: to be stewards of the lake and the Geneva Lake Shoreline. The community saw these noble intentions disappear, however, when former Director of the Conservancy Jim Celano become one of the developers of Mirbeau/Hummell and pressured the Conservancy to recommend the development because there was no actual physical connection to Geneva Lake. This is a notable mark in the Conservancy’s history that should raise questions over the organization’s interest in the Hillmoor property.
We are also keeping our eyes on Vandewalle & Associates, the planning firm that city officials support paying to conduct a feasibility analysis for Hillmoor. It seems that every time a developer comes to Lake Geneva, this company is on the side of commercial development. It helped create the last development plan for Hillmoor, and Brian Vandewalle, CEO/President, is all for putting together a new comprehensive plan for the property. The company is set to bring Plan Commission members to Madison for development ideas, i.e. commercial real estate. That sort of development works wonderfully for metropolises like Madison – but not for Lake Geneva. It should also be noted that Lake Geneva City Planner Mike Slavney is the Principal Planner for Vandewalle & Associates. Since the City Council will consider the Plan Commission’s recommendation on development plans, it is hard not to see more backdoor discussions in the near future, if they have not taken place already.
Then there is White River Holdings, LLC, the current property owner that dropped a $55 million civil lawsuit against the city in June, stating through its attorney: “We’re looking for a fresh start.” It is clear, however, that the company is hoping to work with officials to develop Hillmoor at the expense of the community. This seems to be the "fresh start" that White River Holdings is exploring.
When White River Holdings previously proposed commercial and residential development, many residents spoke out in opposition to protect the property. Former Lake Geneva Municipal Judge Hank Sibbing memorably stated during a 2017 public meeting that after being part of the effort to save Hillmoor Golf Course ten years earlier, he still hears the tract of land calling to him: “Save me, save me.” We still hear this plea from Hillmoor, and it is our job as a community to protect the property while we can!
We must remember: the Hummel lawsuit against Lake Geneva was handled by the city’s insurance company's attorneys. The lawsuit was settled by this company giving Hummel money and the zoning he wanted for the 710 acres that had been annexed into the city. The lawsuit was only dropped after Hummel got the zoning. Hartz (then an Alderman) ram-rodded that Contract Zoning Agreement through the Plan Commission and City Council.
The company's attorneys seem to be doing the same thing with the Hillmoor lawsuit. White River dropped the suit first - but without sending a press release or making any announcement that the suit was dropped. The Lake Geneva Regional News found out after checking the county court site. It was up to Hartz, Draper and Slavney to get the map change. None of this was made known to the public at the time.
It is clear to us that Freed only supports the map change to raise the price on Hillmoor just like Robert Hummel did (it became obvious after all the court involvement that Hummel never intended to develop his property; he only wanted zoning rights to sell off sections of the 710 acres at a higher price.)
Responsible development on the property could include environmentally friendly venues such as a community center, youth sports facility, community garden or an outdoor concert venue, all within a beautiful park space that visitors and residents could enjoy year-round. The city could also move the popular Ice Castles attraction to Hillmoor; this would provide more space for this winter event, boost local tourism dollars and protect the beach from any harm.
The benefits of keeping Hillmoor zoned as private residential are numerous, including the following key points:
Mike Slavney wears two important hats, as he serves as a Lake Geneva City Planner and Principal Planner/Director of Planning Services for Vandewalle & Associates. Since the City Council will consider the Plan Commission’s recommendation on development plans, it is hard not to see more backdoor discussions in the near future, if they have not taken place already.
Brian Vandewalle, CEO/President of Vandewalle & Associates, is all for putting together a new comprehensive plan for the property, and he is set to help bring city Plan Commission members to Madison for development ideas, i.e. commercial real estate.
Larry Freed of Joseph Freed & Associates (White River Holdings, LLC), purchased Hillmoor in July, 2016 as a holding place for the $3+ million made in selling another property before that money could be taken and secured by the courts in the many lawsuits against Freed. Paul Fitzpatrick and 11 East Partners were Freed’s agents in the purchase. It is clear that Freed, whose specialty is strip malls, only supports the map change in the hopes of raising the price on Hillmoor just like Robert Hummel did with the Hummel property.
Mayor Hartz has demonstrated a vested interest in commercial developments around Lake Geneva. To his credit, he does not hide this motive, unlike some city officials. He has stated that he and the City Council will heavily weigh the community’s input when deciding Hillmoor’s fate, but his past actions demonstrate he is not really looking for citizen input.
The City Council’s last big vote on this issue was in November of 2018, when they voted to deny the proposed amendments regarding the Recreational Use of the property. Cindy Flower, Shari Straube, Ken Howell, and former Council Member Elizabeth Chappell were the four who stood up to protect Hillmoor. We hope our leaders speak up again to prioritize community needs over commercial interests.
A practical way to protect Hillmoor is for community members to mobilize as a unified group with the sole purpose of preserving this beautiful piece of land. A great model is the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy, which protects Williams Bay. That property was originally going to be sold to a developer, but now it’s a beautiful place for the community to meet and enjoy nature, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers in the Village of Williams Bay a penny. The conservancy takes care of everything.
Architect Shawn Kelly has already been paid for a feasibility study based on public input. A special presentation of the plan, which can be found here, was presented by Kelly to City Hall in early 2018. Click here to watch Kelly's full presentation (23:00 - 45:45).
It’s critical that we make our voices heard during this process. We need ALL community members to stand up and voice your concerns. City Council members' contact info can be found on the city website [click here, and scroll down to find them].
*Be sure to include C4LG on all emails: firstname.lastname@example.org
Attend Upcoming Public Meetings
When Larry Freed's agent Paul Fitzpatrick presented Slavney’s plan for Hillmoor back in October 2017, hundreds of citizens voiced concern during several meetings. The ideas brought up by the public during those meetings is what Williams Bay Landscape Architect Shawn Kelly used to draw up a community map plan for Hillmoor. We must stand up AGAIN -- attend public meetings and get involved in this critical process!
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As a member of this community, I support Care for Lake Geneva’s efforts in securing a bright future for Geneva Lake and its surrounding natural habitat. I recognize that we can only achieve this goal through community involvement and education. That is why I am committed to advocating for responsible land development and ensuring our elected officials hear our collective voice. By joining in this organization’s efforts, I will work to ensure this community remains a peaceful and clean habitat to be enjoyed by residents and visitors for generations to come.