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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lake Geneva's development debate goes public Tuesday evening

The hottest ticket in Walworth County Tuesday night will be in Lake Geneva.

Although tickets won't actually be needed, if you want a good seat, arrive early. That's because Tuesday is when the public hearing for the proposed Mirbeau-Hummel development on Lake Geneva's south side continues.

The first public hearing on Oct. 30 lasted 90 minutes, not nearly enough time to let everyone speak. This time, the hearing will be held at the Badger High School auditorium, beginning at 6 p.m. and is expected to last two hours. Residents who would like to speak must fill out a speaker card, and speakers will alternate in favor of and against the development. Speakers will be limited to three minutes.

Two hours have been allotted for public comment. The proposal has divided residents of the city, and those feelings will come to a head at the meeting. The proposal tentatively includes:

-- Residential development of 882 homes, which would be a mix of singlefamily, row houses, town houses and duplexes.

-- The Mirbeau Retreat would have 100 rooms and 12 villas, a spa, banquet and conference facilities; also 57 single-family cottages, which would be sold to private owners

-- A winery on 25 acres, with vineyard, wine production facilities, a restaurant and related retail

-- Permanent conservation of 375 acres (53 percent) of the site from development

-- Hiking and biking paths for both residents and the public This is a debate with no clear and easy outcome.

As letters to the editor in this Week's paper illustrate, there are persuasive arguments on each side and significant issues that need to be addressed.

Among this week's letters are two by former Lake Geneva city officials. They've summed up the debate this way:

Robert Flemming, who served as an alderman for 20 years, writes that the development will preserve more than half of the property, generate additional property and room taxes and will follow the city's master plan.

On the other side, former councilman Ed Yeager says don't be fooled. He writes that the development will destroy small-city atmosphere, not preserve it.

There are clearly many in the city of Lake Geneva and Linn Township who agree with one side or the other.

Robust debate is the last line of defense to prevent bad ideas from becoming public policy. That's why Tuesday's public hearing is so important. This doesn't need to be a "my-way-or-the-highway" decision either.

If the council does choose to approve the rezone, it's important that they come up with ways to address the legitimate concerns of those residents opposed to the project. How Lake Geneva decides this issue will go a long way in determining the future of the city.


-end-

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