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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Old issues await Lake Geneva's new mayor

By Kayla Bunge and Dan Plutchak/The Week

Bill Chesen says tops on his to-do list as mayor of Lake Geneva will be to find a way to rebuild the lack of trust between himself and some city council members.

Terry Mayer/The Week
Lake Geneva mayor-elect Bill Chesen takes down his campaign signs Wednesday after winning Tuesday's election.
"The first big job is to find a way to bring the council together," Chesen said Wednesday following his victory over former mayor Spyro "Speedo" Condos.

A sometimes-bitter election campaign hasn't made the job any easier.

Chesen said he'd like to put the campaign behind him and move forward. He said he'd like to get the city council together and get down to city business.

"We've been entrusted with a big responsibility," he said. "Trying to find that common ground, which is in the best interest of this community, that's what our job is all about.

"My biggest challenge is going to be bringing a very divisive council together to try to move the city forward."

Moving the city forward will require tackling the Mirbeau-Hummel Groups plans for the large-scale residential development on the city's south side.

The issue divided Lake Geneva residents, and the council chose to put the matter to the voters with an advisory referendum.

By a 2-1 margin, voters resoundingly urged city leaders to reject the plan.

Chesen said that after waiting for voters to have their say, he won't support the Mirbeau-Hummel Plan.

"I'm not convinced that's the best use of that land," Chesen said. He says he's not sure what the best use is, but the current plan isn't it.

Chesen says he wasn't surprised by the outcome of the referendum. "I think the vote no group was well financed, and they put out a tremendous grass-roots effort," he said.

He had hoped the referendum would give city residents a chance to have their voices heard; however, Chesen says much of the funding for the vote no group came from outside the city and outside the state.

Supporters of the development expressed disappointment.

"We are disappointed but not surprised," said project executive John Terrell.

However, those who've been opposed to the development since the start were pleased with the outcome.

"They obviously felt strongly about what they've learned and what they know about the project," said Sarah Schuster, co-founder of the Friends of Geneva Lake group.

"It proves that the citizens care and that their focus is on open space and taking care of the environment and making sure we don't rush into things," she said.

Now the ball is in the city council's court.

"They want the government to listen," Schuster said of residents. "They won't be bullied around."

Terrell said Mirbeau-Hummel representatives will move forward with the zoning process and "protect our property rights as part of that effort."

He said he is "confident" the city council will weigh all the factors in determining what's best for the city and vote in favor of the proposed development.

Terrell said the Mirbeau-Hummel plan "meets and exceeds" the requirements of the city's master plan, which has him confident the city council will approve the rezone request and general development plan.

Schuster said the issue isn't going away.

"We're still on bated breath," she said. "It's not over. There's a whole lot more work to do. We have to make sure people don't just let this go."

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