Janesville74.2°

Development dilemma

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Kayla Bunge
December 7, 2007
— Situated on the eastern shores of pristine Geneva Lake, the city of Lake Geneva is as much a quaint small-town escape as it is a burgeoning urban hot-spot.

Developers see the city as a premier location for residential subdivisions and neighborhood retail. But many residents don’t want to lose the pastoral charm provided by the lake and the rural surroundings.


Lake Geneva must grow, however, City Administrator Dennis Jordan said.


“You can’t stay stagnant,” he said. “But you don’t want to open the floodgates.”


Jordan said well-managed development is the key to controlling that growth.


“We’re looking at it as it comes in,” he said.


That’s what made the January 2005 annexation of more than 700 acres from Linn Township so attractive: It’s a large section of land in an area already identified by the city for future growth that it can plan all at once.


“Most communities would die for that development,” Jordan said.


The Hummel Group and Mirbeau of Geneva Lake have teamed up for a proposal that includes a spa, boutique inn, winery and 882 homes.


The proposal has divided the city. Some say it’s too much, too fast. Some say it’s detrimental to the area’s environment.


But city officials say the other options—setting aside the land as a nature preserve or parceling out the land for smaller developments—are impractical.


“I’d be very surprised if we ever got a package substantially better,” said the city’s consulting planner, Michael Slavney of Vandewalle & Associates.


The city has a record of being “very selective” when it comes to new development, he said, being careful to balance economic opportunities with maintaining the city’s character and protecting the environment.


The city’s master plan, adopted in the early 1990s, identified the southern parts of the city—including the Hummel property—as the most cost-effective for growth and development. That area is most efficiently served by urban services, the plan states.


The city rewrote its zoning ordinances in 1997 to better preserve and protect the area’s environmental features.


“There’s more at risk here with the lake, the watershed,” Slavney said.


Concurrent with the Hummel property’s annexation, the city adopted in June 2004 its South Neighborhood Plan because “development was looking like more of a sure thing,” Slavney said.


That plan lays out guidelines for how the southern part of the city should be developed. It recommends standard city density, which is about five dwelling units per acre, for tighter development, more open space and better preservation of environmental resources.


The original Mirbeau-Hummel proposal came in at half the recommended density, and the current proposal is about a fifth of that.


Slavney said that’s disappointing from a sprawl standpoint because the city will have to look to other areas sooner as it grows. But from an environmental standpoint, the proposal is “extremely favorable,” he said.


The Mirbeau-Hummel proposal includes about 375 acres—more than 50 percent of the land—of open space; preservation and restoration of existing environmental features; and improved storm water management and water quality.


The proposal includes features the city didn’t anticipate when it created a plan for the southern part of the city. A spa and boutique inn known as the Mirbeau Retreat and a winery not only add economic opportunity to the development, but also will make it stand out, Slavney said.


“It’s things like that that will help make that neighborhood distinct,” he said.


The Lake Geneva Plan Commission on Nov. 27 approved, 4-3, the rezone request and general development plan for the Mirbeau-Hummel development. The proposal goes to the city council Monday.


WHAT’S PLANNED

-- The Mirbeau Retreat, with 100 rooms and 12 villas, a spa, banquet and conference facilities and 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.


-- Residential development of 882 homes, which would be a mix of single-family homes, row houses, townhouses and duplexes.


-- Permanent conservation of 375 acres.


-- Hiking and biking paths.


WHAT’S NEXT

-- The rezoning request and general development plan go to the Lake Geneva City Council for consideration Monday.


-- If the city council gives the Mirbeau-Hummel project the go-ahead, the developer will need to draft a precise implementation plan for each phase of the development. The plan commission and city council will need to approve each plan.


-- Construction on the first phase of the development, which includes the Mirbeau Retreat and the winery, could begin as early as summer 2008.



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