Janesville70°

Residents urge city to use caution

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Kayla Bunge
December 7, 2007
— It’s perhaps the biggest issue the city has faced in years.

An Illinois developer and a New York resort spa company are proposing to change the city of Lake Geneva for decades to come.


And many residents aren’t happy. They’ve come out in full force against the proposed Mirbeau-Hummel development, citing growth that’s too intense and too close to environmentally sensitive areas.


Penny Roehrer, co-founder of the Friends of Geneva Lake, said the city needs to slow down and stay committed to its plans for growth over the coming decades.


“My biggest fear is that …we’re just going to be another suburb of Chicago,” she said.


Urban sprawl from the northwest suburbs is inevitable, she said, and could reach the Lake Geneva area, changing its character from quaint small town to “just another suburb.”


“If that does happen—and this would be the first step in that—I think we’re going to be bypassed and people are not going to want to come here,” Roehrer said.


But project executive John Terrell said the Mirbeau-Hummel development follows the city’s plan for long-term growth.


The whole development won’t be built right away, he said. Rather, construction will be done in phases as the market dictates, which is a “wonderful way” for the city to manage its growth.


“If we don’t believe we can absorb in the range of what’s going on in the market, we’re not going to build a lot of housing units,” Terrell said.


But it’s not just about when and how many houses will be built. It’s about where those houses and other proposed amenities—a spa, boutique inn and winery, among others—will be built.


Sarah Schuster, also a co-founder of the Friends group, said the majority of the property is in the watershed to Geneva Lake, which is dangerous for the lake’s future.


“This is one of the last undeveloped watersheds to the lake,” she said. “We have to be very careful with where they place the homes.”


About 620 acres of the 710-acre property drain to the lake. That land is 4.7 percent of the lake’s overall watershed.


Terrell said protecting and restoring the area’s environmental features factored greatly into the proposal.


“We want to respect the natural environment that’s there,” he said. “We’re not building in any of those areas. We’re building outside them completely.”


He said people who will come to the Mirbeau Retreat and who will live in the neighborhood are those who “enjoy the beauty of nature and want to be a part of it.”


Through the preservation and restoration of existing environmental features and improved storm water management and water quality, “we’re actually enhancing what will happen in the area when the development is complete,” Terrell said.


Roehrer doesn’t buy it.


“This is the last unprotected piece of environmental corridor, and this is not going to protect it,” she said. “This will really hurt it.”


HUMMEL PROPERTY TIMELINE

For more than five years, Robert L. Hummel of Lake Forest, Ill., has been trying to find a plan agreeable to Lake Geneva for developing 710 acres of former farmland south of the city.


Here’s a short timeline of the proposals made by Hummel and rejected by the city:


-- August 2002: Hummel and Gordon L. Meling of Lake Zurich, Ill., propose construction of Geneva Ridge, a gated community for residents 55 and older. It calls for 1,200 units in and around an 18-hole golf course. They ask to be annexed into Lake Geneva.


-- September 2002: Facing opposition, Hummel and Meling withdraw their annexation request.


-- October 2003: The city formally rejects Hummel’s petition to annex the property. Hummel again asks to be annexed.


-- January 2004: The Lake Geneva Plan Commission recommends against annexation. The city council again denies annexation.


-- October 2004: Hummel again applies for annexation. A golf course is eliminated from the proposal, and development is reduced to about 1,000 homes.


-- November 2004: Linn Township takes out full-page ads in a local newspaper arguing against annexation. The Lake Geneva Plan Commission again recommends against annexation. An annexation proposal needs a 6-2 supermajority to be approved.


-- January 2005: Against the recommendation of the plan commission, the Lake Geneva City Council votes 6-2 in favor of annexation.


-- December 2005: Hummel brings a proposal for a conservation subdivision with 1,080 homes. The plan commission is not impressed.


-- June 2007: Hummel and Mirbeau team up for a new proposal, combining a spa, boutique inn and winery with 882 homes.


-- Nov. 27, 2007: The Lake Geneva Plan Commission approves 4-3 the rezone request and general development for the Mirbeau-Hummel development.



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