Wellnitz family divided on possible sale of land

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008
— The Wellnitz family apparently can’t agree whether they should sell 120 acres to expand Cecilia’s Golf Course.

Mike Kerig, owner of the golf course, on Monday told the Town of Bradford Planning and Zoning Committee he and the Wellnitz family are close to an agreement that would allow Kerig to buy land for expansion.

Family member Patrick Wellnitz told the committee he agreed with Kerig.

But Patrick’s brother, Bruce Wellnitz, told The Janesville Gazette he has no plans to agree to Kerig’s terms.

Kerig has applied for permits to expand Cecilia’s. He wants to buy 120 acres of the Wellnitz farm to expand the nine-hole course to 18 and build 52 homes in a “golf community.”

“It’s something (members of the Wellnitz family) know needs to be done,” Kerig said about his plans.

But Bob Wellnitz, who died in 2000 from complications of diabetes, stipulated in his will that the family only sell 80 acres to Cecilia’s and that no residential development be allowed, Bruce said.

To make the sale, the trust would have to be altered.

“If he realized what was happening today, he would be very upset,” Bruce said about his father. “It was his dream, but this isn’t his dream. It’s a nightmare.”

In his will, Bob created a testamentary trust, said town of Bradford attorney Dave Moore. Bob followed the common practice of assigning a corporate trust company—in this case M&I Trust Co.—to manage it, Moore said.

A trust is a legal entity created to manage assets after someone dies, Moore said. While a will expires after assets have been disbursed, a trust goes on managing assets, he said.

In the case of the Wellnitz Farm Trust, it will go on for 100 years, Bruce said.

M&I has a legal obligation to follow the trust to the letter, said John Richardson, vice president and personal trust administrator with M&I Trust Co., Janesville.

Bruce said the trust can only be altered if he and his three siblings agree.

Richardson said that’s a legal matter, and he couldn’t say if he agreed with Bruce or not.

But it is clear the trust would have to be altered to allow the sale, Richardson said.

“M&I’s already determined that we have a problem,” Richardson said. “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to have the consent of the beneficiaries as well as Rock County Court.”

Richardson said M&I is working on a petition to make the changes.

The Wellnitz family opened Cecilia’s Golf Course in Emerald Grove in 1987, Bruce said.

Bob and his kids built the course, and in 1995 it was appraised at $600,000, Bruce said.

In 1997, buyers, including Kerig, offered $1.2 million for the course with the stipulation that Bob set aside land for a future course expansion.

Kerig has said his only chance for financial success is expansion and development. But he still owes $400,000 to a second Wellnitz trust—the Wellnitz Family Trust—from the $1.2 million purchase, Bruce said.

If Kerig’s plans fail, Bruce and his siblings are out the $400,000, Bruce said.

He’s willing to make that sacrifice and wants to hold out for more money than Kerig’s offer of $4,200 per acre, Bruce said.

“I say if we sell it for $4,200, we’re making another bad decision,” Bruce said.

Last updated: 4:15 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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