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Developer sues Lake Geneva

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Kayla Bunge
October 13, 2009
— Illinois developer Robert Hummel has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Lake Geneva seeking more than $99.8 million in damages.

Hummel claims city officials put him and his development group in a "class of one" when they considered a proposed development of the 710 acres he owns on the south side.


The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee alleges that the city council and plan commission were "spiteful and vindictive" and treated Geneva Ridge Joint Venture differently in an effort to force the group to "abandon its plans to develop its properties … and leave the community."


City Attorney Dan Draper said the papers, served to the city Thursday, have been sent to the city's insurance company for review. The city has 20 days to file a response.


The lawsuit details three development proposals that the city turned down, each time signaling more "animus and spite" toward Hummel, Geneva Ridge and their plans.


Hummel in 2005 proposed a plan to build 1,040 homes on the property, mixing single- and multi-family homes with commercial development to create a hamlet setting.


The city denied the proposal in 2006.


Hummel partnered with Mirbeau of Geneva Lake and in September 2007 proposed the Mirbeau Retreat, a 100-room boutique inn with 12 villas, a spa, banquet and conference facilities and 57 single-family cottages, along with a winery, vineyard and restaurant and 882 homes.


The city council asked voters to weigh in on the proposal, and voters overwhelmingly defeated the advisory referendum.


The city denied the proposal in April 2008, overturning the plan commission's narrow approval of the rezone and general development plan in November 2007.


Hummel in August 2008 proposed a plan to build 1,207 homes on the property, including 623 single-family homes, 300 multi-family homes, 184 attached single-family homes and 100 townhouses. The plan commission declined to consider the plan because the city was working on updating its comprehensive plan, which will dictate future development within the city when the plan is finalized next year.


"Through closed-door meetings and back-hall conversations, (the city) intentionally undermined the process of fair, factual and objective decision making … instead forging illicit, behind-the-scenes agreements with political action committees, affluent property owners and others to prevent the orderly and permissible development of the property," the lawsuit states.


The lawsuit claims that city council members Mary Jo Fesenmaier, Arleen Krohn, Penny Roehrer and Tom Spellman—"all vocal opponents of any plan to develop the property"—held private, illegal meetings to discuss the Mirbeau-Hummel proposal as well as Hummel's plans to develop the property.


The lawsuit further says that some city council members held private meetings with the Friends of Geneva Lake, a group opposed to the proposed development. It also states that communications between group members included some city council members, as well as members of Lower Density Development, a coalition of local landowners who once offered $10 million to buy Hummel's land.


Lisle Blackbourn, the attorney representing Hummel, could not be reached for comment Monday.


Hummel in January filed a claim seeking more than $99.8 million from the city, saying he was unfairly "singled out" when the city put a "unique moratorium" on development of his land. The claim spelled out how much money he was seeking for property value, development profits and damages, among other costs. The city took no action on the claim.


This isn't the first multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed against the city for its attitude toward development of this property.


Mirbeau in July filed a lawsuit against the city seeking $29 million in damages, alleging the city "acted maliciously" toward Mirbeau and deprived Mirbeau of its rights by asking voters whether the city should approve the rezone request and general development plan.


That lawsuit still is pending in federal court.



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