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Walworth County child center project heading for speed bump

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STANLEY B. MILAM
February 27, 2012
— It's been a smooth ride so far for the Walworth County Alliance for Children's planned child advocacy center in Walworth County, but a potential speed bump sits in the road ahead.

The proposed 4,300-square-foot facility in Geneva Township is planned for a five-acre site owned by the county adjacent to the Walworth County Health and Human Services building on County NN. It would consolidate services and provide a facility where families and their children could report crimes and receive services from professionals.


The proposed center has received unanimous approval from town and county committees. The Town of Geneva Planning Commission and the Geneva Town Board recently recommended county approval of a required conditional use permit. On Thursday, the Walworth County Zoning Agency gave unanimous, and final, approval to that permit.


One permit approval remains before ground can be broken: a building permit issued by the Town of Geneva.


That permit represents the potential speed bump.


At Thursday's zoning agency meeting, Michael Cotter, the director of the Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Department, referred to the town's action on the conditional use permit, which included two additional conditions. The town board recommended passage of the permit if it included a requirement for a fire safety system and a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement.


Pilot agreements are created when property is tax exempt, but the municipality receives revenue from the property owner for services rendered such as fire and police protection or administrative costs. The state often enters into PILOT agreements with municipalities where state-owned buildings are located.


Town Board Chairman Joe Kopecky has indicated that the PILOT agreement is a requirement before the town board would approve a building permit.


"I'm not giving a legal opinion on this, but I'm saying that you can consider this conditional use permit as drafted by the county without the two additional conditions from the Town of Geneva," Cotter said to members of the zoning agency Thursday. "Those two conditions (the PILOT agreement and safety system requirement) are between the alliance and the town."


Cotter said an easement approval is required by the public works department, a matter he said is routine and not controversial.


The county approvals set up the project's final hurdle: the building permit.


In a letter to Matt Weidensee, the county's associate planner, Town Clerk/Treasurer Debra Kirch explained the town's position on the conditional use permit based on action taken at the board's Feb. 13 meeting. In her letter, Kirch indicated the board approved, 3-2, a condition that a PILOT agreement be entered into before a building permit is issued. Revenue from the agreement is intended to cover "necessary service costs," she said.


Following the Feb. 13 meeting, Kopecky was asked if requiring a PILOT agreement meant no building permit would be issued without it. Kopecky answered "yes."


Following Thursday's meeting, Robert Leibsle, an Elkhorn attorney representing the Walworth County Alliance for Children, said he had no comment on a possible showdown with the town of Geneva over a building permit.


"That's another stage, and we'll have to deal with that when we get there," Leibsle said.


Lakeland Builders, the general contractor for the project, said if all approvals are granted on a normal timeline, construction could begin by May 1, according to the alliance architect, Bill Henry.



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