The City of Lake Geneva approves the purchase of the former Hillmoor Golf Club land

Many Lake Geneva residents cheered and hugged each other after city council members agreed to purchase 200 acres of property near and dear to them.

Members of the Lake Geneva City Council on Monday (Sept. 26) unanimously approved the purchase of the former Hillmoor Golf Club property, 333 E. Main St., from Chicago-based White River Holdings, LLC, for $6 million and the settlement of the lawsuit with the company. .

City officials plan to sell bonds to buy the property.

Many residents spoke during an hour-long public comment portion of the meeting asking aldermen to approve the purchase. Some audience members indicated they were in favor of the purchase, but asked council to suspend the vote to allow more time to present information to residents.

Several of the aldermen were also emotional regarding the pending vote to approve the purchase.

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The former Hillmoor Golf Course property has been the subject of discussions between city officials and residents for several years.

Alderman Mary Jo Fesenmaier had tears in her eyes as she read the motion to purchase the property and settle the dispute. Fesenmaier later holds up a book titled “The Park Our City Built”.

Council members also unanimously approved a resolution stating that the purchase of the property would be for public purposes. The resolution says the property will be used for “public and recreational” purposes.

“The seller wants to make sure that we dedicate it to public use and that we are not going to return it and sell it to someone else,” City Attorney Dan Draper said of the incident. the resolution.

Alderman Ken Howell said there were pros and cons to buying the property. He said $6 million is a lot of money and it would hurt the taxpayers of Lake Geneva.

The owner of a $200,000 home would pay a tax increase of $52.98 in the first year.

Howell said if the city loses the lawsuit against White River Holdings, the city would likely have to pay $15 million plus attorneys’ fees, and if the city wins the lawsuit, the whole process could start over.

“Do we want to bet on a lawsuit that might have a bad outcome or do we want to control our future?” Howell said. “I’m going to the side of controlling our future.”

Alderman John Halverson also said he was in favor of buying the property.

“It really is a visionary decision,” Halverson said. “Our future ancestors will thank us for it. I think we should buy it.”

Alderman Shari Straube said she would prefer the property to be used for recreational purposes rather than development.

“It’s also something very special for me. Not only do I have memories of playing golf there, but I’m a person who loves trees, nature and animals,” Straube said. . “Thinking about this land developed or overdeveloped broke my heart. Last weekend we went for a walk with the dogs, we were going to Williams Bay. Now I don’t have to. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Alderman Richard Hedlund said he favors buying the property, but believes the city should have held a referendum to give residents a chance to vote on the issue.

“I received several phone calls. Most of them were in favor of buying Hillmoor, some weren’t,” Hedlund said. “Some wanted to know more. It may not make sense to do so, but I really feel that when you charge every taxpayer, every owner of the City of Lake Geneva, I think everyone should have a say. I think we should buy it, but I think they should have a say too.

Mayor Charlene Klein said if the sale goes through, she plans to form a committee of residents, environmentalists and conservationists to come up with a plan for the property.

“We’ll find out along the way,” Klein said. “I think it’s something the community will definitely support, and we’ll make a plan moving forward.”

Klein also said representatives from the Geneva Lake Conservancy have offered to help the city clean up the property.

“As far as maintenance goes, I’ve already told the public works department not to worry about anything,” Klein said. “The reserve is going to help organize work days, and I know a guy who has goats, and he said he could come in with 40 goats and clear five acres at a time.”

City officials have discussed the former Hillmoor property behind closed doors on several occasions over the past few months. Klein said city officials couldn’t discuss the issues publicly because of the dispute with White River Holdings.

“Due to litigation, we couldn’t talk about the use of the plan,” Klein said. “We couldn’t talk about funding. We couldn’t talk about anything.”

Representatives from White River Holdings bought the former Hillmoor golf course property in 2016 for around $3.4 million and presented plans to redevelop the site for a mix of residential and commercial development.

City aldermen rejected a proposed land rezoning for the planned development in November 2017 by a 4-3 vote.

White River Holdings officials then filed a lawsuit against the city in 2018, which was later dropped as part of an effort to reinvigorate development talks with the city.

The city council, again, voted against changing its master plan to allow for new uses of the property.

The company then filed another claim against the city in 2020, alleging damages resulting from halted efforts to redevelop the property.

City Council members voted to deny the request in a closed session on October 12, 2020, allowing White River Holdings to sue the city and ask a judge or jury to order the city to pay damages.

The old Hillmoor golf course closed around 12 years ago and the property has remained vacant ever since.

Klein thanked board members for voting to approve the purchase and settle the dispute with White River Holdings.

“You made history tonight,” Klein told the aldermen. “You did a good thing.”

Collection: Return to Hillmoor Golf Course

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