THE TROUBLE WITH HILLMOOR
By the time you read this publication it will be several weeks since the current owners of the Hillmoor property were denied the ability to change the city’s comprehensive plan in order to allow for high-density occupation, both residential and business. The over two hundred-acre (the last and largest single piece of an open undeveloped real estate within city boundaries outside of the Hummel land) chunk of the property remains under the designation of (essentially) “recreational” when it comes to usage or development. There was a huge outcry from the public that caused the city council to deny the developer’s request for the comprehensive plan change. Out of that outcry came the organization called the Friends of Hillmoor, a group of dedicated citizens attempting to purchase the property from the owner (whose corporate leadership has indicated that it won’t sell) while using the law of eminent domain (wherein the city would simply take the property and pay the current owner a “fair” market value). The city is being induced to use this rather tough, and not too popular, means to acquire property by being informed that the same people who want to purchase Hillmoor and turn it into something of a park, would support the levy of a Premier Resort Area Tax. Such a consideration is fraught with controversy and great difficulty.
Here are the problems that have to be faced:
- The Premier Resort Area Tax: The PRAT is being currently touted as a “tourist” tax in order to sweeten the idea, and that’s deceptive. Everyone in Lake Geneva would pay and they’d pay all year. State approval would be required, as the conditions in Lake Geneva do not meet existing criteria (currently 50% of revenue is required to be from tourism and that is not the case in Lake Geneva).
- The Friends of Hillmoor have raised about eleven thousand dollars in total to cover expenses but there is not a current plan to somehow pay the 3.4 million, or more, that some court might decide is a fair market value to be paid to the current owners, if the property was taken using eminent domain.
- Wisconsin residents, in looking at case law with other similar situations of communities in the state attempting to use the law, are not real big on communities taking private land unless the use of the land was determined to be necessary and urgent. The current ideas swirling about are to make the Hillmoor land a park with the possibility that the existing YMCA might move and rebuild there to become the park’s anchor property. Viable ideas, but hardly urgent.
- Currently, the YMCA does not have the millions it would take to rebuild at Hillmoor.
The City of Lake Geneva leadership would have to decide, if it chose to use eminent domain, whether the lack of any revenue stream in taxation (or otherwise), that would result from the land being turned into a park, is worth the potential losses suffered in attorney expenses that would stem from likely lawsuits from the current owners, and also the lost revenue from the lack of taxable development not built on the land.
What is to be done? What can be done? Is the dream of Hillmoor to be acquired and used strictly for the recreational use of the citizens an idea that is wonderful in every way, except for the funding? Must the Friends of the Theater group (that failed to raise enough money to do anything, much less purchase the downtown theater) be the template? There’s going to be a huge focus of pressure on the Friends of Hillmoor to not only come up with a dream to interest a wealthy “angel” kind of investor but to convince Lake Geneva leadership to accept a lot of risk in pursuing possession and ownership all on its own.