No parcel of land is more valuable to the city’s future than the Hillmoor property, not Flat Iron Park, not Library Park and not even the Riviera property (including the beach area downtown). All of those properties are land-locked. The property around them is taken, filled up with stuff or special dedicated spaces. Those properties cannot be used for future growth, as every new item takes up more and more of the valuable space, that already developed space they occupy. The downtown area of Lake Geneva is filled to the brim, and it cannot handle any more visitors on a warm summer weekend than it currently does.
The future expansion of the City of Lake Geneva as a resort destination lies with the Hillmoor property. What the plan commission and the city council, do regarding the Hillmoor property will either hold the door open to the city’s future, or slam that door shut on it. Despite numerous citizen efforts to get the city council to buy Hillmoor, those concerned citizen’s arguments have been ignored, and entreaties continue to bounce off city council members like water off a duck’s back. Fortunately, the Hillmoor parcel is still vacant and there’s one simple question to ask Lake Geneva alderpersons: “if the city owned the Hillmoor land today would they be thinking about rezoning it for some developer to develop it?” If the answer to that question is yes, then that council person would have no business being on the City Council or on the Plan Commission because they would be allowing personal interests to rise above those of the city, and the city’s future.
The situation with Hillmoor is similar to that of the tract of land backed for purchase by a man named Seward. He saw the value in some apparent wasteland and then got the new nation of the United States to pay $7.2 million for it. He was ridiculed for buying it, and not allowing it to fall into other hands. That land became known as “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox”. Today that land is called Alaska, and Seward is remembered as a man with brilliant foresight who bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867. How important that purchase was did not become truly apparent to most people until almost a hundred years later in Oct. of 1962 when the lower 48 of this nation was threatened during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Its importance came to the forefront once again thirty years later when a vast oil supply was found there.
Every city council is remembered for its key votes and actions. For the current members of the city council, and the members of the plan commission, it will be their votes on the Hillmoor property, and the annexation of the Geneva Inn property, that will be remembered by everyone in the future. Some members have already made up their minds about both of these seminal projects, but some will listen, and to those here is some conservative advice they should pay attention to: Every alderman should vote on these two issues like the future of the city depends on their vote, because it does. Neither the annexation of the Geneva Inn, nor the corporate development of Hillmoor are reversible. The mayor of Lake Geneva, the members of the city council and the members of the plan commission should all look to Seward and the acquisition of the Alaskan Territory. There may be some heat for decisions they make today, but down the road there will be reward for everyone if they choose the right thing to do.
Why is what is happening in McHenry, Illinois important for Lake Geneva to pay attention to and watch closely?
The sanitation department of McHenry has filed suit against the City of McHenry. Amazing, but true. The sanitary operation in that town is independent of city leadership control. It’s run by its own commission. It does not truly tax the citizenry, but it charges fees that amount to huge sums every year. It spends the money the way it wants, according to commissioner decisions. Those decisions have come into conflict with other needs the city leaders see as being more pressing (like repairing roads, fixing bridges and stuff like that). The city attempted to take over the sanitation operation but the commission said no. Now it’s all going to court. The exact same fiefdom situation is in existence in Lake Geneva. The city attempted to take over the utility department last year, but the department did not want to be taken over. They liked spending their large sums of money on parks, paths or whatever they felt like. The new city administrator, with a lot of past experience, had been through the fiefdom wars and nightmares before, and was therefore in favor of ending the fiefdom. He lost.
The utility department sits in the middle of Lake Geneva’s living room like a big fat and powerfully torpid elephant. It increases fees and rates as it sees fit (like over twenty percent last year) and then spends the money as it pleases, like on an outdoor bowling facility up at the church atop Catholic Hill. It might behoove all tax and fee-paying residents of Lake Geneva, and the leadership of both the city council and the commission of the utility department, to pay attention to the court case in McHenry. There is no question that these fiefdoms need to be brought under tight control or done away with. It isn’t going to be easy and nothing is going to happen right away.