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Residents debate open space easements

Proposed development in Mequon draws crowd

June 13, 2012

Mequon - Residents both for and against a proposed development on the former River Club site came out in force on Tuesday to state their cases to elected officials in Mequon.

Mequon's Committee of the Whole received 79 cards with feedback from members of the audience, eight of whom addressed the committee in favor of the development and 11 of whom spoke against it, as well as a 309-signature petition from opponents and a 48-signature petition from supporters.

The debate centers around open space easements which were originally part of the various Ville Du Parc developments beginning in the 1960s, which specified that certain amounts of land be set aside for "aesthetic, recreational and cultural enjoyment." The proposed development is on land which had been set aside by the open space easements, on 42 acres of land south of Freistadt Road abutting the Milwaukee River. The plan includes two stormwater detention ponds and a 12-acre park.

Proponents of the development told the committee that the land is an eyesore, would be better used to expand the tax base, and commended owner Tom Weickardt for investing money into the community.

"Here we've got a guy who has come in here and saved the neighborhood, in essence," resident Rick Florshima said. "You've got someone coming in here and spending untold millions to turn (The River Club) into a real show place and preserving the value of the homes in the area."

Opponents argued that the easements were and are still in perpetuity, that the development would violate their property use rights as defined by the easements and that the development would have adverse environmental impacts.

"If the precedent is made to break open space easements, where does the next subdivision go in Ville Du Parc?" Ken Soznowski of Friends of Ville Du Parc asked the committee. "We have some of the smallest (lots) in Mequon, and the open space easements are key to the value of our property."

Does easement mean forever?

Residents for and against the development are split on how to interpret the original easements, some of which are in perpetuity, though there is language that allows for changes.

"When our citizens hear the phrase 'in perpetuity,' most of them think that means forever," resident Pat Marchese told the committee.

Proponents of the development said that the open space isn't useful or used, and that the easement should be amended to allow construction.

"Mequon's not going to live in perpetuity and Wisconsin's not going to," said resident Bill Alverson. "Why should I pay more in taxes because the city won't allow the development of that property?"

City attorney John DeStefanis said the city needs more time to looks over the easements.

"There are as many questions as answers these documents provide us," he said. "I think that requires some further analysis."

Environmental concerns

Other residents spoke out against potential flooding they think the development could cause.

"Since the Ville Du Parc subdivision occurred, flooding got worse," resident Russ Whitford said. "Further development of that area will reduce the absorption of water in the area."

Marchese said the Ville Du Parc area is the largest area for groundwater recharge in Mequon.

"Groundwater is critical for anyone who isn't on city water," Marchese said. "Are you exposing the city to risks down the line (with the development)?"

Brian Lennie of Stantec Consulting and the development team said that the development's grading and the stormwater ponds would have to conform to Department of Natural Resources requirements, and the floodplain near the river wouldn't be affected.

"That will be preserved in the outlot area," he told the committee.

He also said that the amount of fill proposed in the development is only 20 percent of the amount approved in the 1990s when a nine-hole golf course was approved on the site.

City officials will continue to investigate the legal subtleties of the easements and the development before the Common Council addresses the issue in an upcoming meeting.

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