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Mequon, Weickardt reach deal on River Club subdivision

Five homes will be built; city and land trust will buy rest of riverfront property

The housing plan approved by the Mequon Common Council on Tuesday. The blue area is the new five-home subdivision and its open space buffer to the north. The areas in white will be purchased by the city and later maintained by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

The housing plan approved by the Mequon Common Council on Tuesday. The blue area is the new five-home subdivision and its open space buffer to the north. The areas in white will be purchased by the city and later maintained by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

April 9, 2014

Mequon — After a nearly three-year struggle to reach a deal, city officials and River Club of Mequon owner Tom Weickardt have agreed to terms on a more modest subdivision development near the club and along the Milwaukee River.

The Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance that opens the door for a five-home subdivision on 10 acres of the 42-acre lot, and also approved other measures to satisfy neighbors' concerns and keep the riverfront accessible.

Under one resolution approved by the council, the city, Weickardt and neighbors will try to draft easements that cement the neighbors' ability to easily access all parts of the Ville Du Parc area. Another resolution authorizes the city to come to terms on a purchase price for the remaining 148 acres of riverfront land.

Weickardt has fought with the city and neighbors over the subdivision proposal since he bought the River Club in 2011, most recently at a March meeting of the Planning Commission that ended up with a 4-4 gridlock and no recommendation for the council's meeting Tuesday.

Coming forward late last week, the new five-home subdivision plan is a significant reduction to the 19-home plan Weickardt has insisted on since 2011, and was billed by his supporters and city officials alike as a difficult, yet worthy, compromise.

"We're delighted and grateful to all the city staff, and the mayor and Common Council for bringing this all together," Lynne Broydrick, a public relations official representing Weickardt, said Tuesday after the vote. "We think it's a win-win for all involved."

Preserves the most space

Before the vote, Mayor Dan Abendroth and the council stressed that the arrangement preserves as much riverfront property as possible at a reasonable price.

They also emphasized that the preservation and smaller subdivision is a preferable alternative to whatever Weickardt could put on the 42-acre lot, since the easement on the land allows him to build anything golf-course related.

"Use your imagination," Abendroth told the standing-room-only crowd. "Mr Weickardt has used his. Many things could go there, so this compromise would clarify what happens on those 42 acres."

Alderman Andrew Nerbun described a "doomsday scenario" in which Weickardt would build an all-weather indoor golf dome in the event the council didn't pass the subdivision plan.

"It would be the biggest eyesore in the city," Nerbun said. "... It would keep me up at night."

The council's plan is for the city to purchase the 148 acres of riverfront land directly from Weickardt and to have the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust later purchase the land with grant funding. All of the 148-acre stretch will be open to the public.

Aldermen said they had originally tried to negotiate for the purchase of all the riverfront property, but Weickardt wanted too much.

"The taxpayers of the city would have been up in arms at the purchase price," Alderman John Hawkins said.

The council met in closed session Tuesday evening to further continue deliberations but did not take action.

Neighbors still split

Preceding the council's deliberations and vote was a lengthy session of public comment from residents on both sides of the issue.

Supporters lauded the new plan as a compromise and stressed the importance of the section creating a new, neighborhood-spanning open space easement. That easement will replace the various questionable historical easements, several of which have expired, and grants neighbors access to easement lands in perpetuity.

"I think we have a win-win here," resident Stan Smith said, "and I would urge you to vote this in tonight and put this all behind us."

Opponents of the plan touched on a number of issues, among them environmental concerns, the city's commitment in the 1980s to preserve the 42-acre lot, and a perception among some neighbors that Weickardt has been coercive and heavy-handed in pursuing the subdivision deal.

"It is an unquestionable fact that this land was meant to be preserved," resident Bob LaPerriere said.

Among a group of project opponents who were crestfallen after the vote, outspoken opponent Wendy Porterfield said that at least "five (homes) is less disruptive of that open space."

"I have faith in the land trust," Porterfield said.

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