Despite waves of opposition, lake park gains ground
But petition tries to sink idea before land deal is complete
Muskego - A direct legislation petition circulated by opponents of a lake park plan in Muskego may have enough signatures by next week to force a public referendum on whether the city should purchase two key properties.
The city is working to develop a park along Little Muskego Lake near Pioneer Drive and Janesville Road. Despite the fact that the Common Council has authorized the city to purchase the properties for $3.5 million, opponents believe the plan, if brought before the public, would be defeated in a vote by Muskego residents.
"You need to let the people decide this," Lorie Oliver, petition drive organizer, said today.
A time-driven petition
Oliver said a concentrated effort will be launched this weekend involving a door-to-door campaign as well as a petition signing station, in a space that used to be a floral business in the 17000 block of West Janesville Road, both Saturday and Sunday.
"I'm very comfortable saying we'll have the signatures we need," she said.
As of Friday afternoon, park plan opponents had gathered nearly 1,000 signatures since Jan. 20, Oliver said. They are shooting for 2,100 signatures.
There is a sense of urgency because the Common Council has started the ball rolling toward closings on the two properties, she said. "That's why we need to get this done," she said.
While opponents are finding those who agree with them, the lake park proposal, involving an area that was once part of the major tourist attraction known as DandiLion Park, has an avid base of support, too.
Supporters say a park would enhance the city in many ways, opening up a lake view on the busiest road through town, creating an identity for Muskego as a community of lakes, serving as a local gathering venue for people and events, and possibly relieving the overcrowded Idle Isle.
The park could also spur development in Muskego's historic area that would give the city a unique downtown. The resulting new developments would make up for the tax base lost from the demolition of the two mansions the city would buy to create the park, supporters say.
Detractors have a long list of points, as well.
One is that the park could never make up for the loss of two mansions that last year paid nearly $60,000 in property taxes, of which nearly $54,000 went to the city and schools. They don't believe the city has any data to support the hope of new developments attributable to the park.
Also, they say, the $3.5 million price tag is too much in general for the city to spend and specifically too much for two homes. It could get even more expensive if the city was eventually asked to buy two homes on either side of the proposed park - which was, in fact, a plan that was dropped in 2010 because of local opposition.
Detractors also say that the view of the lake is too limited because of the presence of the Tess Corners fire station; that the two properties are too small to support a park, a road and a parking lot; and that undetermined park development and unmaintenance costs would further stretch a too-thin parks budget, for another park that isn't needed.
A public debate
The issue of a park on the lake has been a hotly contested one, especially in the past month, including picketers who protested outside the homes of certain council members and a meeting that officials realized ahead of time would have to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate a crowd.
A listening session held this week attracted roughly 230 residents to the Muskego Lakes Country Club, where the Common Council met to consider the purchase. Of the 53 who spoke, 35 were against, while 18 supported the idea. Two letters, both from supporters, were also read into the record.
Afterward, the board was split by a pair of 4-3 votes to go ahead with the purchase and not to hold a referendum - with aldermen Noah Fiedler, Neome Schaumberg, Keith Werner and Tracy Snead favoring the purchase and opposing a referendum, and Dan Soltysiak, Neil Borgman and Kert Harenda opposing the purchase and favoring a public vote.
Werner said he favors the plan because "this project is going to be a catalyst to promote economic development" on both those roads.
Buying the homes would not increase taxes, he said after the meeting, because the city has money in its park dedication fund. It also has already borrowed for three years worth of projects, one of which could be the park, said Mayor Kathy Chiaverotti.
But Soltysiak said the facts at hand simply aren't adequate to support the prospect. "I don't have enough information to make the argument to go through with it," he said, adding that a referendum is needed to see what the public wants.
Countering that referendum point, Fiedler said residents pay the aldermen to research issues, work with staff and make decisions, so an alderman who decides to turn a decision back to the people is not doing one's duty.
AT A GLANCE
A few of the comments made at the Jan. 24 listening session on whether to go ahead with buying two mansions on Little Muskego Lake to create a park:
"This postage-stamp size park is way too expensive." Leondard Pilak, Kurtze Lane
"Give us the entire (cost) picture." Henry Plum, Bay Breeze condominiums on the lake
"A piece of history is within our reach." Marguerite Ingold, Janesville Road
"The school referendum was voted down. What makes you think a park is in order?" Barb Schaal, Bridgeport Circle
"This is the first opportunity in a generation to have a presence on the south side of the lake. It would be a great thing to put a crown jewel in the city." Brett Hyde, Muskego-Norway School Board member, Hidden Creek Court
"It seems like the Common Council doesn't have common sense." Georgia Hainer, Hillview Drive
"It's welfare for millionaires." John Walters, Gaulke Drive
"Lake Geneva has a beautiful beach they offer to everybody...The beach at Idle Isle is atrocious." Jennifer Reidy, Holtz Drive
"I'm anti-spending the most money for the least bang." Suzi Link, Lannon Drive
"We blew a chance to buy Muskego Beach in the 1980s. … Muskego at long last would be defined." William Schneider, former alderman, Ridge Road
"Look at it as an investment, rather than an expense." Paul Knaapen, Brennan Drive
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