Failed Public Notice Stirs Sister Bay

The Village of Sister Bay is reinforcing the way it notices public hearings after mailed notices about a public hearing for a new development did not make it to mailboxes. Residents appeared at the June 28 Plan Commission meeting to voice concerns over a project on what is commonly known as the Schaffer property on Bittersweet Lane that has already been approved by the village board.

“One of the three items that was supposed to be fulfilled in order to notice this public hearing was not fulfilled and that was a mailing of the general public. That mailing didn’t happen,” said Mary Kay Shumway, Plan Commission member, appointed to the commission after the village board approved the project.

Bill Anderson plans to build a 10-garage storage unit on the property, which currently houses a barn that will be converted into offices.

The village is required to mail a notice of a public hearing to all property owners within 300-feet of the proposed development. Village Administrator Zeke Jackson and Village Clerk Janal Suppanz maintain the notices were mailed, but Jackson only spoke to one resident who received it. The village uses a postage meter, which combines all postage costs into time periods rather than specific mailings, making a receipt of the postage impossible to determine.

The village held the public hearing for the project on April 12 to an almost empty room. Shumway, at the time not a member of the Plan Commission, asked if the neighbors on Bittersweet Lane were given notice of the public hearing. Jackson responded that they were.

Because the topic of the mailing was not on the night’s agenda and the village board already approved the project, the village cannot rescind that approval or talk about the approval process for this specific project during a public meeting. Therefore, Plan Commission Chair Dave Lienau called a recess during the meeting to allow the public to speak to Zeke Jackson about their concerns with the approval process. The conversation took place off the public record and also provided Jackson the chance to explain the legality behind the failed mailing.

“I did call 10 people today that were listed on that notice,” said Jackson at the June 28 meeting. “Out of those 10, one reported receiving the notice. The other nine indicated they hadn’t the knowledge of it, which presents a weird legal conundrum for the village in that we did our due diligence in getting it to the post office and have the post office send it. On the other end, we don’t know what happened to it.”

An upset resident could file suit against the village, claiming it did not adequately notice the public hearing because only one known resident received the notice in the mail. Conversely, if the village went back and held another public hearing and took away the approval of the project, it could face a battle from the developer.

“We’ve struggled with how to handle this,” said Lienau, treading carefully over a meeting recess in which discussion of old business was taking place in the presence of other Plan Commission quorum. “The issue is that the village did everything they were required to do to file a public notice as required under statute. We signed off and approved that project….You can’t go back and undo the village board approval process because it was done according to statute.”

Shumway and members of the public did not explicitly disapprove of the project, but rather the failure of the public notice. One resident on Bittersweet Lane, where the lot will be accessed, thought the road was not in adequate condition to handle storage of boats and cars.

“Driving down it, it feels more like an easement than a road,” added Marge Grutzmacher, commission member.

Returning to open session, the commission was left to discuss the architectural design plan, one of the few things it could still dictate in the development.

Also in open session, the commission agreed that all future public notices will be mailed by certified mail to immediately adjoining property and copies of the notices will be mailed to each Plan Commission member as well as the village office.

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