When the first photos of the hotel plans on the Westside waterfront in Sturgeon Bay were published some time in the fall of 2014, our community took a collective gasp. Not only was the hotel design ugly, seemed disproportionately large, oddly placed in relation to the historic Granary, no, it didn’t feel right. Somehow it didn’t belong there. The gut feeling that many people expressed at the large public protest meetings expressed this exact sentiment: “Wait a minute, something is wrong here. This doesn’t feel right!”
Well, didn’t we know it? Something was so very wrong, on all levels, in all stages of the decisionmaking process.
Starting with the original Vandewalle plan, the city quietly moved ahead after abandoning that plan and substituting it with a completely different one. This was the first infraction. A new public hearing process should have been initiated after such a major change.
The city (meaning the city administrator, city planner, city attorney, and the mayor) then entered into a binding developer’s agreement that included some incredibly stupid commitments to the developer: An unobstructed water view (meaning moving the tug boats); assuming the cost of the pilings by writing a misleading grant application to the WEDC (rejected because of false information); granting the parcel to the developer for a pittance ($90k, payable interest-free over 10 years); and granting a parcel to the developer with the knowledge that it was on filled lake bed and subject to the Public Trust Doctrine.
That was only the starting point. At this stage nobody even knew about the Public Trust Doctrine, except a few city officials. A vindictive mayor refused to acknowledge the 1,300 signatures gathered against this project. He furthermore insulted the public with an arrogant refusal to commit to changing the plans, and exploring what the community really wanted. And TIF #4 was created with completely unrealistic performance goals and anybody who challenged this TIF plan was either ridiculed or otherwise insulted.
Enter the discovery of the Public Trust Doctrine, a constitutional clause that reflects precisely what we knew all along. The gut of the community proved right! This hotel cannot be built in that particular location. Period. End of story.
Anybody who is searching for legislation to overturn this case is not just overturning a constitutional law – that state representative (Joel Kitchens) or state senator (Frank Lasee) would also condone a morally and legally corrupt process, in violation of the mandate that people have bestowed upon their elected officials. Anybody who supports this legislative effort would also vote in support of frivolous spending of public funds, of deceptive grant applications to obtain state funds, and of a ridicule of the democratic process. And finally, a violation of free market principles.
If we need a positive model in another city, look no further than Wausau’s 400 Block. Similar situation, great outcome (visitwausau.com/accountdetails.php?id=198450).
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.