On Monday afternoon, Jan. 18, the Liberty Grove Town Board added one line to its agenda for their meeting the following day. Marked by three asterisks to denote the late addition, there would be discussion and possible action on closing a portion of Cedar Shore Road. The move came as a surprise to everyone, from local residents to the stakeholders in the discussion.
The discussion and possible action came at the end of months of negotiation between the town board and Bayview Resort. The town was looking for ways to enhance the marina and Bayview Resort had some land that could do just that.
“The town was interested in our property because they could take the town marina and drive in there and drive out to have a very smooth traffic flow to the marina,” said Kevin Roberts, manager at Bayview Resort. The resort calls the property Heritage Harbor and it sits immediately southwest of the Pioneer Store with a driveway on Hwy. 42. The town could link the existing marina parking lot with the acquired land and provide better flow of cars through the marina.
Town board member Hugh Mulliken was the first to approach Bayview about the idea near the end of 2015.
“Hugh had a discussion with [Bayview] and there was an indication that there was a willingness of Bayview Resort to perhaps provide the town with Heritage Harbor,” said Town Board Chair John Lowry at the Jan. 20 meeting. “We then made the board aware of that and we had a subsequent conversation with another representative from Bayview Resort to see if we could determine what they were thinking.”
That conversation took place on Dec. 3 and it laid out the negotiations to move things forward. As part of the deal, Bayview would put up gates on a portion of Cedar Shore Road. The gates would be able to break away in case of emergency and would still allow access by pedestrians and cyclists. With better traffic flow at the marina, Bayview was worried about increased traffic through the pedestrian-heavy Cedar Shore Road, giving them the idea to put up the gates, while also linking the main resort property with its beach property on the waterfront across Cedar Shore Road.
Bayview brought in attorney Jim Smith from Pinkert Law Firm to explore the feasibility of the deal.
“In the past, the town has been approached [by Bayview] a couple of times to see whether the town would agree to close the road,” said Smith. “I thought we were having ongoing discussion and then the thing went 180 degrees.”
Smith learned of the agenda addition the same time everyone else did, so he scraped together a poster board with some maps and prepared a short presentation for the Jan. 20 board meeting. While he prepared, he was reading emails from Liberty Grove residents making claims about the scope of the deal.
“They made it sound like the whole road was going to be closed, that condominiums would be built, that access to the marina and beach and Pioneer Store would be closed. There were so many untruths circulating.”
In Smith’s presentation, he struggled to defend the question of how this would benefit the general public. Smith did not comment on the town first approaching Bayview to negotiate the deal. After half a dozen residents stood up and sounded their disapproval during the public comment section, Chris Hecht spoke for the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Fire Department.
“If we look at it on a much bigger picture, that road is key for us in several ways,” said Hecht. He explained that access to the immediate area and access to water are small concerns. But if an accident were to block the highway, Cedar Shore Road can be used as an alternative route to everything north, including Washington Island. “It’s really a much larger picture than just that immediate road. That’s why at this point we would have to speak against that.”
Board members unanimously voted against the proposal and Bayview was back to where it started before the town began discussion with them several months before. Town Board Supervisor Nancy Goss said that her concerns included the designation of the road as a local heritage road that should not be privatized, budget concerns and the consistent rejection of the proposal by the public as it was brought forth by Bayview in the past.
“I expected they were going to get back to me,” said Smith, regarding the memo he sent the town laying forth conditions that had been discussed with board members in closed session. “The next thing I know it’s on the agenda. This came as a shock that it was handled this way.”
Roberts doesn’t foresee the discussion continuing in the future.
“This wasn’t even on our radar until the town supervisor brought it up to one of our owners,” said Roberts. “If the town came back to them, they may be interested again but the way this whole situation has played out…most of Liberty Grove thinks that these horrible resort owners tried to steal public lands and make a gated community.”