Waterfront Redevelopment Authority Rejects West Waterfront Settlement Agreement

In a move that could result in a lengthy legal battle, Sturgeon Bay’s Waterfront Redevelopment Authority (WRA) rejected the settlement agreement reached between the city’s ad hoc settlement committee and the Friends of Sturgeon Bay Public Waterfront.

The City of Sturgeon Bay released a statement Thursday evening.

“The WRA learned, through its attorneys in the declaratory matter that the Department of Natural Resources was disinclined to hold a declaratory hearing until it was certain whether a settlement would be reached or not,” the statement said. “The WRA, after over an hour of conferring with special legal council and debating the merits of settlement, took action to reject a proposed settlement in a 5-2 vote.”

WRA Chair Tom Herlache said that, in his opinion, the settlement was not a sufficient compromise to make a deal.

“It was too limited in what we could do as far as potential development,” he said.

Herlache said there was no determination or recommendation for the next steps to take to resolve the impasse, but he anticipates ongoing litigation.

“Several things can happen that can be good, in my mind,” he said. “We can get a DNR ruling that puts the ordinary high water mark where the preliminary DNR concurrence was, or we can get special legislation. I’m not overly optimistic but we will see what happens.

Herlache said the WRA has had no communication with legislators about special legislation. He also said he was not aware that the city was informed in 2013 that there were doubts the city could get clear title to the land for parcels 92 and 100 because both parcels sat on filled lakebed. 

“The WRA was not privy to that,” he said. “As far as we know that property could be developed.”

The Friends group and the city’s settlement committee met for two days in a mediation session in June. That resulted in an agreement to jointly recommend to the DNR that it approve an Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) parallel to and 60 feet waterward of the original meander line according to the U.S. government land survey of 1835 for parcel 92, which includes the old granary building.

To take effect, the WRA, city, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would all have to sign off on the settlement agreement, then Judge Raymond Huber would have to lift his injunction that prevents development of the parcel. The DNR is scheduled to hold a declaratory hearing on the subject Aug. 3.

WRA members Laurel Hauser and David Ward were the only two to vote in favor of the settlement. Members Tom Herlache, Cindy Weber, John Asher, Ryan Hoernke, and Chris Jeanquart all voted against the settlement.

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