The epicenter of O‘condo’mowoc
The project that created the nickname has divided a portion of the community into two camps

By Ryan Billingham - Freeman Staff

Oct. 23, 2014

The northwest elevation of the proposed Fowler Lake condominiums.
Submitted rendering

OCONOMOWOC — It’s the situation that coined the term “O‘condo’mowoc.”

Fowler Lake Village, a proposed condominium development that would swap land with a development group that owns a parcel of land near City Hall, has stirred up controversy in the community.

The $18 million project has inspired the organization of opposing community groups.

Jeff Seymour and his development partners have an approved memorandum of understanding with the city. The MOU lays out the responsibilities of both parties in an agreement.

It does not mean that the current project is a sure thing. The city has a process that all developments must go through and Fowler Lake Village is still in its beginning stages. The city agreed to swap the land it owns behind City Hall, which is primarily a parking lot used by police vehicles and city workers.

The city would trade the parking lot for property Seymour owns across the street on St. Paul and and Pleasant streets. Seymour would then build on the current parking lot and the city would make the property across the street replacement parking.

The homes Seymour owns are referred to as blighted because they have not been sold or rented and have fallen into disrepair, though the city has not officially condemned them. The exchange of these homes for city land has been a major point of contention for those opposed to the development.

Petitioners at city council meetings have repeatedly questioned the agreement and scolded Seymour for letting the homes decay.

East Wisconsin Avenue residents Michele Hollatz and her husband, Ken, have opposed the project from its outset.

“Very few people — residents of this city — that I have asked about this ‘land swap’ even know that this is taking place,” Michele Hollatz said. “The plan seems to have been constructed behind closed doors, quickly, so nobody has a chance to speak out against the plan.”

Seymour, who bought the properties during the real estate boom, explained that the real estate market dictated the course he took with the homes.

“We have not invested in the homes because the area was identified as a redevelopment area by the city, and declared blighted by the city to encourage development to occur there,” Seymour said. “We were encouraged to do a project there — not fix up the houses.”

“It was an opportunity offered to me by the city in 2010, in a very depressed real estate market,” he said.

Financing concerns

The financing for the project will come though a nearly $7 million loan issued by the city, which will then be immediately bought by First Bank Financial Centre.

The project’s opposition has cited this as essentially a “bailout” for Seymour that puts the city at risk.

The entire project is dependent on Seymour selling at least 70 percent of its value. Fowler Lake Village will not be built, no money will be loaned, no property will be swapped unless that goal is met.

The city faces essentially zero risk, according to attorney Bruce Block,who consults for the city on TIF districts and other financial matters.

Block said at a city council meeting recently the obligation of the loan falls on the bank and that taxpayers will have no obligation on the loan.

>>PART ONE: Social media has embraced a new word with sarcastic glee, but is the city really becoming...O'CONDO'MOWOC?

>>PART TWO: Developments often not as surprising as perceived

>>RELATED: Council hears more Fowler Lake discussion

>>RELATED: Crowd again attacks Fowler condo project

>>RELATED: O‘condo’mowoc series wants you to be part of development discussion

Next week

The series ends with more more on Fowler Lake Village as the city prepares to vote on its future at its Nov. 4 Common Council meeting, and city leaders discuss their visions for Oconomowoc’s future.