O‘condo’mowoc at a crossroads
Upcoming vote will decide fate of embattled project
By Ryan Billingham - Enterprise Staff
Oct. 30, 2014
OCONOMOWOC — As voters go to
the polls to choose the next family of state leaders, the
Oconomowoc Common Council will hold an important vote of its own
The council could make a decision about the future of Fowler
Lake Village, a development project that has raised concern in
parts of the community. The up-or-down vote will determine if the
plan will continue. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.
At the Oconomowoc Common Council’s meeting on Oct. 21, the issue
was highlighted again during the public comments session of the
However, for the first time in months, the speakers were largely
in favor of the project.
It was a marked difference in an ongoing discussion that has
been roundly criticized, albeit by many of the same people,
meeting after meeting.
Stop the Swap movement
The Stop the Swap movement has been the most vocal party in the
debate and is advocating for opponents to mobilize for Tuesday’s
meeting. It has a Facebook page and recently posted a video made
by Christina Donald that outlines the reasons why Oconomowoc is
special and encourages residents to contact their
representatives about the project.
The Facebook page lists no contact information and does not
state who the organizers are behind Stop the Swap. As of press
time, it has 647 “likes.”
The current debate over development in the city is clearly
centered on downtown.
Mayor Jim Daley supports Fowler Lake Village, but said it is
difficult to encapsulate the issue because it has so many moving
parts and has a history many opponents don’t take into
Daley referenced an earlier plan that ultimately failed due to
financial and strategic constraints brought about through the
city’s development process.
Called The Hitchcock Plan, it was similar to the current Fowler
Lake Village plan in that it featured a land swap with developer
Jeff Seymour. The condos would have been developed where the
Village Green is now and the city parking lot would have been a
more park-like setting.
Daley said the plan failed because it was too costly and too
complicated and suffered from poor timing when the housing
However, Daley said, the plan did attract attention from
planning associations and led to accolades for the city.
The Fowler Lake Village
project with its swap and private financing is a better option,
Opponents of the plan have continually
raised objections to nearly every piece of the plan, including
the financing, the land swap and loss of open space.
Paulette Traver, who often posts on the Stop
the Swap Facebook page, said at the Oct. 21 meeting she fears
after the project is built there will be nothing but memories of
“all this beautiful, open space.”
Daley counters that thinking with his own
view that rather than a beautiful open space the land behind
City Hall is a “broken-down parking lot” and that Fowler Lake
Village offers an opportunity to enhance the area not detract
Developer Seymour has a similar view.
“The new site allowed us to attract
immediate buyer and investor interest because the demand for new
stylish condos, to add a significant restaurant and outdoor
dining space at the lakefront and to add much more ownership
retail space for small unique shops,” Seymour said.
Former Mayor Floss Whalen, a proponent of
the project, said it’s all about balance.
She said when the Carnation Company left
Oconomowoc it had a huge impact economically, but also indicated
the city needed to ensure it wouldn’t again become dependent on
one large company.
“We needed wealth, but not one big
business,” she said.
At the time Carnation left, Wisconsin had
policies that allowed Oconomowoc to be picky about development,
Unlike today, there was a generous shared
revenue stream and tax base played a lesser role in driving
development. This allowed Oconomowoc to turn down businesses
that didn’t fit.
“We didn’t have to take ‘dirty businesses,’
for example,” Whalen said, referring to business that could
potentially be environmental hazards.
When a recession hit in the 1980s and
revenue sharing stopped, things changed. The city had to combat
the economic downturn and decided to commission an economic
development plan. That plan called for a more balanced approach
For Whalen, that’s a guiding principle that
“What a leader has to realize is that there
are people that haven’t been born yet. There are people that
don’t live here yet, and you have to serve those people, too,”