Lac La Belle lacks transparency, say some residents

By Kelly Smith - Special to The Freeman

Dec. 11, 2018

LAC LA BELLE — Village officials are not being transparent about changes in the village’s Smart Growth Plan that are intended to accommodate the Prestwick Group’s new golf course and proposed corporate headquarters, according to village residents.

Virginia “Ginny” Pease told The Freeman more detailed and more easily accessible information needs to be provided by village officials, so they can have “a more robust” discussion with village residents about the proposals.

Pease argues the amendments in the Smart Growth plan represent significant and long-term changes in village philosophy and plans regarding land use, zoning, and permitting commercial development.

Michael Findley suggested there would be less “angst” and “tension” between some residents and village officials if information was more accessible.

Findley and Kelly Spaulding were both critical of the village’s failure to include details of the proposal, meeting notices, and proposed changes to the village’s Smart Growth plan on the village’s website.

Village complying with state law, says attorney

Village Attorney Hector de la Mora told The Freeman the village is complying with state law by posting notices and agenda in the three public locations.

The village, population less than 300, has no village hall and a part-time clerk.

De la Mora added that additional financial and human resources would be needed to improve the village’s website.

State law does not require meeting notices, documents or agendas be posted on the website, he added.

Two of the public notice posting locations are on Lac La Belle Drive and the other is on Pennsylvania Avenue near the intersection with Lac La Belle Drive.

“How can residents be expected to know what is going in the village if the only place where notices are posted is on Lac La Belle Drive where they have to drive their cars to see the notices,” complained Spaulding.

“This is the 21st century. That information should be on the village’s website,” she continued.

Public participation law

It also appears the village failed to comply with a state law that emphasizes public participation in the drafting and amending of “Smart Growth,” the comprehensive long-range plans for municipalities.

The Plan Commission is expected to adapt amendments to the village’s plan to qualify for additional sewer service from Oconomowoc to accommodate the Prestwick corporate headquarters proposed in a development agreement between the company and the village.

The law requires a written public participation plan,a public hearing, a notice posted 30 days in advance of the public hearing, and advance distribution of the plans to members of the public and nearby municipalities, according to Ben McKay, Chief of Community Assistance for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Plan Commission (SEWRPC).

However, village officials acknowledge they do not have a written public participation plan and did not conduct a public hearing and have not distributed the proposed amendments to surrounding communities.

However, de la Mora says the village has complied with “the spirit” of the law.

He said a 30-day notice was posted prior to the Dec. 5 Plan Commission meeting were citizens and village officials were able to discuss the proposed amendments.

He said the discussion during the meeting was less formal and more interactive and productive than testimony at a public hearing would have been.

In addition, the commission delayed by a week a decision on the amendments to give citizens time to submit written comments.

The amended plan will be distributed to surrounding communities after it is approved, according to de la Mora.

“I don’t agree with Mr. de la Mora that the village followed the spirit of the law,” rebutted Pease.

She said she and her neighbors were not aware of the proposed amendments until they saw the public notice of last week’s plan commission meeting.

She said many village residents had expected improvements would be made on the golf course, but they were surprised to learn the village has agreed to sell Prestwick land for a corporate headquarters adjacent to the golf course.

“There is some pressure and tension between some village residents and the village trustees that I think could be relieved with better communications,” Findley told The Freeman.

<<EARLIER: Lac La Belle to amend Smart Growth for Prestwick