The De-construction of a Woodland and Lakefront

On July 22, 2020 the University of Chicago brought a proposal before the Williams Bay Village Board requesting an amendment (change) to our Comprehensive Plan: Future Land Use Map.

The amendment seeks to change the zoning of an 8.7-acre wood and lakefront parcel from Parks and Institutional to Large Lot Residential (private).

This land has never been touched by development; it is one of the last parcels of undeveloped land in Williams Bay, and likely the last undeveloped parcel on the lakeshore.

With a few exceptions (including George Williams College Camp of Aurora University), the lakeshore between Conference Point Camp and Holiday Home camp is densely wooded.  Excepting the few private parcels sandwiched in between the camps, the path is natural, that is, not paved or otherwise manicured.

If you’ve ever traversed the entire length of the lake by foot or by boat, this area is a snap shot of what the lakeshore must have looked like 100 years ago; it stands out for its peaceful natural features.

At the Village Board meeting on July 22, 2020, the University of Chicago presented an array of maps, diagrams, and charts.  These are complicated materials, so please bear with me as I attempt to explain them to you as I understand them.

Exhibit C (below), on which I have highlighted in yellow the proposed utility easement begins at the end of Grandview Ave. (30 feet wide), passing through a wood now owned by Yerkes, down to Constance Blvd. (96 feet wide), across Constance (160 feet wide) and down the Observatory path to the lake (80 to 125 feet wide). 

It should be noted that this easement is along a stream bed.  The stream often retreats underground only to reemerge during heavy rainfall.  At this time, I have not researched the particular protection and development requirements of stream beds, but I suspect that they have protections and that the protections are strict, since this is the source of the lake’s water, but also, the lake’s natural filtration system.

Table 1: Preliminary Opinion of Probable Cost indicate a total of 1,100 lineal feet of clear cutting of the woods for this easement.  We estimate that to be nearly 4.5 acres!  Alliant requires a 30-foot cleared path for Phase 3 electricity.  Phase 3 electricity is what is normally required for mansions which often include large air conditioning units, pools, etc..

All of this destruction of the woods will be done before any private owner clears the woods for the footprint of a home, garage, driveway and view.  The family who purchased the large parcel and historic home on Grandview, along with promises to protect the historical aspect of the home and land, have already cleared their backyard for a view of the lake.  There is little doubt that anyone living on the lakeshore would do the same.

Appendix E: Site Assessment Checklist lists critical indications of land, water and biological resources.   In this table the development indicates “Yes” the resource or issue is present and will be addressed by the development, “No” the resource or issue is not present will not be addressed by the development, or “To be determined in association with development by subsequent landowner”, that is, it would be left up to the potential private buyer to address the issue.

Some of the resources left to be determined by future landowners include: Critical habitat for plants and animals of community interest, and Endangered or rare plant of animal species.

A resource answered in the negative: An area of historical interest…

A resource answered in the positive: Environmental corridor, as mapped by the Village, County or SEWRPC.  (It should be noted that the land was considered a Primary Environmental Corridor by SEWRPC and other environmental agencies and that that designation was later rescinded because the parcel in question is not two miles long, that it is, in fact, a connecting, or fractured environmental corridor.)

Several people who submitted comments at the July 22, 2020 meeting, including past trustees, expressed a desire to have more and better information.  Certainly, bringing utilities to an area that has no existing utilities is a complicated matter.  In any regard, the people of Williams Bay deserve to understand exactly what will happen to the forest and lakefront, and how the development would affect our natural resources, should the Amendment to the Comprehensive Plan and rezone be approved. Currently, it not approved and can’t be approved until there is a a Public Hearing, which can’t happen until COVID is over!