FairEnterprise.org: DC Residents for Fair Enterprise file legal complaints against Sturgeon Bay city legislators

Contact: Ellen Witteborg
Telephone: 920-868-1370
e-mail: [email protected]

April 10, 2006

STURGEON BAY, WI – In an effort to stop big box development and urban sprawl in the areas surrounding the City of Sturgeon Bay, Door County Residents for Fair Enterprise (DCRFE) filed a formal complaint with the District Attorney and the State Department of Justice prior to the meeting of the city’s Common Council on Tuesday, April 4, 2006. Nonetheless, the Council voted by a measure of six to one, to proceed with the annexation of 75.8 acres of land in Nasewaupee that is currently being prepared for big box development.

The DCRFE complaint states that the Sturgeon Bay City Council was in violation of the closed session amendment of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law on at least three occasions over the past nine months. All preliminary discussions and negotiations regarding the annexation of the Nasewaupee tract that took place before the April 4, 2006 meeting were conducted in closed sessions.

Justifying their actions, the Sturgeon Bay City Council representatives cited a section of the closed session amendment that reads as follows: “Deliberating or negotiating the purchasing of public properties, the investing of public funds, or conducting other specified public business, whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session.”

“Open discussion of the Hopf annexation agreement would not have threatened the City’s bargaining position in any way, let alone in the manner that ‘required’ a closed session. Therefore, the closed sessions were improper,” DCRFE explained in their compliant.

According to Brent Denzin, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, if closed sessions were warranted at all, they should have been limited to key elements of the City’s negotiation strategy that would have been compromised if released publicly.

Generally, when an annexation is at issue, it is customary to have at least one, if not more public hearings, inviting citizen input before voting to annex. Not only was there no public hearing, the citizens have been denied repeated requests to speak at city council meetings, eliminating any potential for citizen input. The public has been shut out of the process entirely.

Door County Residents for Fair Enterprise, an informal group of concerned citizens, formed in January 2006 upon learning that Wal-Mart was making another attempt to bring a Supercenter to town – their second try in four years. In an effort to preserve the economic vitality of downtown Sturgeon Bay and the overall rural charm of Door County, the group launched an all out campaign to curtail big box retail development and sprawl along the Highway 42/57 corridor. Adding support to their position, the Door County Land Use Plan and the Sturgeon Bay Comprehensive Plan both specifically state that there is to be no large scale commercial development on that stretch of highway. The Door County Land Use Plan calls for nothing more than light residential use north of the bridge. The City’s plan specifies only small commercial use with limited access to the Highway 42/57 corridor.

Numerous national and regional studies link big-box development with rapid highway expansion, urban sprawl, increased air and water pollution and loss of business in existing commercial areas. An advisory petition against big box development has been circulated throughout Door County over the past three months along with a campaign to distribute and display several hundred “Stop Big Box Development” yard signs. A countywide town hall meeting took place on March 9, 2006 in an effort to build greater awareness and add further momentum to the campaign. Over 200 people showed up, signed petitions and took signs home. More than 1,200 signatures of residents opposed to big box development and the placement of nearly 1,000 yard signs has failed to impress Sturgeon Bay Mayor Dennis McIntosh and almost all members of the Common Council.

An effort on the part of Alderman Ken Glasheen to strengthen the city’s Big Box Ordinance with a 100,000 sq. ft. size cap died in committee at the City Plan Commission meeting on March 15, 2006. Chair, Cap Wulf, stated that they wanted to study other municipalities’ ordinances and explore other options and bring it up again at the next meeting in April.

Meanwhile, the annexation petitions were being signed and the annexation process was quietly being rammed through. When the Council met on Tuesday, April 4, 2006 the Mayor and members of the Common Council were confronted by DCRFE representatives who served each of them individually with copies of the formal complaint.

In addition to the Hopf annexation, on Thursday, April 6, 2006 the Mayor announced that he had just received a FAXed request from Wal-Mart for an Annexation Agreement regarding property on the east side of Sturgeon Bay in the town of Sevastopol, upon which they hold an option to purchase. Wal-Mart proposes to build a 180,000 sq. ft. Supercenter at that location.

“If the governing body of the City of Sturgeon Bay is allowed to proceed unchecked, they will ensure that Door County’s individually owned businesses, small town character, rural charm and its fragile environment will be moved to the endangered species list – all in the name of a questionable increase in the tax base,” said DCRFE member Ellen Witteborg.