Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Kohler golf course development brings lawsuit

A property annexation and re-mapping 

which the City of Sheboygan and Kohler interests used to steer a controversial golf course project away from opponents in the neighboring Town of Wilson now comes with a side dish of litigation.

Details from Friends of the Black River Forest's Facebook page:

September 19, 2017. Has Herbert V. Kohler, Jr. Gone too Far? 
The Town of Wilson filed suit today in Circuit Court against the City of Sheboygan for its improper annexation of Wilson land. 

Here’s the background.

Herbert V. Kohler, Jr. has worked hard to create a company whose image evokes elegance, fine products and good taste. Sleek publicity in hushed tones promote the elegance of the company’s products and venues for those who can afford luxury. Kohler gives to community groups, cuts ribbons on supported projects and is the largest employer in the County.

“Everything Kohler does is first class” is a frequently heard statement. Start up a conversation with a local and you will hear eventually, “Herbie gets what Herbie wants.” The locals, sometimes with a chuckle and shake of the head, speak of payoffs, perks and back door political deals as sureties, but it’s accepted because what can you do? Herbie doesn’t have to follow the rules.

Has Herbie gone too far this time?

Monday night, September 11, Town of Wilson officials explained to residents how the Kohler Company deception has opened their quiet, wooded, rural Town to an urban takeover by the City of Sheboygan in order for Herb to get its proposed golf course out of Wilson’s jurisdiction.

Wilson requires a developer to pay for independent consultants to determine the environmental impacts on adjacent permitted property owners and the community. Kohler didn’t want to do that. He secretly arranged a non-unanimous annexation plan to create a contrived route from his land to the city requiring only 3 of 6 affected residents to sign the petition. 4 of the residents were renters placed into homes Kohler had recently purchased. 

This was being arranged while the Town, in good faith, continued to wait for Kohler to complete its Conditional Use Permit. Now the Town has been physically divided by this move which allows the city to continue absorbing Wilson into its boundaries adding urban developments. Residents’ comments saw Kohler’s play as a wanton destruction of a way of life for 3500 Wilson residents. They are not willing to lose their town or its history because one man has colluded with the governor, controls the DNR and made back door deals with the City to get what he wants.

Collusion, Deception and Greed

Friends of the Black River Forest obtained documents showing Kohler attorneys asking Scott Walker for help with the annexation. Walker sent the Department of Administration Secretary (DOA), Scott Neitzel, to a private meeting with Kohler attorneys, DOA staff and City Administrator, Darrell Haflund. The Town of Wilson was not invited. The DOA staff would write an opinion on whether the annexation was in the best interest of the public. 

It determined it was, based on the contention that the Park lands and Wilson residences to be annexed were more homogeneous with the urban nature of the city than the rural Town of Wilson. Records show Kohler attorneys running the annexation process for the City. In one instance, a Kohler attorney wrote a letter to the Department of Adminstration which Charles Adams, City attorney, signed. 

DNR working for Kohler

Along with the annexation collusion, FBRF has received records showing a DNR trying to justify to the public the preferred option Kohler has chosen among 8 it created to gain access to is land for the proposed course. Nowhere in the records is there mention of starting with an option in the best interests of state residents. There is a “no build option” but Kohler claims not building the course will deprive the County of 227 yet to be disclosed jobs. The Agency redacts, delays open records requests and has moved to unrecorded Skype meetings during its weekly “Kohler Team” check-ins. 

• The DNR has asked the Natural Resources Board to begin looking at amending the Kohler Andrae Park Master Plan so Kohler can use up to 20 acres of the Park for construction of an entry rotary, a road through park land to the course, a construction road, and an approximately 30,000 sq. ft. maintenance area with 3 buildings for chemical storage, mixing, machinery, and asphalt parking lot. FBRF maintains it is a misuse of taxpayer funds to have created an amendment team in June when Kohler completed its wetland permit application this past August 19. 

The permit has not yet been studied by the DNR. We also believe there should be an audit of 7 years of DNR work for Kohler totaling thousands of hours. 

We, the Wisconsin taxpayers, have been paying for one company’s use of an agency’s time, when this same agency has not been able to handle the environmental crises throughout the state because it is short staffed.

• The DNR is working with the National Park Service to convert land purchased with public funds for the benefit of the public, (LAWCON funds), to private land for Kohler’s personal profit. DNR staff are trying to work out how this can be justified as well as land purchased with funds from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which specifically prohibits land to be used for golf courses.
What’s next?

FBRF supports the Town of Wilson in its lawsuit against the City of Sheboygan. FBRF presented City Council members with the documents showing the unethical and deceptive tactics involved with all the players: Kohler-Walker-City Management-DNR. 11 Council members chose to embrace these tactics, unfortunately opting for Kohler-promised growth opportunities rather than ethical government.

FBRF continues to monitor the activities of all the agencies involved in the Kohler proposed golf course. Help us continue the fight. https://www.gofundme.com/cfxtx4

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