By Roger Utnehmer
Rendering a surprisingly swift decision, Judge Raymond Huber ruled Friday afternoon that the City of Sturgeon Bay cannot sell property on the west-side waterfront for development of a hotel.
The case was brought by the Friends of the Sturgeon Bay Public Waterfront who argued that the proposed hotel was located on filled, former lake bed property that is protected from development by Wisconsin’s constitution.
In making his decision, Judge Huber said both lots the city is attempting to sell were under water, filled subject to natural accretion. “The court is convinced the law is clear. A riparian owner cannot obtain title by filling property and that is what happened on parcel 92,” Judge Huber said.
He enjoined the sale of one lot waterward of the ordinary high-water mark as determined by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and a second lot until the OHWM can be established.
The judge made clear that his decision prohibits the sale of the properties for commercial purposes.
The hotel proposed by local developer Robert Papke could be relocated to adjoining parcels of land that are not inside the OHWM but attempts to reach a compromise to accomplish that have been rejected by Mayor Thad Birmngham.
Comments by Dan Collins of the Friends Group after trial:
Comments by City Administrator Josh VanLieshout:
(Waterfront graphic provided by Nancy Aten)