By Roger Utnehmer
The Sturgeon Bay City Council voted Tuesday to pursue legislation that would determine where development can take place on the west-side waterfront. Development of a controversial hotel has been held up since a circuit court judge prohibited construction without determining the ordinary high water mark. The state Public Trust Doctrine holds that land that was filled waterway is held in trust by the public and cannot be commercially developed. The site of the waterfront hotel includes portions of filled land.
The two sides in the legal dispute, Friends of the Sturgeon Bay Public Waterfront and the city, have a negotiation session scheduled for next week. Several council members spoke against asking legislators to draw the high water line.
The resolution, introduced by Council Member David Ward, would ask the legislature to draw the ordinary high water mark, effectively determining where development can occur.
Council Member Barb Allman called that sneaky.
Not only does a city special committee appointed to negotiate a settlement have a meeting next week, the Department of Natural Resources has scheduled a hearing on the ordinary high water mark for August.
Council Member Laurel Hauser also criticized the legislative action.
Council Member Stuart Fett defended seeking a legislative solution, saying “It is not uncommon to solve problems in parallel paths.”
Resolution author David Ward defended the request for legislative involvement.
That comment prompted Council Member Kelly Catarozoli to question why negotiate while at the same time threatening legislation.
City Attorney Randy Nesbitt informed the council that he had just received a message from the lawyer hired by the city to negotiate with the Friends group as the meeting was taking place. Nesbitt said the attorney hired by Sturgeon Bay said pursuing a legislative solution could “put a dagger in negotiations scheduled for next week.
The council voted four to three to ask the legislature to draw the boundary lines for permissible development. Council Members Kelly Catarozoli, Barb Allman and Laurel Hauser voted against the proposal.