WILSON - Town of Wilson leaders are looking to halt annexation plans for a proposed luxury golf course, saying the City of Sheboygan went too far in securing the land.
The town of Wilson on Tuesday filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Sheboygan, alleging that the city “improperly annexed land from the town” in cooperation with Kohler Co. to develop the golf course.
The Sheboygan Common Council in early August voted 11-5 to approve the annexation of several hundred acres of land to build an 18-hole golf course near Sheboygan. Kohler Co. says it owns 256 acres of that land with another 250 owned by government agencies and another 56 owned by private parties.
The issue had been under discussion since spring and drew strong opposition from environmentalists and Town of Wilson leaders and residents who say they should have had a voice in the development.
In its suit, the town alleges that Sheboygan took over the matter while Kohler was still in talks with Wilson and improperly reached the land by a “balloon-on-a-string” annexation — that is, by seizing land that is not contiguous to the bordering area.
The town writes that “to protect its autonomy, its residents and future,” it is seeking to have a judge void the annexation ordinance.
“We filed the lawsuit to protect the interests of the town and its citizens,” Wilson Board President John Ehmann said in an email statement. “Our position is set forth in the lawsuit. We do not have any further comment, as the lawsuit is pending.”
Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The land in question, about 250 acres, is owned by Kohler and has been preserved as a forest and wildlife refuge.
The town alleges the annexation was “sprung on the town without notice” while it was waiting for Kohler Co. to finish submitting permits with the town, something Kohler initiated in 2014 for the development. To the town’s knowledge, that application has “yet to be completed” by Kohler.
According to the town’s timeline of events, Kohler initially approached the town with a proposal for an “upscale but very low-intensity camping site” in about 2011. However, while that proposal was pending in March 2014, Kohler informed the town that it would be looking to develop a golf course on the land instead and presented the town with an “initial, incomplete application” for permits.
The town alleges that it waited for Kohler to complete that application over the course of two years. In the meantime, the town prepped for the eventual completion of these materials by, in consultation with Kohler, lining up consultants from three independent engineering firms to evaluate the materials when completed and provide input on its compliance with environmental ordinances and the project’s impact on residents.
Even in early 2017, the town says Kohler continued to share updates on the progress of the application and to expect its completion in spring.
However, in April 2017, “to the complete shock of the Town Board,” Kohler published an annexation petition requesting Sheboygan annex the land within the town, and the city took the matter into its hands from there.
The complaint also alleges that Sheboygan improperly reached the land by a “balloon-on-a-string” annexation that is not contiguous to the bordering area, saying Kohler constructed the “string” to end on a property with only a “small border with Sheboygan” and that such annexations generally have been rejected by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and DOA in similar cases.
Sheboygan has 20 days to respond to the summons.