I feel at least some relief. On Monday, a Chicago Developer held a meet and greet. It was so very nice of this group to do this. They’d set up shop at a bar, ask that neighbors join, and share the details of their massive suburban style development. Eye witness reports tell us that four people showed up. On Tuesday, a crowd of 100 or more gathered at the Walworth Town Hall to listen to the Developer from Geneva, Illinois once again pitch his suburban proposal for our rural lands. The anticipation was rivaled only by the resignation in the eyes of those present.
Resignation because the crowd was overwhelmingly opposed to this development, excepting the three hands that were raised when the crowd was asked who favored this development, and the expectation was that the board would continue to subscribe to the will of the developer over the will of the people. No matter that those in favor included one who worked for the Chicago Developer, one who has worked for the developer, and one who likes to talk about rural life but apparently doesn’t want it to last. The Developer was so pleased with his Monday meet and greet that he brought it up at the meeting, as if it was a triumphant civic display of warmth.
I spoke, the crowd spoke, but no one knew if the board was listening. The developer spoke of conservation and of Chevy’s, then again of parks and roads and sewers. He pointed to his maps. The board listened. But when it came time to vote the board surprised and one by one they voted no. The crowd erupted in cheers. The developer hung his head.
At approximately the same time, the City of Delavan (apparently) denied this same Developer’s request to extend city water to another large suburban development on the northwest side of Delavan Township. Two weeks ago, the Village of Williams Bay told us that the attempted condominium project on the Keg Room site was dead. The Developer from Kane County is having a very bad month.
As the Walworth Town Board explained to the developer that the lots were just too small, the number too many, it was obvious to me that Walworth County finally found some footing in this battle against development. The Walworth Town Board had, just months prior, ushered this development forward to the plan commission, who approved it unanimously. The change from then until Tuesday was overwhelming community outcry, a rejection of the agenda of a suburban developer at the expense of our rural lifestyle. The board was shown that overdevelopment has become a pandemic in Walworth County, and that the only way to stop it is one development proposal at a time.
Walworth County is a lot of things to a lot of people. The 102,000 people that call this place home love it for various reasons. Some moved here to enjoy life lakeside. Others moved here to have a five acre plot with a barn and some chickens. Others still, like me, grew up here and never felt the allure of big city lights. This county is, at its very core, rural. The county was rural before it was a tourist destination, and it was a tourist destination before it had any industry. Today the county is a healthy mix of those three, but what keeps it bucolic is the rural nature of the lands surrounding the lakes.
Imagine Geneva Lake. Imagine the ring of deciduous green surrounding it, the interwoven nature of large and small lake homes, of old ones and new ones. Rejoice in the magic of that mix. Then, imagine what the area would feel like if not for that ring of agriculture that surrounds the lake. Imagine field after field of ranch homes, from the border to the lake. Imagine how the drive would feel, how the views would hurt our eyes. Imagine how different this place would be.
Proponents of uncontrolled development tell us that development is necessary, that progress is unavoidable. They tell us not to be so sensitive, not to sensationalize the removal of one 110 acre farm field. There are other fields, they say. They tell us that they were here when those fields were as they are now, and they tell us that we cannot stand in the way of development. Development, they say, will happen whether we want it to or not. And everyone supposes they’re right.
But they’re only right if the county no longer cares what it looks like, and no longer cares what made it special in the first place. This week, we successfully delayed a development in the Town of Walworth. This week, I have taken a breather after three months of consistently and aggressively fighting this proposal. But this week is more than that, this week is the week that the residents of Walworth County stood up for the future of this community. This week, a town board listened.
But the battle is far from over. Developers will continue to see the incredible wealth of Walworth County and seek to exploit that with high density housing. The task now is to remain vigilant, because the default position on development is to approve it, not to scrutinize and ultimately reject it. This week, it has never been more clear that Walworth County will no longer bow at the feet of Development which seeks to profit at our expense.