3,409 signatures turned in against Muskego park plan

MUSKEGO -- 3,409 signatures were handed in Monday against a plan to build a park near Little Muskego Lake. 1,850 signatures were needed to force a referendum on the issue, after the Common Council voted 4-3 last week to pass the park plan. "That's 27 percent of the voters in Muskego. That's a huge percentage of people in four-and-a-half days that have signed (the petition) to put it to our people, put it in a referendum, let us vote on it," Lorie Oliver with Muskego For Ethical Government said Monday.

Citizens of Muskego staged another protest Sunday after the Muskego City Council passed a plan last week to build a park along Little Muskego Lake. Those in opposition to the plan want to force a public referendum on the city's controversial promise to purchase two properties near Little Muskego Lake for $3.55 million, and use the land to develop a park.

Tom Kapusta was one such individual gathering signatures Sunday against the park plan. "People are glad we're out here, and people are saying we need to do more of this stuff," Kapusta said.

The plan to build a park along Little Musekgo Lake passed last Tuesday night, in a 4-3 vote of the Muskego City Council. Almost 500 people showed up to Tuesday night's meeting where the plan was discussed.

Now that the plan has passed, the city must go through several steps before closing on the project. The resolution will now go to the city's Parks and Recreation Board, which will do a community survey, and hold meetings for public input.

The city is proposing to spend $3.5 million to purchase two mansions and nearly five acres of land. Some have expressed opposition to this plan, arguing that it is a waste of money, but city leaders say they want the park to beautify the area, and have a public space that will benefit the community.

Those opposed to the plan picketed in front of the mayor and other aldermen's homes in protest of the park last Sunday. Muskego Mayor Kathy Chiaverotti says if those soliciting signatures get enough support, they may get a public vote on the issue. "They need to bring (the signatures) in, and file them, and our clerk needs to go through her process, which I believe is certifying and reviewing them," Chiaverotti said. Chiaverotti says the signature-gatherers are giving out misleading information about the city's finances, and its ability to afford the project. "The taxes are not going to go up. We are set very well financially to pay off the debt from this in the not-so-distant future," Chiaverotti said.

Chiaverotti says the city has nearly $3 million in available funds, and may even get some help from the state, because lakefront parks are often backed by the Department of Natural Resources. Chiaverotti also says there's no conflict of interest with one of the property owners, who's also looking to develop a neighboring property he owns. "This is simply a real estate transaction with him. What he does on his other property has to go through the proper channels, through the planning commission," Chiaverotti said.

Outside of the mayor's home last Sunday, a group of about 50 opposed to the project picketed. Before the city spends over $3.5 million to purchase the land, the group says it wants more information. After circling outside the mayor's home, they moved on to Alderman Keith Werner's house - one of five stops for the day. "They haven't explained to us when they purchase the homes, where is the money coming from, and how are they going to maintain the park they are proposing?" one individual in opposition to the park project said.

Mayor Chiaverotti says there is no plan, because they haven't bought the land yet, and if they do, it will be the public who then decides what will happen with the property. "We don't get into the plan, we involve the public in the process. That is how we have done all of our parks. The people will be involved every step of the way. There will be community-wide surveys and public information meetings," Chiaverotti said.

Chiaverotti explains that it was the landowners who approached the city to sell their homes, and the city has been waiting for an opportunity to acquire prime lakefront real estate for everyone to enjoy.

Picketers say it is foolish to spend the money without knowing if they can even afford to maintain the property. They feel the deal is simply making the homeowners easy money, while the city says it's a sale they cannot afford to pass up.

The park plan was brought to the city council a year and a half ago, but there was so much opposition, the city dropped the issue.  Mayor Chiaverotti says the difference now is that the old plan was much larger in both size and cost.

The signature-gatherers say as of Sunday, they have more than 1,850 signatures needed to let the public decide on the plan. "When you have over 200 signatures in this community, it says a lot about what the community views, and it's not about three or seven or aldermen. It's about the whole community," Kapusta said.

For additional details, check out the Lake Property Acquisition for Park Purposes page at the City of Muskego's website by clicking here.