Mayor Spyro Condos doesn’t like the odds that Home Depot was up against recently, when the City Council failed to approve the megastore’s plans by the “supermajority” margin required by city ordinance. So Hizzoner wants to change the city’s rules and then take another vote on Home Depot. We told you on September 18, 1999 about the fight in Lake Geneva over Home Depot. The controversy dates back over two years. In 1997, the Home Depot project seemed to be on the front burner, but in 1998 the parcel was placed under a development moratorium that was challenged in court, but the moratorium was ruled valid. The moratorium expired in May, 1999, but the city revised its zoning ordinance to require retail projects larger than 60,000 s.f. to negotiate issues like appearance, land use, and operating conditions. The City Council also placed the issue of a Home Depot on a non-binding referendum, and last September the voters of Lake Geneva narrowly voted to support the Home Depot, 754 to 658 against. The opposition to Home Depot was not organized into a formal group, and Home Depot created a “citizen’s” group to help sponsors media ads and direct mailings. When the Home Depot project came before the Plan Commission earlier in November, the commissioners voted 3-3 twice, and sent the plan to the City Council with no recommendations, according to the Janesville Gazette. On November 22nd, the City Council voted 3-5 on a motion to deny the Home Depot project. The Mayor ruled that because the motion to deny failed, another motion was made to approve the Home Depot. That motion was then tabled on a vote of 5-3. But the City’s ordinance required that Home Depot get a supermajority of 6-2 in order to build a store larger than 60,000 s.f. (the planned Depot is 121,000 s.f.). The Mayor is now complaining that although the supermajority provision in the city’s zoning ordinance is legal, he doesn’t want anything that would allow a minority to overrule the majority on the Council.But Council members who voted against Home Depot, says the Council should not change the rules in the middle of the game. Councilor John Huntress, who voted against Home Depot, says “they should have changed the rule before they brought the proposal to the council. It if was before the vote, I wouldn’t complain. We’re making an amendment to the ordinance because we didn’t like the way the vote came out.”
The purpose of a supermajority, Mayor Condos, is to ensure that a governmental action having significant public impact is supported by a strong voting block on the Council. Put another way, the supermajority requirement is used to ensure that only a minority of opposition has been mustered against a project. In this case, Home Depot has a significant level of opposition to its plan. The residents played by the rules: they passed a law and assumed the City Council would uphold the law. Instead, the Mayor has chosen to challenge the law in the middle of its application on a specific case. If the Mayor feels strongly that the ordinance adopted by his Council is flawed, he can change it prospectively — but he should not be trying to change the rules midstream. Two Council members have threatened to quit the City Council as result of the game-playing with the rules for Home Depot. “I think the whole thing got completely out of control,” said one Councilman. To help the residents of Lake Geneva, send an email to Home Depot from the chain store’s website urging them to abide by the zoning rules in Lake Geneva.