MOUNT PLEASANT — The Village of Mount Pleasant is one step closer to acquiring the final remaining parcels of land in Area I of Foxconn Technology Group’s development.
One by one, several village residents expressed their disapproval with the village Community Development Authority redevelopment plan, but nonetheless the CDA recommended approval by a vote of 6-1. Village President Dave DeGroot and Trustee Anna Marie Clausen were among those who voted “yes” on Wednesday. They will also vote on the recommendation as members of the Village Boad. The plan would designate some areas as “blighted,” which would allow the village to take aggressive measures to acquire the land. About 50 people attended the meeting.
The redevelopment plan goes on to the Village Board for final consideration, which will take place likely in June.
Matthew Cramer, CDA member, was the lone “no” vote and questioned “whether or not this truly is legal.”
“As we’ve sat up here the last few months, we’ve seen from various different lawyers, both from the village on one side and the residents on the other, and there’s a conflict there,” Cramer said. “I don’t want to accept this as being legal just based on one side. I’d like to hear more opinion before I even want to agree with that.”
Cramer said he does not want the village to set a precedent “where in order for land to be taken against the land owners’ will, all that’s needed is a baseless blight designation.”
“This is an abuse of power because it forces the selling of property against the will of the owners,” Cramer said. “This exercises the concept that land ownership means nothing. Land only belongs to you until the government sees a better use, whether that use is public, or in this case, for profit.”
The decision by the CDA comes after a public hearing was held on March 20 and a 15-day period in which residents could make their opinions known to village officials through written comments.
Alan Marcuvitz, the attorney working with the village to acquire the land for the Foxconn project, said people mix up blighted “area,” meaning the entire parcel of land, and blighted “property,” meaning the home on the land.
“There has never been an assertion yet, and there will not be, that any property anywhere within this area is blighted property,” Marcuvitz said.
Marcuvitz pointed to an area in the state statute regarding blighted areas, which lists the reasons why a property could be designated as blighted and includes “or otherwise.”
“There are other things that can constitute a blighted area,” Marcuvitz said,
He added in 2017, the village rezoned the area to “Business Park,” and now there are properties that are not conforming to the zoning. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation plan for the area, a lot of the properties in that land will be “landlocked.”
“There will be huge chunks of land that do not have access to a public street,” Marcuvitz said.
He said there is “no current request to use eminent domain for any property.”
“If eminent domain is ever commenced on any property that might because of the action taken by the CDA, there is a statutory procedure to challenge that taking,” Marcuvitz said. “It’s called the ‘right to take’ challenge.”
Kim and Jim Mahoney live in one of the houses in an area that might be designated as blighted, and both attended Wednesday’s meeting.
Kim Mahoney said Marcuvitz was misapplying statutes to blight an area, “and I hope his statements tonight can be used against him in a lawsuit if they try to take our property under eminent domain.”
“But apparently he says they’re not going to take our property under eminent domain, so I guess we’re safe,” Mahoney said sarcastically. “They haven’t tried to take our property until they serve us with a jurisdictional offer. They’re not trying to take it, but if they do serve us with a jurisdictional offer and try to take our property for less than what it costs for us to rebuild and be made whole, then yes, we fully intend to file a lawsuit.”
The Mahoneys’ property, which resides in Area I of the Foxconn development, has received the attention of at least one candidate running for governor.
Former State Rep. Kelda Roys, one of close to a dozen people seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, stopped by the Mahoney residence before the CDA meeting to see how the land acquisition process is going at the ground level.
Roys said government “doesn’t take people’s private property and then turn it over to a private corporation,” noting that conservatives have been against issues like acquisition of private property. “This is about personal freedom and autonomy,” she said.
“What’s happening here is really, I think, that the homeowners are feeling bullied and pushed into a corner,” Roys said. “It’s really hard to meet Kim and Jim (Mahoney) and not feel a lot of empathy for the situation that they find themselves in through no fault of their own.”
WATERFORD— The village’s Balloonfest is to include a contest between the best female hot air balloon aviators from across the country and abroad.
The 2018 U.S. Women’s National Hot Air Balloon Championship is scheduled to be held from July 18 to July 22 in conjunction to Waterford’s 8th Annual Balloonfest.
Angie Sterling, executive director of Waterford’s Chamber of Commerce, said that as of Wednesday nine American contestants have signed up from all over the U.S., as well as two international participants from Great Britain and the Netherlands.
The champion will win a spot in the international hot air balloon championship in Croatia in 2020. The two international contestants are not eligible to win.
“The international pilots will be there to see their competition,” said Sterling.
The championship will consist of five flights, with the first one kicking off on Thursday morning. Weather permitting, there will be two competitions on Thursday, two on Friday and one Saturday morning.
The competitions include racing balloons to reach a set altitude within a time limit, dropping a bean bag as close to an X on the ground as possible and landing as closely as possible to a given set of coordinates.
Ken Walter, from WindDancer Balloon Promotions of Waukesha, has been the event director for Balloonfest since its inception. Walter said having the competition this year will push the organizers to up their game.
“It’s the difference between a bunch of people getting together to play some golf and the PGA (Tour),” he said.
Walter is also looking forward to hosting the women’s competition as a celebration of the strides women have made in aviation. Walter said just a few years ago, only 6 percent of hot air balloon aviators were women but they’ve recently hit 10 percent.
As the winning bid to host in 2018, the organization also has the option of continuing the host the championship for in 2019 and 2020.
Balloonfest itself has also grown over the years. When it first started out, Sterling said a handful of balloons participated. This year, she anticipates there will around 25 to 30 balloons in Waterford that weekend.
Because ballooning is a weather-dependent activity, the organizers have expanded the weekend to include other activities that don’t depend on barometric pressure. They plan on having a fairy tale princess, science experiments for children, drone races and an open air movie on Saturday night.
RACINE — A jury returned a guilty verdict Wednesday for the Milwaukee man accused of shooting and killing his girlfriend in a wooded area in Yorkville.
Deliberations took a little more than two hours, as jurors contemplated whether Sammie Miller killed his girlfriend Audrey Scott in the early morning hours of July 4.
Miller, 29, was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The shooting allegedly stemmed from a fight that began at a downtown Milwaukee tavern. Video surveillance exhibited during the trial showed Scott and Miller getting into a physical altercation at the bar. The video also showed Miller fighting Scott’s female cousin, whom he reportedly mistook to be a man talking to Scott.
Other footage from outside the bar shows Scott walking away alone and using her cell phone after the fight with Miller. It was the last time the 28-year-old mother of two was seen alive. Scott was reported missing shortly after.
Her body was later recovered on Aug. 30 in Yorkville in a wooded area near Apple Holler on Sylvania Avenue.
Special prosecutor Michael J. Lonski started closing remarks by stating that most people behave better in public than they do in private. He then showed the video of Miller getting into a fight with Scott's cousin the night she disappeared, a video he showed earlier in the trial.
“He behaves like an animal who is out of control in public. How do you think this guy is going to behave when he is mad?” Lonski said. “He’s going to behave like he did behave — he’s going to kill an innocent person and that’s exactly what he did here and there’s been plenty of evidence showing that he did it.”
Lonski pointed to the testimony of the eyewitness to the crime, whom The Journal Times is not naming because of his defense attorney’s fear for his safety. While testifying, the eyewitness claimed to be with Miller when he shot and killed Scott, breaking down and crying when asked about what Scott mentioned before her death — her kids.
“You saw (the witness) on the witness stand. He does have a conscience,” Lonski said. “I don’t think there is a human being who watched him testify who would say the man doesn’t have a conscience.”
Lonski also pointed to cell phone evidence, which shows Miller communicating with the eyewitness and Scott during the early morning of July 4, and Miller’s cell phone traveling to areas that corroborated what the eyewitness said.
“Either he’s the most unlucky man in the world, or he’s guilty,” Lonski said. “And I say that because either what you heard for the last two days is proof of guilt, or it’s just the most unlucky parade of coincidences showing guilt.”
Russell Jones, Miller’s defense attorney, called the witness’ credibility into question, answering the prosecution’s claim that the witness would have no reason to lie about witnessing the murder. Jones stated that the witness had immunity in the case, which may have affected his testimony.
“We know he’s lying about what he saw because he wants to add to his story,” Jones said. “Why does he want to add to his story? Immunity. He has a motive to lie here. He was given immunity Thursday … ‘I better sell the story. I better make it good. I want my immunity.’”
Jones questioned whether the eyewitness was involved in Scott’s murder, stating that he led police directly to where Scott’s body was, an out-of-the-way place that would have been difficult to find. He also claimed that the witness may have been pointing the finger at Miller to take suspicion off of himself.
Jones also pointed to the state’s lack of fingerprints, DNA, shell casings or bullets, stating that nothing physically ties Miller to the crime scene, and he took issue with the cell phone expert that the prosecution presented, disputing the fact that he was considered a witness.
Jones explained that Miller’s lack of use of his cell phone between the hours of 4 and 9 a.m. did not indicate his guilt, as most people are asleep during those hours, something the prosecution provided as evidence that Miller was involved in Scott’s murder.
“Every piece of evidence, you have a reasonable explanation as to why you would pause before you make that decision on that verdict, and if you pause, you have reasonable doubt,” Jones said.
Ultimately, the jury agreed with the prosecution, finding Miller guilty of both felony counts.
Jones was disappointed with the verdict. “I feel for the victim’s family and I feel for the fact that there was a homicide here, but I just don’t think there was enough evidence to convict Mr. Miller,” Jones said.
Following the reading of the verdict, Scott’s friends and family, who attended the entirety of the trial, stood in a circle outside the courtroom, smiling and hugging each other.
“I’m happy with it,” Lonski said of the verdict. “I think it’s the right verdict, and I’m glad this family has got some closure.”
For the first-degree intentional homicide charge, Miller faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. For the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon charge, he faces up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000.
Miller is scheduled to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. on July 27 at the Law Enforcement Center, 717 Wisconsin Ave.