By Todd Richmond
MADISON — The city of Sheboygan properly annexed land for a Kohler Co. golf course in 2017, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Company officials want to build the course on 250 acres of undeveloped land along the Lake Michigan shoreline next to Kohler-Andrae State Park in the Town of Wilson. The company has owned the land for nearly 80 years.
The company asked the town for a conditional use permit for the course in 2014. The request stirred up opposition among town residents concerned about the environmental impact. With three of the town board’s five members opposed to the project, the company asked the city of Sheboygan to annex the property and adjacent land. The city’s Common Council passed an ordinance in 2017 annexing the property.
The town sued, charging that the land isn’t contiguous to the city and the Common Council essentially rubber-stamped the company’s request.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the annexation was proper. The land and the city share a common boundary of 650 feet (198 meters), a “significant degree of physical contact,’’ Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote.
She went on to note that the city wanted the land adjacent to the Kohler property for expanding residential housing and city officials conducted a thorough analysis of the annexation request before recommending the Common Council approve it.
The town’s attorney, Michael Huitink, referred a request for comment to John Ehmann, chairman of the Town of Wilson board. Ehmann said in an email that the ruling makes a “mockery’’ of Wisconsin annexation laws.
“It allows cities to reach deep into townships forcibly and arbitrarily to take town land and develop it at will without representation from or regard for the people who live there,’’ he said. “Moving forward we hope the City of Sheboygan will develop the land responsibly and in accordance with their own ordinances by taking seriously the environmental and other impacts.’’
Despite the ruling, the project remains tied up in the lower courts. The Friends of the Black River Forest are challenging the state Department of Natural Resources’ decision to issue the company wetland construction permits and to transfer 6.5 acres of public land within Kohler-Andre State Park to the company for the project.