Editorial Raises Concerns - 17 Aug 06 Aug 18, 2006 23:19:55 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Aug 18, 2006 23:19:55 GMT -6
Editorial: Preserving observatory
From the Journal Sentinel
From the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Aug. 17, 2006
The University of Chicago has been a good neighbor to the village of
Williams Bay and the other communities surrounding Lake Geneva since 1897,
when it opened the now historic Yerkes Observatory. The massive telescope -
now obsolete as a scientific tool but with some educational value still -
drew scientists from across the world and became in time a national monument
to space exploration. It also became a Wisconsin treasure and a favorite
spot to visit for more than a few families.
It would be a shame if now, at the end of its ownership of the observatory,
the university tarnished its reputation and legacy in the region. But that
could happen if the university isn't very careful about what happens to the
observatory and the surrounding land after the school leaves. And village
officials need to be just as careful in deciding whether to grant a zoning
change request to allow development of the site.
At issue is a proposal under which the university would sell the land to a
New York-based developer that would build a 100-room lakefront resort and 73
homes on the site. The observatory, and the 30 acres on which it sits, would
be donated to the village of Williams Bay, which, in turn, would create an
exposition district and turn over operation of the 40-inch refracting
telescope to a non-profit operating group.
One can understand the university's desire to unload the observatory; it
costs about $400,000 to run annually, and selling the site would generate a
hefty profit. Mirbeau Cos. offered $10 million for its resort plan. Aurora
University, which operates a campus adjacent to the Yerkes property, offered
$4.5 million and a proposal to build 11 homes.
University of Chicago President Dan Randel has said that the Mirbeau
proposal would meet the school's goals of preserving the observatory,
generating money for research and offering a "high-quality and
environmentally sensitive development." And if it does that, the proposal is
worthy of serious consideration.
But that's the rub. Not everyone is convinced the project is environmentally
sensitive. The Geneva Lake Conservancy, among others, has raised serious
concerns. "This is really the last natural wooded remnant on the lake," said
Charles Ebeling, chairman of the group. The group also is concerned, he told
us in an e-mail, that high-density development near the lake "may contribute
to threats to water quality . . . as well as added crowding on the lake
waters and decrease in the quality of life for those who use the lake."
Citizens at recent public hearings have raised concerns over the long-term
financial support of Yerkes, which would eventually become the village's
responsibility. The opposition has generated talk of other proposals and
plans for the site.
Village officials would serve their constituents best by obtaining
satisfactory answers to all of the concerns that have been raised. In the
meantime, university officials may want to take another look at the Aurora
offer. It may not bring them as much profit, but it may bring them a lot of
I too have reservations of the proposed plan.