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Shoreland Zoning: Mandatory, and Out of the Budget

A Wisconsin Counties Association proposal to further to make shoreland zoning voluntary is bad policy for Wisconsin and should stay out of the state budget

July 3, 2017
By Michael Engleson, Executive Director

With the legislature still working out the details on a solution to education and transportation funding, time remains for citizens to register their opinion on state budget items with the Joint Finance Committee – the committee of state senators and assembly persons that are tasked with crafting the budget document voted on by the full legislature.

While statements coming out of the JFC this year seem to indicate that non-budget related items will not be part of the final document, and the fact that the committee has already removed over 80 non-fiscal items from the Governor’s original budget proposal, the lake community cannot easily forget the last minute insertion into the 2015-17 budget (2015 Act 55) of a provision that ended the ability of counties to pass and enforce shoreland zoning ordinances with standards more restrictive than the state minimums. And a new proposal from the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) that would eliminate the requirement for counties to even have shoreland zoning ordinances in the first place (reported on previously by Wisconsin Lakes) creates justifiable concern that the past may be repeating itself.

While as of this writing Wisconsin Lakes has received no indications the WCA proposal will be part of the budget, providing JFC, your legislators, and Governor Walker with a reminder that non-fiscal items don’t belong in the budget isn’t a bad idea. If nothing else, it adds support to this common-sense concept. It also provides an opportunity to express your opinion on an important issue like shoreland development, as well as other key budget issues related to water that may be overlooked while the focus is on big issues like transportation and education.

The WCA proposal, which according to rumor is being worked on by Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake), would:

  • Relieve counties of the mandate to have any shoreland zoning ordinance at all.
  • Remove the requirement for the Dept. of Natural Resources to approve any ordinances counties do pass.
  • Probably restrict shoreland zoning ordinance standards to be no more restrictive than the state’s standards. (Without seeing actual statutory language, it’s impossible to say that’s definitively true, but from what Wisconsin Lakes has learned, it seems to be the intent. The current standards would no longer be mandatory in any sense, but would serve as models that could not be exceeded by the counties).
  • Specify that county zoning departments may inspect and review replacement, repair/remodel, and vertical expansions of structures for compliance with shoreland, floodplain, wetland and general zoning standards and issue a permit. (This is a positive proposal Wisconsin Lakes would likely support on its own.)
  • Specify that counties may adopt a shoreland zoning ordinance that restricts the height (no less than 25 feet) of any structure other than a principal structure within the 75-foot setback from the OHWM. Retain language that would allow vertical expansion of a principal structure up to 35 feet only if the structure is at least 35 feet from the OHWM. (Wisconsin Lakes would also likely support this item.)

Sustainable shoreland development, managed through reasonable shoreland zoning ordinances that balance development with policies designed to prevent dirty, unhealthy lakes has served Wisconsin well over the decades such ordinances have been in place. Wisconsin Lakes believes that the 2015 Act 55 provisions that prohibited counties from going beyond state standards for shoreland zoning were bad enough, and should be reversed.

This new proposal takes us even farther in the wrong direction, and would lead to development that ultimately drives down property values and the local economy by deteriorating the quality of our lakes. It’s another bad idea for Wisconsin’s waters that shouldn’t pass in the first place, but certainly shouldn’t be slipped through in a budget process that will prevent the idea from being thoroughly debated.

Wisconsin Lakes encourages you, as citizens, to express your viewpoint. Some talking points you may consider using include:

  • Shoreland zoning is an important tool for counties to maintain safe, clean lakes and the economic, recreational, and tourism benefits they provide, and that ALL counties should be required to enact and enforce a minimum set of standards (and preferably be allowed to exceed those standards if they see fit).
  • Any proposal such as this one should be a stand alone bill, so that it is vetted on its own merits
  • We’ve been through this before – the Act 55 rollback of shoreland zoning in the 2015 budget was one of the items that has led to calls this year, by Republicans and Democrats, to do away with these sorts of budget shenanigans.

To find your own legislators, click the legislature’s home page, here, and use the “Find My Legislator” tool on the upper right.  You can also get access to other information about the budget and the budget process from this page.

To get contact info for the Joint Finance Committee (and more info about that committee), click here.

Wisconsin Lakes is following this important matter closely, so watch this space for more information and updates as we get them.