Advocating change in law preferred over litigation
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Despite the pleas from one Oneida County supervisor to challenge the state of Wisconsin on not allowing counties to have stricter shoreland protection standards than minimum statewide standards, the county’s Planning and Development Committee agreed Wednesday to continue revising the county ordinance to comply with state law.
Bob Mott urged the committee to write a shoreland protection ordinance that would best protect the county’s waters, noting that wouldn’t be achieved by adopting the state’s standards.
The revisions in the county ordinance are being made in response to a state budget provision included two years ago, for which counties that currently have shoreland zoning ordinance standards more restrictive than now allowed in the applicable state law and regulations can no longer enforce the stricter standards.
However, Mott said reducing protections of the county’s lakes and rivers could negatively affect property values because of poorer water quality. He also noted that despite the change in state law two years ago, not protecting the lakes and rivers would violate the Public Trust Doctrine found in the Wisconsin Constitution and that taking away protections and agreeing to a minimum standard would violate the county’s five-year conservation plan backed by the County Board.
“The Planning and Development Committee should write a shoreland protection ordinance that best protects Oneida County lakes and rivers,” Mott said. “Use the (planning and zoning) department staff to select those areas that best protect the waters.”
Mott also urged having county corporation counsel Brian Desmond look into what the state would do if the county would write its “best” shoreland protection ordinance as well as how the county would proceed with litigation, if needed, to defend its position that the ordinance it adopts is in the best interest of the county.
However, both Desmond and county planning and zoning director Karl Jennrich both noted that the state could adopt shoreland zoning standards for the county and charge the county for them if the ordinance wasn’t changed to comply with state law, for which the Department of Natural Resources sought compliance by last October.
“(The DNR under state law) has a heavy hammer, because it is a statewide minimum standard, and they can enforce an ordinance onto Oneida County, if they so desire to do so,” Jennrich said.
“I think we need to have an ordinance in place – we’re approximately seven months overdue – I think at this point we still have questions that need to be answered, but I don’t know at what point the DNR takes a look at us and says, ‘You’ve had long enough, we’re coming in to do something,’ and so that concerns me,” Desmond said.
After committee members spent several minutes discussing the process revising the shoreland protection ordinance, they agreed to finish up that process, for which another public hearing set for June 21 will be held before the measure is forwarded to the full County Board. They also favored addressing problems with the current state law by seeking legislatives changes, rather than the county filing litigation against the state.
“I don’t think we should just start bucking and say, ‘We’re going to put our foot down,’ and spend a lot of money and fight this,” said Committee chairman Scott Holewinski. “We’ve got too much time spent in this ordinance to back off now.”
The committee, which has been going through the proposed ordinance changes with the county’s planning and zoning department, held public hearings Feb. 27 at the Woodruff Town Hall, March 1 in the Three Lakes Town Board Room and March 2 in the County Board Room of the Courthouse in Rhinelander.
Lake association members who attended those public hearings and commented on boathouses found 720 square feet too large for those structures in the interest of water quality protection. They have noted several other counties, including Vilas, limit boathouses to a smaller square footage. Counties are allowed to regulate the size of boathouses, but can’t prohibit them outright.
Since those public hearings, committee members have favored limiting the maximum square footage on boathouses on lakes that are less than 500 acres and not part of a lake chain to 336 square feet, which would allow a boathouse to be built 14 feet wide and 24 feet deep. The committee also favored keeping the maximum allowable boathouse square footage at 720 on lakes 500 acres and greater.
Before a smaller allowable square footage could be approved for boathouses on smaller lakes and other changes could be included to the shoreland protection ordinance, another public hearing has to be held.