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Rumors flying over another shoreland zoning rollback

Could Shoreland Zoning become voluntary for counties?

A recent rumor gaining traction across the state involves a new proposal to roll back shoreland zoning even further that would, among other things, remove from state law the requirement for counties to enact and enforce a shoreland zoning ordinance.

The proposal, attributed to Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) and at least in part to  the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA), is further rumored to be made part of the 2017-19 Wisconsin State Budget. The budget is currently under deliberation by the legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee, which has yet to consider the natural resources sections of the budget in which this would likely be included.

Wisconsin Lakes staff contacted both Rep. Jarchow’s office and the WCA in attempt to determine the validity of the rumor, but as of this writing, no response has been provided.

One source of the rumor, a document circulating that appears to be text from the Counties Association, proposes the following:

  • Adoption of shoreland zoning ordinances would be optional, rather than mandatory as under current law
  • The WI Dept of Natural Resources would no longer have the authority to draft minimum shoreland zoning standards. Instead, NR115, the department’s section of code that sets standards for shoreland zoning, would serve as a sort of model ordinance
  • Counties would no longer be required to submit ordinances to be reviewed by the DNR
  • Counties would be allowed to inspect and review replacement, repairs, remodels, and vertical expansions of structures, and charge a fee for the service, for compliance with shoreland, floodplain, wetland, and general zoning standards
  • Counties would be allowed to adopt a shoreland zoning ordinance that restricts the height of any structure other than a principal structure within the 75-foot setback from the ordinary high water mark, though the exact height limitation is not indicated in the document. A principal structure (e.g. a house) would still be allowed vertical expansion up to 35 feet is it is at least 35 feet from the OHWM.

It should be noted that the origin and purpose of this document is unclear. It could be that this is referring to a drafted proposal working its way towards the budget, towards a stand alone bill, or the entire idea has been jettisoned or was simply conjecture.

In addition, leadership of the Joint Finance Committee has indicated an aversion this year to including non-fiscal items in the budget, and in fact removed over 80 non-fiscal matters that appeared in the Governor’s original proposal. Even if there is a desire to include this in the budget by its authors, it may be that the proposal is at least forced to appear as a standalone bill so that it receives a public hearing.

Wisconsin Lakes typically does not report on rumors without attempting to gain some substantiation. With the rumor being in the public eye for as long as it has without being contradicted, and the history of using the budget to roll back shoreland zoning, Wisconsin Lakes believe it could no longer hold off on public comment of its own. We continue to work to gain more information about this proposal, but in the meantime recommend you consider contacting your legislators and the members of the Joint Finance Committee on this matter and its importance to you. 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.