By Kevin Lee Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Counties officials are divided on how to approach new protective shoreland zoning restrictions that take effect next February, in light of potential action from the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker.
Last month, Walker indicated to a northern Wisconsin newspaper that he would be open to altering the new state zoning standards, either through the state Department of Natural Resources or through lawmakers.
County governments are preparing to implement new local ordinances that comply with the standards by next February, but some officials, including Oneida County Supervisor Dave Hintz, are holding out hope that the governor and lawmakers strike down the onerous and sometimes costly standards before then.
“We’re betting on it being repealed. We’re hoping it is repealed,” he said. “But in case it’s not, we’ll continue to work on making sure our ordinances are compliant.”
Hintz and other county supervisors will pass a resolution next week that will ask the governor and lawmakers to repeal the new standards.
The governor’s spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The zoning standards are part of an administrative rule, NR 115, that the Department of Natural Resources updated last year.
The revised NR 115 was crafted to protect the state’s lakes, rivers and shorelines, according to Heidi Kennedy, the state’s Department of Natural Resources Shoreline policy director.
The rule provides, among other guidelines, a minimum distance for structures to be built away from lakes and rivers; a maximum percentage of impervious surfaces allowed on a property to prevent polluted water runoff; and standards on planting natural vegetation to slow shore erosion.
But the restrictions in NR 115 are preventing business owners from expanding their lakeside venues or properties, according to state Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst.
“The cost (of implementing new ordinances) gets passed down to a couple different entities. One is local units of government, but more importantly, it gets passed down to individuals and business owners,” he said.
Tiffany said NR 115 was part of the reason why he sponsored legislation that would alter how new agency rules are created. That legislation passed the Assembly last week and now moves to the Senate for consideration.
NR 115 would not be affected by that particular legislation, but Tiffany said he has not ruled out sponsoring a new proposal to change or repeal that rule.
Kennedy said doing away with NR 115 would repeal the seven years of discussion from stakeholders, county officials and landowners at finding a compromise.
“In the end, perhaps we didn’t end up with standards that everyone is happy with, but I think everyone had to give a little to get a little,” she said.
Local zoning administrators, like Andy Buehler, Kenosha County division director of planning operations, are waiting to see if the governor or lawmakers take action on NR 115.
Buehler said the process of “mitigation,” or adding natural vegetation to stem runoff into a body of water and stem shoreline erosion, would be difficult and costly to implement in more developed southern Wisconsin counties.
“I’m sure any county would not want to adopt (local ordinances) and then have it change and they have to go back and adopt it again. But at some point, every county is going to have to move ahead in order to get it done by next February,” he said.
Becky Frisch, Langlade County director of Land Records and Regulations, said many northern Wisconsin counties already have zoning restrictions in place that match or are stronger than those contained in the new NR 115.
“Our state right now has always been a leader in protecting its water bodies,” she said. “It’s an important part of our culture; it’s an important part of our economy. I can see that the state will always have a role in protecting its water bodies. The question is, to what extent?”
Kennedy said that if county governments fail to enact ordinances that comply with NR 115 by February 2012, the DNR can establish an ordinance for the county and charge the county a fee.