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Board rolls back shoreland regs

Developing ordinances to protect Douglas County water resources and balancing that against people's rights to use their shoreland property was a painstaking, time-consuming process.

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Developing ordinances to protect Douglas County water resources and balancing that against people's rights to use their shoreland property was a painstaking, time-consuming process.

Undoing that work took a matter of minutes Thursday night as the Douglas County Board faced a deadline of Oct. 1 to change its standards to match the state. In most cases, that means rolling back more stringent standards for protecting the waterways across the county, standards that have been in place for decades.

"We are basically being forced to repeal our zoning ordinance," said Supervisor Doug Finn. "Thirty years ago, we passed a lakeshore ordinance that took a lot of time, a lot of compromise and a lot of citizens out there."

However, the Wisconsin Legislature adopted language as part of its 2015-2017 to standardize shoreland zoning requirements statewide. Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, proposed the change to the Joint Committee on Finance to bring uniformity to shoreland zoning laws and make it clear that people who own nonconforming structures in a shoreland zone can make repairs to those structures as long as they are in the same footprint.

Nothing in Douglas County's shoreland zoning ordinance prohibited that, but it did restrict what property owners could do, particularly where expanding a building within the setback zone was concerned.


The new measure will reduce setback restrictions on most Douglas County lakes, reduce lot size and area requirements and could lead to additional development pressures on Douglas County waterways. That standard, according to state law, includes a minimum setback of 75 feet in the shoreland, irrespective of the lake or waterway..

In Douglas County, which adopted a lake classification system in 1998, only six lakes were allowed development at the state's less restrictive setback standard - a minimum of 75 feet from the normal high water mark. About 20 had a 100-foot setback, but all other lakes and streams had a minimum setback of 125 feet.

In 2003, the county modified the ordinance governing shorelines to make them easier to understand.

"Because of our governor and our Legislature, they are taking a lot of local control away from us," Finn said. "It's not right. It's not right at all ... what other powers will they take next."

Supervisor Dave Conley of Lake Nebagamon said people have invested in Douglas County knowing the standards that were in place before the change in state law passed with the budget bill. Conley said when he moved to Lake Nebagamon, he understood the rules he would have to follow because of Douglas County's shoreland zoning ordinance, and accepted that when he made repairs to his own home.

"It puts our investment at risk and it puts our natural resources at risk," Conley said.

Chairman Mark Liebaert asked what the consequences would be if the county didn't pass the ordinance changes.

Zoning Administrator Steve Rannenberg said the changes made to the Natural Resources administrative code mandate that counties pass a new ordinance by Oct. 1.


"I'm not sure of the ramifications if we didn't, but I'm necessarily inclined to want to find out ... there's a hard deadline," Rannenberg said.

The board adopted the ordinance change by a voice vote; however, the change did not come without objections.

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