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Douglas County Board votes down Wascott hobby farm

With a supermajority required for a zoning change, nine supervisors defeated the proposal that would have allowed Craig and Christine McNeil to have a hobby farm north of Person Lake.

Government Center in Superior.
Government Center Boardroom, Superior.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

A Wascott couple won’t be able to develop a hobby farm north of Person Lake after the Douglas County Board split 11-9 in favor of a zoning change that would have allowed it.

The decision Thursday, Jan. 20, required 15 of the 20 members of the board present to approve the zoning change requested by Craig and Christine McNeil.

The request will move to the Douglas County Board for approval on Thursday, Dec. 16.

A protest filed by several neighbors of the proposed hobby farm was found to be valid because collectively, they own property along 69% of the perimeter of the McNeil property, according to Zach DeVoe, land services director.

Under Wisconsin law, the board can only approve the zoning change with three-quarters of board members present and voting that day, said Carolyn Pierce, corporation council.

“This has never happened as long as I’ve been on the board anyway,” said Chairman Mark Liebaert.

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“There are a number of reasons that you should vote for this,” said Rob Merit, an attorney representing the McNeils. “First off, it’s a state-of-the-art project. They submitted a comprehensive, detailed application that included comments from a (Department of Natural Resources) water specialist to address some of the neighbors’ concerns. Frankly, their application could serve as a model for future applications by others. It’s a beautiful structure and a great project.”

He said the board should defer to the town, which approved the zoning change.

The McNeils, neighbors opposed to the zoning change and Wascott residents opposed to the zoning change — many of whom addressed the zoning committee in the past — were given three minutes to address the issue.

Wascott hobby farm.jpg
A map of the area where the zoning change was proposed.
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

“I have a farm in the town of Superior,” said Julie Kimmes, one of the adjacent property owners who filed the protest. “I didn’t buy a lake home to drive an hour to go to another farm … I had horses. I know what no-see-ums are. I know what horse flies are. And I don’t want them at my lake.”

Attorney Rick Gondik, who owns property adjacent to the McNeils and joined the protest, didn’t belabor his opposition, but encouraged board members to follow their oath of office in their decision-making.

Gondik said the zoning change would only benefit the McNeils, which Wascott plan commissioner Janice Newsome agreed with.

Wascott chairwoman Janet Jenson and neighbor Pete Hanson spoke in favor of the zoning change.

“I just side with property owners being able to follow their dreams and passions on their land,” Hanson said. “This is America. I think their rights should be looked at. I would hope that board members would have a good and valid reason for voting no.”

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Supervisor Sue Hendrickson said she shared Hanson’s sentiment.

“I feel people have rights and people have a right to their vision, and from what I’ve seen, this looks like a beautiful vision that they have,” Hendrickson said.

Supervisor Mary Lou Bergman said every time the issue has come before the zoning committee, the McNeils had everything necessary to qualify for the zoning change.

“I understand that we have a group of people who have a very negative attitude about this; however, I have not heard one measurable, black-and-white comment from this group other than ‘I don’t want it,’” Bergman said.

Supervisor Peter Clark said the project is great, but the location of it was wrong.

Clark joined supervisors Steve Long, Sam Pomush, Marquise Slay, Nick Baker, Charlie Glazman, Michael Raunio, Alan Jaques and Keith Allen to vote down the zoning change.

Baker said the decision being left in the board’s hand serves as a safety net for people who aren’t being heard.

“I can’t remember this much opposition to a spot zoning (change),” Allen said.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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As reported by Douglas County.