Zoning changes head to Douglas County Board

The committee promised to tweak zoning changes in Douglas County once the new ordinance is in place.

Douglas County Forest sign 1
Changes to Douglas County's zoning ordinance will get further review once approved to address concerns about campgrounds.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Douglas County officials are considering significant changes to the county’s zoning ordinance.

Changes include adding two new zoning districts and completely rewriting regulations for signs and campgrounds, as well as some minor changes to reflect that the county replaced its zoning administrator with a land services director.

The revisions were made to address emergent issues in the county, such as captive cervid operations and campgrounds, said Tessah Behlings, Douglas County zoning coordinator. She said it also addresses Douglas County’s currently unenforceable sign ordinance and brings it in line with current legal standards.

Changes to the sign ordinance regulate the number, location, size, illumination type and other physical characteristics of signs in a matter that preserves the right of free speech and expression. In some cases, the current ordinance regulates signs by the type of message it conveys.

“If the presented ordinance passes, I anticipate a smaller revision in the spring or summer of 2022 to address any specific concerns,” Behlings said.


The ordinance has been approved by a majority of towns in Douglas County that are regulated by it and received approval from the Douglas County Zoning Committee Wednesday, Jan. 12.

The full county board will consider the revised ordinance Thursday, Jan. 20.

Zoning districts

New zoning districts in Douglas County would include a second agricultural (A-2) district and a residential-recreational/recreational-commercial (RRC-1) district if approved by the board.

The A-2 district is intended to allow the continuation of general farming and related activities, including captive cervid operations and game farms in areas best suited for large lot agriculture development.
Permitted uses include:

  • All agricultural land uses, buildings and activities except farms for the disposal of garbage or offal.
  • Roadside stands for the sale of products grown on the premise with sufficient off-street parking for customers.
  • Agriculture processing industries and warehouses except slaughterhouses, rendering and fertilizer plants.
  • Vacation farms and farm-oriented recreational uses such as riding stables and game farms.
  • Cemeteries, mausoleums, essential services and utilities, wood lots and tree farms would also be permitted in the A-2 district.

Captive cervid operations, concentrated animal-feeding operations, dumps for disposal of garbage or offal, slaughterhouses, and rendering and fertilizer plants could be authorized by a conditional-use permit.
The RRC-1 district was created as a floating district and is intended to provide for a mix of seasonal and year-round residential development in close proximity to recreation-oriented services in areas of high recreational value.

Residential users should expect high intensity recreation-oriented commercial uses to be ongoing with the district, Behlings said.

Permitted uses include single- and two-family dwellings, garages, carports, horticulture and gardening and essential services and utilities.

Campgrounds, special event campgrounds, resorts, motels, restaurants, cocktail lounges, recreation-oriented shops and services, and public and semi-public uses are authorized by a conditional-use permit.



Under the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance, Douglas County would take a more hands-on approach to regulating campgrounds.

The current ordinance allows Douglas County to approve campground sites, but defers regulation the state.

Revisions would allow the county to regulate the minimum area for a campground, establish setbacks from the road, waterways and property lines and establish sanitary requirements.

It allows the county to establish maximum density for campgrounds, establishes rules for modifying existing campgrounds and limits the size of accessory structures used at each campsite.

It also establishes requirements for small-scale campgrounds with fewer than 25 campsites to meet sanitary, density and layout provisions for larger campgrounds.

“The 5-acre minimum does not apply to small-scale campgrounds,” said Janice Newsome, a member of the Wascott Plan Commission.

She said Wascott has a population of 762 and a total of 584 public and private campsites. She said campground development can expose adjoining property owners to incompatible or nuisance land uses, and it’s more acute when small parcels are under review.

Allowing campgrounds on parcels with less than 5 acres would compete with the interests of those who chose to invest in Wascott, she said, which has 1,190 parcels with fewer than 5 acres.


“When I first read that, I thought the 5-acre minimum was something we could deal with as far as expansion of campgrounds, but it’s not there,” Newsome said.

Jan Jenson, chairwoman of the Wascott Town Board, said the plan commission and town board tabled a resolution supporting the zoning changes because it’s a complex document that requires more time, study and input.

Jenson encouraged the zoning committee to move ahead to “tweak” the ordinance with additional input.

“I know in Wascott, we’re balancing the needs of the lake association with the campgrounds, and we would like to ensure that both sides get an opportunity for additional input,” Jenson said.

Supervisor Charlie Glazman made the motion to adopt the ordinance as written with a provision that to review it, which the zoning committee approved.

Those discussions are expected to get underway when the zoning committee meets again March 9.

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
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