County Adopts New Shoreland Zoning Ordinance

Thanks to Act 55, which was added to the 2015-17 budget rather than going through legislative channels, Door County has a new standalone shoreland zoning ordinance that was approved by the county board at its monthly meeting on Sept. 20 on an 18-1 vote. Supervisor Steve Sohns, representing the Village of Ephraim and the Town of Gibraltar, was the sole dissenter.

The state act prevents counties from exceeding state shoreland zoning standards, which forced the county’s Planning Department, in consort with the Corporation Counsel’s office, to rewrite both its comprehensive planning standards and its shoreline zoning to comply with the state. The deadline to do so is Oct. 1.

Asked by Supervisor Jon Koch what would happen if the county did not approve the new ordinance, Corporation Counsel Grant Thomas described the result as the “nuclear option.”

“The state would come in and impose and enforce its boilerplate shoreland zoning ordinance and charge the county for doing it,” he said.

The county’s new ordinance has to be certified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which it has not yet done. Thomas said the DNR has requested some changes.

“The best way to handle it is to enact the ordinance, knowing full well we’re going to come back in November or December after negotiated changes with the DNR,” Thomas told the supervisors.

Here are some of the shoreland zoning changes Door County was forced to enact:

  • The term “structure” in the shoreland zoning act is now defined as “a principal structure or any accessory structure including a garage, shed, boathouse, sidewalk, walkway, patio, deck, retaining wall, porch, or fire pit.”
  • An approval process, a fee and a mitigation requirement would no longer be allowed for a landowner to conduct maintenance, repair, replace, restore, rebuild or remodel a nonconforming structure, so long as the work does not expand the footprint of the non-conforming structure. Mariah Goode pointed out that of the 24,000 lots under the Planning Department’s jurisdiction, more than 13,000 of them have nonconforming structures.
  • Non-conforming structures may be expanded vertically without requirement for approval, fee or mitigation up to 35 feet above grade level.
  • County shoreland zoning ordinances cannot require the establishment of a vegetative buffer zone on previously developed land, or require the expansion of an existing vegetative buffer zone.

One of the big changes in the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance is the removal of a passage prohibiting living quarters in accessory structures. An accessory structure that is 749 square feet or less on a single-family residence can now be used as living quarters, however it cannot be rented separately.

Supervisor Susan Kohout said she had to make an editorial comment regarding whoever is elected to represent the 1st Assembly District in November. “I suggest when they go to Madison, not to do business this way again on the state level,” she said, referring to inserting major legislative changes into the state budget. “It’s really a problem.”

“I’m with Sue 100 percent on this one,” added Supervisor Ken Fisher.

You can read the new zoning ordinances yourself on the Planning Dept.’s website,

After its regular meeting, much of the county board reconvened as five committees – Administrative, Resource Planning, Board of Health, Land Conservation and Information Systems – to hear and vote on several departmental consolidations for the sake of efficiency.

The committees voted unanimously to move the real property listing and the land information office under the wing of the Planning Department, making them reportable to department head Mariah Goode rather than directly to county Administrator Ken Pabich.

“Responsibilities do not change. They will still supervise staff and salary remains the same,” Pabich said.

The committees also voted to move the sanitarian operations under Planning as well, but not until current Sanitarian John Teichtler retires. Pabich referred to this as succession planning, an idea that was inspired by the recent retirement of longtime Soil and Water Department head Bill Schuster.

“We’re trying to identify a vision, a gradual turn to make it happen through natural planning rather than a dramatic change,” Pabich said.

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