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Driveway Creates Impasse for Liberty Park Lodge Developer

The Door County Planning Department has begun enforcement action against the developer of the Liberty Park Lodge condominium development in Liberty Grove for improper placement of a driveway on a state highway.

The Door County Planning Department initiated the action against James Annoye’s Liberty Park Lodge development and his project engineer John Maas of MMA Engineers on Oct. 5. The action came after Maas completed a driveway connecting a unit to Highway 42 for which the Door County Resource Planning Committee and the Board of Adjustment had denied permits.

The driveway (foreground) to units three and four of the Liberty Park Lodge condominium development has caused a dispute between the developer and the Door County Planning Department. The original plan for the property had the driveway connecting to the not-yet-constructed Liberty Park Lane, a private drive that cuts through the woods and connects to Waters End Road.

The driveway had existed for two years as a gravel driveway, and the Planning Department had raised no questions about it in a plan review in 2007 and again in February of 2009.

A Door County Zoning Ordinance states that access driveways on state highways shall be separated by 125 feet where the speed limit is 30 mph. The county adopted the ordinance in 1995. The complaint filed with Door County Corporation Counsel Grant Thomas states that on Sept. 24 Maas, working for Liberty Park Lodge Development Inc., installed a driveway to a duplex within 75 feet of an existing driveway serving another of the Liberty Park Lodge Development units. The complaint requests penalties of $300 per day and an order to have the driveway removed.

When the plan for the condo plat was first submitted to the town and approved by the Planning Department in January 2007, it showed the driveway connecting to Liberty Park Lane. Liberty Park Lane is a not-yet-completed private drive that connects the unit in question to Waters End Road.

After the original plans were approved, Maas said he realized the driveway was unworkable, “leaving units three and four in an undesirable driveway situation.”

Maas obtained a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to construct a driveway direct to Highway 42 in June of 2007, and a gravel driveway was built shortly thereafter. In August of 2007, an addendum to the condo plat was recorded with the Planning Department that included the new driveway, but construction did not begin within 12 months and the building permit expired.

Maas filed for a new permit in February of 2009 that was approved by the Planning Department Feb. 20. Door County Zoning Administrator David Sautebin admitted that the driveway ordinance was overlooked at that time, as the review focused on the building aspects of the permit.

“Within short order we caught the mistake and sent a letter to Maas about the problem,” Sautebin said. That letter was sent March 17, 24 days after the permit was issued “and before any significant construction was done.”

Maas feels that since the driveway has existed as a gravel driveway for two years, and the Planning Department had no problem with the driveway when the 2007 amendment was filed, and missed it a second time in February of this year, “they should recognize they screwed up and let it go.”

Last summer Maas sought a variance from the driveway spacing rules, but the Door County Board of Adjustment denied that request. Then, he sought a text amendment to change county zoning, which was also denied. “All we were trying to do at that point was bail out a mistake by the Planning Department,” he said.

The Liberty Grove Plan Commission and Town Board voted unanimously not to recommend approval of either of the requested changes. The board sited concerns about health, welfare and safety issues in what has long been considered a dangerous stretch of highway between JJ’s restaurant and the Edge of Town Motel.

Maas contends that the DOT’s opinion should take precedence over county zoning or local safety opinion in this case.

“The DOT has an obligation to evaluate the safety of highways,” Maas said. “In 2007 they saw it as a safe driveway, and in 2009 they still saw it as a safe driveway. They work on highway safety and have to make that call every day. I certainly defer on that question to the DOT.”

But the permit Maas obtained from the DOT defers to county authority in the matter and includes several caveats, one of which is that the permit “is not an affirmation or statement on the safety of the driveway.” It also says the permit “does not over-ride any restrictions Door County may have in their codes.”

After attempts to secure a variance and text amendment failed, Maas obtained a new permit for the driveway from the DOT on Sept. 17, 2009. Despite the county’s denials, Maas went ahead and completed the driveway on Sept. 24.

“In order to get the issue in front of the corporation counsel, Grant Thomas, we had to pave it to trigger the action,” he said, otherwise it would have been left as a gravel driveway indefinitely.

Maas feels that the issue boils down to Thomas’s answers to three questions.

“Does the DOT opinion on safety take precedence over local opinion? Is this driveway grandfathered in since it was originally approved and built as a gravel driveway two years ago? Or, since the Planning Department missed it twice and it was built with the blessing of everyone in 2007, should they just leave it alone?”