After three separate meetings that included nearly 10 hours of testimony, the Door County Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) voted 3-2 on May 1 to deny an appeal by a group of Jacksonport residents to stop the development of an RV campground on vacant farmland south of the town and grant a conditional use permit for the campground.
Voting in favor of the appeal were ZBA Chair Lars Johnson and member Bob Ryan. Voting against the appeal and for the campground were ZBA members Fred Frey, John Young and alternate member Monica Nelson, who sat in on all three meetings for board member Aric Weber.
Previously, Jacksonport’s Plan Commission and town board had unanimously approved the RV campground proposed by the Lauritzen family on vacant farmland that had been passed down to them. In January the county’s Resource Planning Committee approved a conditional use permit for the campground in a 3-1 vote. The single dissenting vote, county supervisor Jon Koch, who is retired from the Door County Sheriff’s Department, voted in opposition to what he believed would be major traffic safety issues associated with the campground located just off Highway 57.
Testimony presented on the previous two meetings focused first on the physical plans for the campground, as outlined by Pete Hurth, president of Baudhuin Surveying & Engineering in Sturgeon Bay. Hurth testified that nearly everything was designed to exceed requirements of the county. He also pointed out that his company specializes in large-scale septic systems.
“This is part of what we do and we’re very comfortable with the design we did, that it will work,” he said of the at-grade system designed for the campground.
Hurth’s testimony was followed by comments from those in support of the proposed development, which included various members of the Lauritzen family, all three members of the Jacksonport Town Board, town Fire Chief Tom Ash and Joe Jarosh representing the Jacksonport Area Business Association.
Testimony in support was exemplified by town chair Randy Halstead, who said even though Jacksonport has famously touted being the quiet side, it doesn’t have to be this quiet. Town board member Tom Wilson echoed that sentiment and said the campground represented the sort of “modest” growth the town was seeking, which prompted some groans from the other side of the room.
The first night of testimony ended after four hours, and the meeting reconvened for nearly 6½ hours on April 26, when campground opponents had the opportunity to continue speaking against the campground on a range of issues that included traffic and pedestrian safety, the potential for smoke and water pollution, vandalism, trespassing, a decrease in property values due to the campground and how the development would change the character of the community. The most common complaint heard was that Jacksonport touts itself as the quiet side, and a 130-site campground will permanently alter that character.
Kathy Navis, one of the appellants against the campground, challenged the information provided by Hurth regarding the tax benefits the town would reap with this new business. He suggested the town would receive between $21,000 and $30,000 annually in taxes from the campground.
“This big boon to the town in property taxes is just not true,” Navis said, and recounted that she had checked with other campgrounds and found that no other campground in the county pays anything like that in taxes, and even the largest and most developed campground only pays $15,000 annually. She suggested her research shows the proposed campground would not pay more than $5,000 to the town in taxes.
Navis also challenged Joe Jarosh’s earlier testimony that all Jacksonport businesses were in favor of the campground. She said there are businesses who were afraid to voice their vehement opposition to the campground for fear of alienating customers.
Navis also walked the area from downtown to the proposed campsite and took photos to show that it will be no easy task to provide sidewalks for campground pedestrians. She also challenged the idea that the two-foot trees that the Resource Planning Committee required as a buffer to the campground is not sufficient as a buffer.
“We’ll all be dead before those trees provide a buffer,” she said.
The appellants hired attorney Matt Fleming of the Murphy Desmond law firm in Madison, which has worked in municipal law for nearly 20 years. Fleming said the campground plan did not make good planning sense when there are so many factors up in the air, such as the walking path into town.
Fleming also said he believes the rezoning of the property to be legally invalid, and the county could be sued for allowing the property to be rezoned. However, as of May 1, the opponents had not decided whether to pursue their opposition in the legal system.
Apparently some members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment agreed with Fleming. Lars Johnson took the town to task for presenting this proposal without first dealing with safe walking paths into town and making safe ingress/egress onto Bagnall Road from Highway 57. He repeated a comment from a campground opponent that the town’s talk of pedestrian access to the campground is “pie in the sky.”
It was revealed at the meeting that a GoFundMe campaign is underway to raise money to extend the town’s downtown path to the campground.
Before voting, the ZBA members set 22 conditions that have to be met for the campground to go forward. That included tweaking several of the 16 conditions that had already been applied by the Resource Planning Committee.
One of those conditions involved the tree buffers. County code requires that two-foot trees be installed as a buffer.
“I think they should be double in size right out of the gate,” Johnson said.
The final arrangement is that where there is the potential for the campground to be seen by passersby on the east and south ends, four-foot trees should be installed at a distance of eight feet (or whatever a certified arborist recommends) instead of 10 feet.
The board also stipulated that no personal generators can be used by campers, that the campground have a backup generator for the septic system, that the campground display a sign suggesting drivers do not take a left turn onto Bagnall Road and then to Highway 57, but instead take a right at Bagnall and enter the highway from Jorns Road, that the campground owners petition the town to reduce the speed limit near the campground, and that they ask the DOT to determine whether increased safety measures are needed at Bagnall and 57.
If you would like to watch the nearly 13 hours of the Zoning Board of Adjustment meetings on the campground, you can view all three nights of meetings here: youtube.com/user/shermanbay.