Judge Dismisses Appeal of High Water Mark Ruling

Mayor: ‘It’s time to move on’

Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Gregory Gill ruled that a group of Sturgeon Bay property owners lacked standing to challenge the DNR’s Jan. 3 ruling that determined the location of the ordinary high water mark on the west-side waterfront. No private development can go on land waterward of that mark, greatly diminishing the developable portion of the property.

The appeal argued in part that the settlement will set a dangerous precedent for private waterfront properties elsewhere in the city and the state. 

Thomas “Cap” Wulf was one of the citizens who brought the appeal and said he was surprised by the judge’s decision. He contrasted the decision with the original lawsuit brought by the Friends of Sturgeon Bay Public Waterfront that lead to the ruling on the high water mark. 

“I didn’t think they could possibly deny us standing if they allowed standing to the friends group,” he said. “There was an awful lot of pressure on the judge from the DNR and the friends group lawyer to have our standing denied.”

Wulf said the group hasn’t decided what its next move is. Mayor David Ward said after the ruling that it’s time for the city to move forward on the west waterfront. 

“If the group that appealed decides they’re not going to appeal again, I would say the next step for the city is to get the injunction lifted and live with the high water mark ruling,” he said. “My take on it is we’ve got to move forward. It’s time to move on and put some of this behind us. We have over $400,000 in grants from [Wisconsin] Coastal Management for the waterfront promenade that could go away. We need to get that promenade done and take this a piece at a time.”

The promenade is part of the Ad Hoc West Waterfront Planning Committee’s recommendations, which were released in July. Ward said the recent Tall Ships Festival gave a glimpse of what is possible on the city’s waterfront. 

“It really illustrated just how attractive that area is on both sides of the bay,” he said.  

Common Council Notes

• At its Sept. 3 meeting, the Sturgeon Bay Common Council learned a new phrase when considering a request for “privilege in the street” for an entry stoop for the apartments being constructed at the former Door County Advocate building at 231 N. 3rd Ave. Owner Shirley Weese-Young made the request to encroach on the public sidewalk to construct a small ramp to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Privilege in the street is governed by Wisconsin statute and was most recently granted by the city for Fincantieri’s security fence on Jefferson Street. The city approved the ramp on the conditions that the design meets the approval of the Aesthetic Design and Site Plan Review Board and the property owner pays an annual fee equivalent to the sidewalk cafe license of $55 per year. With the ramp, enough sidewalk remains to meet the city’s minimum width requirements. 

• The council approved a recommendation from the Parking and Traffic Committee to replace the yield sign at North Hudson and North Joliet Avenue with a stop sign. The city will also clear additional brush at the intersection to improve visibility. 

• The city is preparing to update its comprehensive plan in accordance with state requirements that municipalities do so every 10 years. The council adopted the public-participation plan for the update of the city’s comprehensive plan, which includes “procedures to foster public participation, ensure distribution of draft plan materials, provide opportunities for written comments on such materials and provide mechanisms to respond to such comments.” The city has contracted with Vandewalle & Associates to update the comprehensive plan. 

• The council unanimously approved an ordinance banning the sale and distribution of electronic smoking devices to minors and prohibiting the purchase, possession or use of electronic smoking devices by minors.