Shoreland Zoning Changes Inserted in Budget

The bad habit of legislators sneaking non-fiscal pet projects into the budget bill without public hearings and other legislative vetting has reached a new level with Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) inserting a motion to change the state’s shoreland zoning standards in the 2015-17 budget bill.

County governments across the state are reacting unfavorably to Tiffany’s motion. Mariah Goode, supervisor of the Door County Planning Department, said at the June 5 meeting of the Resource Planning Committee, where she brought up Tiffany’s motion, that she is almost as irritated by the process with which the motion was introduced as she is by overturning all the hard work that went into creating the shoreland zoning standards.

She said counties have had the option of working off state minimum standards in deciding what works best for the particular county since 1968.

Tiffany’s motion specifies that a county may not enact more restrictive shoreland zoning than the state.

“For decades it’s been up to the county to decide what level of regulation they want to have above state standards and now that control is going to be taken away. Taking that away is significant,” Goode said.

The Resource Planning Committee authorized Goode to draft a letter to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) expressing the committee’s displeasure with Tiffany’s motion. She was also asked to draft a letter for the full county board’s approval when it next meets on June 23.

In a June 8 letter to the JFC from the committee and the county Planning Department, Goode wrote, “Door County has more miles of shoreline than any other county in the state (roughly 300 miles along Lake Michigan and 300 miles of navigable streams), so we are affected by the proposal more than any other county. Our concerns regarding this motion item are both process- and content-related.”

In particular on the content side, Goode pointed out the changes for nonconforming structures, or structures that don’t meet current water setbacks.

“You can repair them and maintain them. You can even put on new shingles, siding, all that kind of stuff,” she said. “Now this would let you take a structure and completely tear it down and build a brand new one in the same location in the same footprint, but it wouldn’t have to be the same size. My reading of this motion is that it could go up to 35 feet in that same footprint, which could make a huge difference for water quality and near-shore wildlife habitat quality. If I’m the neighbor and suddenly I have to look at this 35-foot tall thing down by the water as opposed to the dumpy little one-story cottage that used to be there, I wouldn’t be happy.”

In her letter to the JFC, Goode added, “We are also concerned that this portion of the motion prohibits the county from requiring permits, fees, or mitigation measures to (re)construct nonconforming structures, but monitoring/enforcing these provisions will still require work on the part of the county zoning administrators.”

In her letter she also took issue with a section of the motion stating, “that a county shoreland zoning ordinance may not establish standards (i.e., maximums) for impervious surfaces, unless impervious surfaces are redefined such that they are considered pervious if runoff from the surface is treated by a runoff device or system.”

Goode wrote, “This means that if a county is going to regulate impervious surfaces at all in the shoreland area, all property owners will need to develop and install storm water runoff control systems in order to establish any impervious surfaces. As a county that has regulated impervious surface allowances in the shoreland since the 1960s, Door County will likely continue to do so, and we do not wish to require property owners proposing any new impervious surface areas to be burdened with the expense of designing and installing a storm water runoff control system.”

And on the process side, Goode wrote, “In conclusion, we are distressed that these significant policy matters are being inserted into the budget bill rather than being taken up in regular legislative session. We would welcome the opportunity to participate in legislative meetings and hearings to discuss shoreland zoning regulations and manners in which they could be improved; we ask that you remove this item from the budget bill and instead take up the matter in regular legislative processes so that we and others may participate fully in a discussion of these important matters.”

Asked what she thought might have prompted Tiffany’s sneak attack on shoreland zoning, Goode said, “My guess is that he probably has heard from some property owners that had non-conforming structures and weren’t happy that they weren’t able to tear them down and rebuild. Not sure why he’s doing it as part of the budget process as opposed to a bill that would get vetted to some extent.”

Both a telephone call and email sent to Tiffany went unanswered.