Shoreland Zoning Changes Could Mean More Work for Builders

After more than a year of redrafting the shoreland zoning ordinance and explaining it to the county board, the Door County Planning Department presented the changes before a packed house of town officials, architects and landowners at the Collins Learning Center at Crossroads at Big Creek on March 6.

“If you want to go read a document that has all this stuff in there, there isn’t one,” said Mariah Goode, director of the Planning Department, highlighting one of the many reasons the zoning changes have been so confusing. “It’s kind of a mess.” Currently, the explanation of what changes were made are found in a mix of court cases, state statutes and administrative codes.

“There were a number of months of confusion there between July of 2015 and December of 2015 because we were dealing with clients at that point in time it was possible you got one answer one week and three weeks later it was something else because the directives we were getting from the DNR and other places weren’t always consistent,” said Goode.

But now they have a pretty good handle on all of the changes passed in the 2015 budget bill that removed a lot of local control from the zoning of shoreland lots.

Before 2015, counties could choose to be stricter than the state standards. Door County, with the most shoreline of any county in the state and a dependence on the protection of water as a natural and economic resource, adopted a few regulations that were stricter than the state. In 2015, the new state budget determined that a county could no longer be stricter than the state. It also lifted a few regulations in terms of lot size, building height and rebuilding of nonconforming structures.

The presentation and the questions at the Collins Learning Center were very specific, relating to calculation of impervious surfaces on exact lot sizes and whether removing a few tree branches would count toward the 35-percent vegetative removal quota.

In the end, the best advice offered was that no matter what your shoreland project is, you should contact your local planning department representative. Beyond shoreland zoning, there could be a host of other ordinances that affect your property such as the floodplain ordinance.

Virge Temme, an architect specializing in energy efficient and green homes, supported the changes, saying in a phone interview that the changes made more sense both in building and in the environment. She mostly spoke of the new ability for shoreland homeowners to rebuild their homes or add certain additions even in proximity to the ordinary high water mark.

“It never made any sense to me if there is a perfectly good home sitting within the ordinary high water mark setback, why a person would have to tear the house down and rebuild elsewhere just to comply,” said Temme. She added that the requirement to build the structure elsewhere would only destroy more natural habitat.

“This allows you to maintain homes to not really infringe on existing natural habitat. People can build upward instead of expanding outwards. I think it’s high time coming.”

Temme also believes this could mean an opportunity for builders and contractors in the area to have a new clientele. Homes that were previously locked into their shoreland restrictions can now be moved, rebuilt and added to, potentially giving builders more work in the near future.

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