“We did it!”
That sentiment was joyously uttered by several Sister Bay residents after the village board voted unanimously on Oct. 20 to roll the dice and reject a zoning ordinance amendment that would have allowed an existing quarry to expand in the village.
The zoning amendment was sent to the board by its own Plan Commission, which saw the amendment as a way to put controls on an otherwise untenable situation with the unregulated grandfathered quarry. Those controls included conditions the owner would have to adhere to – such as dust and noise control, and a promise to end the operation in 10 years.
On the owner’s side, because the current quarry is pretty near played out, he would have been allowed to expand the operation to a second parcel, next to a whole new group of residents.
Posted on the walls of the meeting room at the village fire hall were letters the village had received from residents opposed to giving any quarter to the quarry. A petition signed by 214 residents opposed to the quarry was submitted to the village, and about 50 people filled the seats, many of whom took part in the public hearing that preceded the vote. Retirees spoke about how the expanded quarry would ruin the last best years they have after buying into the idea of living in a Wisconsin paradise.
Shannon Strabala, a resident since 2014 of Fieldcrest Road, read the letter she sent to the village about moving her family from the hustle and bustle of Iowa City to the rural paradise of Sister Bay. She said her young family easily adjusted to their new and quieter life, until they learned the backyard of their dream home would abut the proposed quarry expansion.
There were also accusations from neighbors of the quarry that the quarry owner has a history of ignoring complaints, that damage has been caused to property by blasting, that at least one previously radon-free home had to install an expensive radon mitigation system once the blasting started at the quarry, and that all their property values will be driven down by as much as 35 percent by the quarry expansion.
But before the public hearing, village attorney Randy Nesbitt gave an overview of the situation. It seems no one knows when the quarry behind Shopko began, but Nesbitt said it was at least 1970.
What was once a minimally used quarry turned into something else in this century when the quarry started blasting for rock. In 2010, the village sued the quarry for blasting.
Nesbitt said the village wanted the court to shut the quarry down because with the blasting, “it had violated whatever legal authority it had to operate.”
The case went before Door County Circuit Judge Peter Diltz, who refused to shut the quarry down and asked the parties to mediate.
“The negotiations involved dust control, noise control and hours of operation, and the eventual closure of the quarry,” Nesbitt said. “The quarry owner/operator offered a proposal to expand it from the present location to the adjacent site and operate for 10 years subject to restrictions, then they would shut down the entire operation. So it was a tradeoff.”
Nesbitt closed by saying that the whole idea was to put restrictions on the quarry “and ultimately to get the quarry closed.”
If the amendment was not approved, Nesbitt said, “30 years from now, chances are that quarry will still be there.”
Up next was former Village Administrator Bob Kufrin, who said 2008-10 was “a peak time for dust and noise.” He met with quarry owner Brandon Small back then to discuss issues and complaints that had come from residents.
“The attempt was to develop a framework for a potential conditional use permit to address the concerns of the village,” Kufrin said.
He felt the conditional use permit would put the heavy lifting on the quarry owner in trying to justify his compatibility within the village.
When the meeting was opened to the public, many in the audience were skeptical that quarry owner Brandon Small would comply with restrictions because he had not in the past.
“What parameters do we use if it’s too noisy, too dusty?” asked Barbara Meyers. “It seems they are very subjective. Who is going to monitor it?”
Several people suggested the board open the subject to a referendum to allow the village residents to decide whether to allow the quarry expansion. One woman asked the board if they are prepared to re-evaluate homes that have diminished in property value due to the quarry expansion.
Small was in the audience with Attorney Tyler Claringbole of the Herrling Clark Law Firm. “This proposal has been our best effort and attempt to alleviate some concerns,” he said, adding that he and his client understand that no one in the village likes the quarry operation, “but the only way to put an end to it is to approve the text amendment tonight.”
The most striking comments on the effect of the quarry came after the public hearing was closed, from village board president Dave Lienau and owner of Sister Bay Mobil, who admitted to being “probably one of the most affected business and property owners” since his business is next to the quarry.
But worse, his house sits on top of Chalet Lane.
“It’s like a bowl and it amplifies the sound,” he said. “It’s often louder at my house than at the station right next to it.”
Sitting in his driveway, Lienau said he could feel the dust in his eyes and the grit in his teeth.
“I was the swing vote on the Plan Commission to allow the recommendation to get up to the board level,” Lienau said, referring to the divided 2-2 vote he swung so the village board could put its definitive stamp on the quarry.
And then, in what seemed like a bombshell statement, Lienau said, “Personally, I have a real problem. The existing quarry ownership has never done anything to address or alleviate any of the concerns in any way shape or form. Instead they want us to expand the quarry and then maybe we’ll do it…I would have a hard time rewarding the lack of responsibility that the current quarry ownership has shown residents and business owners in Sister Bay. It’s just outright disrespect.”
Lienau moved to deny the Plan Commission’s recommendation to change the zoning ordinance for the quarry. At the request of Village Administrator Zeke Jackson, each village trustee explained why he or she, too, would vote to deny.
Before calling for the roll call vote, Lienau asked Attorney Nesbitt what would be the next step should the board deny the zoning amendment.
Nesbitt said it would go back to Judge Diltz, who would either issue a ruling based on what he has already heard, or schedule another hearing, but Nesbitt also warned, “The best control the village has is going to go by the wayside. We’re giving that up.”