Sister Bay Introduces New Administrator, Rescinds Assembly-Hall Allowances

At the start of its June 18 meeting, the Sister Bay Village Board welcomed newly hired administrator Beau Bernhoft, who attended as an observer and briefly addressed the board. “I’m excited to be a part of this team and look forward to working with all of you,” Bernhoft said.

He was hired after an 18-month search and comes to the village from Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Former Administrator Zeke Jackson left the post in December 2017.

Village Rescinds Assembly-Hall Zoning

The board approved a Plan Commission recommendation to change the zoning code so that assembly halls are no longer allowed as a conditional use in the R-3 zoning district.

In 2017, the village approved a text amendment to its zoning code to allow for the construction of the Northern Haus wedding barn and campus in a residential district on Fieldcrest Road. Village President Dave Lienau said the change was made to give the village more control over the development. The developers could have used an over-the-counter bed-and-breakfast license to develop the property with almost no conditions or restrictions, Lienau said, but by changing zoning, the village gained significant control over design, lighting, parking and other restrictions.

Neighbors alleged at the time that the move constituted illegal spot zoning for the specific property. Village Attorney Randy Nesbitt advised after the fact that the board change its code to allow assembly halls throughout the R-3 zoning district, which the board did in April 2018.

“We got to looking at it and asked, do we really want all of R-3 to be able to do this?” he said. “So to do it, we have to remove it from all of R-3, not just part of it.”

The change does not affect Northern Haus, which is grandfathered in.

Lienau said he isn’t sure how the village would approach a future proposal if a developer asked for the same treatment as Northern Haus.

“I don’t know if we would do that again or not,” he said. “But this isn’t just about the assembly-hall zoning. Due to legislation that dramatically changed what you can do with conditional-use process, we’re looking at a lot of these types of things in other areas. We’re looking at potentially eliminating any possible conditional use. To some people it seems like we’re doing this in a vacuum to allow that wedding venue, but this is in response to legislation.”

Marina Dock to Get Repairs

Wear and tear, coupled with this year’s high water, have put the A dock at the Sister Bay Marina in need of emergency repairs. Trustee Patrick Duffy explained that spring maintenance work on the dock revealed significant deterioration of the breakwall. The board approved $35,200 for repairs to the breakwall, to be performed by Death’s Door Marine; and $55,896 for patchwork to the A dock, to be performed by Hockers Concrete.

The funds will come from a $275,000 capital-improvement fund the marina has accumulated.

Fire Chiefs Make Case for EMS

Sister Bay/ Liberty Grove Fire Chief Chris Hecht, speaking on behalf of the Door County Fire Chiefs Association, made the case for the village to support a resolution to have EMS services in Door County remain a public entity.

The Door County Board of Supervisors has put out a Request for Qualifications from private firms that would be interested in bidding on EMS in Door County. Hecht said the chiefs support the county’s right to explore costs and options, but ultimately they do not believe that EMS privatization is a positive thing for the community.

“The county has no obligation to provide EMS,” he explained. “The obligation resides with you at the local level. You have to provide it or contract for it.”

Hecht said that a private company may come in at a lower cost to the county, but ultimately, it won’t be able to provide the service any cheaper, and fees will be passed on to residents. A private company may struggle to find quality staff as well.

Hecht estimates that one third of EMS operations is paid through billing to patients. Investigation by the fire chiefs, Hecht said, revealed that a private firm would likely come in at 50 percent or more billed back to patients.

Trustee Denise Bhirdo expressed support for investigating cost-saving options – even if it’s just to get more information – because the EMS budget has doubled during the last several years. But trustee Rob Zoschke said residents should be expecting those costs to go up as the county population continues to age.

“We’re serving older people who need more services,” Zoschke said. “The reality of Northern Door County providing sustenance and reliable employees to come in and do this job is science fiction. It took us how long to find an administrator?”

Hecht said it’s getting more difficult to find staff in Northern Door County.

“For the first time, the housing issue that is facing the business community is affecting us,” Hecht said. “We have lost four people since the beginning of the year to housing issues.”

Hecht said fire and EMS should not be treated as a business, but as critical infrastructure.

The board voted 5-1 in support of the resolution, with Bhirdo voting no and President Dave Lienau recusing himself because of his position as Door County Board chair.