In a 3-2 vote that drew the attention of a Green Bay television news affiliate, the Sister Bay Plan Commission voted to recommend a change to zoning that would allow quarries under a conditional use permit.
The proposed text will limit quarry operations to Small’s business while preventing any new quarries from opening up in the B-1 zoning district. The Plan Commission saw this as a way to control Small’s quarry operation, where they currently have little authority outside of issuing citations.
The text change now goes to the village board, where, if approved, Small can then apply for a conditional use permit to expand the operation. The commission wanted to give Small a chance for due process and to argue his case for the expansion.
“The applicant has to make their case as to why their project conforms to the standards of the conditional use process,” said Bob Kufrin. “If they can’t meet those standards, the plan commission should not approve the permit.”
Kufrin is the former Sister Bay Village Administrator, who the commission brought in for consultation. He dealt with Sister Bay Properties, the parent company to Door County Custom Stone, during his tenure before current administrator Zeke Jackson came to the village in 2013.
The public hearing and subsequent vote that took place on Aug. 26 was only regarding the text change to the zoning ordinance, not the approval for the conditional use permit. But the confusion over this two-step process is a reason why the commission wanted to give Small the chance to give details in his case for a permit.
A packed house at a public hearing at the commission meeting spoke in unanimous opposition to allow the expansion of the quarry. Most of those who spoke live next to the proposed expansion and cited concerns with health, property values and nuisance in their arguments.
“[The commission] spent a lot of time, independent of the quarry, trying to identify what uses we wanted to allow and not allow,” said Pat Duffy, member of the village board, from the audience during the public hearing. “We uniformly decided we want less industrial because we wanted to maintain the turn of the century, quaint look. I don’t think anyone would put quarries in that description.”
Duffy owns 10 acres of land next to the proposed expansion. He got the land for no more than the cost of closing after the property changed several hands through donation. Duffy claimed the property would not sell because of its proximity to the quarry.
Other residents were not made aware of their home’s proximity to the quarry. Lori Flick of Door Real Estate was quoted in a Plan Commission packet during their June 2015 meeting saying, “most buyers will not even consider purchasing property next to an active quarry,” while assuring that, “the planned closure of the quarry will drastically increase property values.”
This planned closure and other potential conditions are the heart of the commission’s decision to move this forward.
The negotiations between the village and Small come at the end of nearly five years in court over citations issued to Sister Bay Properties. Judge Peter Diltz in Sturgeon Bay refused to shut down the quarry at the village’s request, ordering the parties to negotiate an agreement instead.
Small proposed an offer that was attractive in the long term: give me use of the expanded quarry and I will shut down the entire operation in 10 years. After that, Sister Bay will never have to see another quarry again. Without an agreement, the quarry can continue to operate indefinitely.
With a conditional use permit, the village could also impose other restrictions such as the quarry’s operating hours, controlling dust and the loud blasting and crushing practices at the quarry.
“We could go with the chance that we could stipulate how the quarry is run. Having more control in the long run is going to be better off,” said Sharon Grutzmacher, commission member.
The public raised concerns about Small ignoring village ordinances in the past, claiming the company had big enough pockets to buy their way through citations.
“I know that the village has cited quarry management for past issues, especially related to dust problems,” wrote Tom Sadler, resident near the quarry, in a letter to the Plan Commission. “The quarry is… paying the fines and continuing to do business as usual. So how does the village obtain quarry compliance?”
The Plan Commission stated that restrictions on a conditional use permit have more legal weight than violating town ordinances, giving the village a better argument to shut the quarry down should the dispute go back to the courtroom.
Small’s attorney, Charles Koehler of Herrling Clark Law firm of Appleton, spoke during the public hearing, saying, “When this process started, the goal is to shut the quarry down completely,” he said. “With the goal of ending the quarry, we are now following Mr. Kufrin’s road map to get there. Nothing is finalized in terms of the expansion, but we have to take that first step. Without taking this step, we are back to the old quarry with really no restrictions. In the spirit of compromise, we are ready to enter into an agreement with the goal of shutting down everything.”
Brandon Small was in attendance but did not speak.
While both parties stated that they want the quarry gone, the proposed 10-year shutdown is not absolute.
“If after 10 years, the applicant wanted to extend the agreement,” said Kufrin. “It’s the exact same process that is going on now. There is notice of a public hearing to all the affected area. The Plan Commission considers the applicant’s request. Then it would go to the village board to make the final decision.”
Following the public hearing, the commission took a short recess. At this time, nearly all of those in attendance left before the commission voted, much to the disappointment of commission members.
As they returned to the meeting, the five commission members quickly split on either side of the issue.
Eric Lundquist wanted to side with the public, saying, “The neighbors are the most directly impacted so they have the right to make this decision. They don’t want it, they’ve been educated in the decision they are making.”
But other commission members wondered if the public truly understood the impact of turning away from negotiations.
The quarry has been relatively dormant since litigation started several years ago. Some residents moved to the area in these dormant years. While they claim they can live with the current noise and dust from the quarry, the commission worries that they might not understand what a “fully operating” quarry really looks and sounds like.
Plan Commission Chair and Village Board President Dave Lienau understands. He has been unable to sit on his deck for the sake of the dust clouds, forced to buy new credit card equipment at his Mobil station when the card readers get filled with dust and fielded frantic calls from his wife as plates fell from their counters and shattered from the shaking of the house during blasting at the quarry.
The 2-2 vote came down to Lienau and he felt the people needed to hear the true extent of the proposed quarry expansion operations.
“I don’t think the applicant has been given due process,” said Lienau. “This is our opportunity to put conditions in place that he has to live with.”
Village attorney Randall Nesbitt added, “If this gets shot down at this stage, we’d be back in court with an unhappy judge,” referring to a failed mediation that the judge ordered.
With a 3-2 vote, the Plan Commission recommended a change in the text of the zoning ordinance to the village board. If the board accepts the recommendation and the zoning is rewritten, Small can then apply for a conditional use permit. At that time, Small will make his case to be granted a permit.
As part of the conditional use permit, Small will have to defend the use under certain criteria such as consistency with the comprehensive plan of Sister Bay, importance of services to the community and, to “not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity.”
The village can then provide restrictions on the permit, which Small can choose to accept or not. He will then apply for the permit, which will be voted on by the Plan Commission and finally the village board.
While the change to the zoning text does not grant the quarry immediate permission to expand, it does move negotiations forward with a mutual goal of leaving the rocks in Sister Bay alone.