Sister Bay Zoning Code Overhaul Could Pave Way for Workforce Housing

Sister Bay will begin the long, slow process of rewriting its zoning code this year. The Plan Commission will reorganize the zoning code to make it more user friendly and, village officials hope, friendly to developers of workforce housing.

“As more and more businesses creep up and with the lack of housing, all these new business people are stealing from other businesses,” said Denise Bhirdo, commission chair. “The most important thing the village can do is dealing with workforce housing.”

There was consensus at the June 27 Plan Commission meeting that the village’s zoning code was cumbersome and complicated. The rewrite will organize the code into each type of zoning district making a “one-stop shop” for all zoning needs at a particular property.

In rewriting the code, the village may make changes in favor of workforce housing opportunities, which occupancy density and setback requirements in the existing code prevent.

“I think Denise [Bhirdo] is taking a huge step in the right direction with what she’s doing,” said MaryKay Shumway, commission member and realtor with Kellstrom Ray, in a phone interview. “The restaurants are buying homes up here, they’re trying to address the problem, but we only have so much housing stock.”

Village officials were divided over who should provide workforce housing.

“Workforce housing is a public problem that demands a public solution in Door County,” said Zeke Jackson, village administrator. “I think Sister Bay is going to be the community that leads the way. There’s physically nowhere to put the people.”

“I don’t think the village should try to take on that expenditure when there are private individuals that would do this,” said Shane Solomon, commission member. Solomon said he has spoken to individuals who want to construct workforce housing in the village but cannot under the zoning code.

Even if the village loosens its zoning code in favor of workforce housing, the economics might not work for a developer of workforce housing.

“It doesn’t make financial sense… to have a large structure that meets all the state’s fire code requirements, it’s only occupied May to October,” said Jackson.

During a J-1 visa informational meeting in Sister Bay in April Stacie Tollakson, a visa sponsor in the Wisconsin Dells area, spoke about a residence hall built in the Wisconsin Dells through a public-private partnership. Tollakson said the developer did not make money on the project, but instead did it philanthropically.

Shumway voiced concern about the lack of any housing – workforce, affordable or otherwise – in Sister Bay.

“People are pushing north and they are pushing into Baileys Harbor,” said Shumway during the commission meeting. “We are losing a segment of the population that’s saying Sister Bay is just getting too commercial.”

Village officials expressed interest in tiny homes, a trailer park and container homes.

“The more restrictive we make this [zoning code]… the less value we make for the property,” said Jackson.

The commission will take up the reorganization of zoning in business districts and continue discussion about workforce housing at its next meeting on July 25.

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