OCLRA criticizes state limits on county zoning standards
Group calls for additional county planning and zoning staff
STAR JOURNAL REPORT
Leading up to three public hearings next week in Oneida County related to amending the county’s zoning and shoreland protection ordinance, the Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association is taking issue with the changes in state law that are bringing about the ordinance amendment.
The county’s Planning and Development Committee, which has been going through the planned changes with the county’s planning and zoning department, has scheduled public hearings for Monday at the Woodruff Town Hall, Wednesday in the Three Lakes Board Room and Thursday in the County Board Room of the Courthouse in Rhinelander with all three hearings beginning at 6 p.m.
The changes in the county ordinance are being made in response to revisions in state law, for which counties that currently have shoreland zoning ordinance standards more restrictive than established in the applicable state law and regulations can no longer enforce the stricter standards.
In a letter from OCLRA president Bob Martini on behalf of the group’s board of directors, he said the county’s shoreland zoning ordinance “is inadequate to protect our lakes and streams from unwise development and the resulting degradation of water quality.”
Specifically, Martini said the OCLRA believes the ordinance fails to achieve its stated purposes, which include:
- Furthering the maintenance of safe and healthful conditions and preventing and controlling water pollution.
- Protecting spawning grounds, fish and aquatic life.
- Preserving and restoring shoreland vegetation and natural scenic beauty.
Martini said state law “has severely limited the power of Oneida and other county and local governments to require necessary protective measures beyond a set of minimum standards that have been imposed statewide.”
When the last biennial state budget was approved in 2015, Martini said a provision inserted into the budget took away local control over shoreland zoning and put “the minimum, one-size-fits-all standards of (Wisconsin’s shoreland zoning regulations known as) NR 115 into effect statewide.”
He said these minimum standards “severely restrict counties’ ability to take common-sense measures” such as:
- Requiring simple, cost-effective steps to limit runoff of harmful sediment and phosphorus into our lakes.
- Requiring minimum lot frontages of more than 100 feet on sensitive lakes where too-dense development threatens serious harm to water quality.
- Protecting the natural characteristics of shorelines that are part and parcel of the scenic beauty for which our lakes are treasured.
Martini said the OCLRA will support efforts at the state level to restore the authority of county and local governments “to adopt reasonable and scientifically sound requirements to protect their own unique water resources.”
In the meantime, he said the OCLRA encourages the county to “take affirmative steps that encourage owners of existing lake properties and people developing new lake lots to implement wise protective measures of their own.”
Martini said the OCLRA supports the addition of staff to the county’s planning and zoning department “to provide property owner education on water quality protection as part of the process of making inspections for building and other permits in shoreland areas.”
“Our members have significant expertise in water-quality issues and would be willing to lend our assistance to public education initiatives,” he said. “This and other measures must be taken to protect Oneida County’s water resources before irreversible damage is done to our environment and economy.”
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