County committee bucks corporation counsel’s advice
Single family residential zoning around pair of lakes in Sugar Camp still favored
BY KEVIN BONESKE
A legal opinion provided to Oneida County’s Planning and Development Committee by county corporation counsel Brian Desmond has recommended against what the committee wants to continue, namely keeping single family residential zoning known as District 2 around Sugar Camp and Indian lakes in the unzoned town of Sugar Camp.
In the four-page opinion obtained by the Star Journal through an open records request, Desmond discussed the legality of Sugar Camp’s request to able to have only those two lakes zoned single family residential and no zoning around any of the other lakes or streams in the town.
“My review of the state statutes and case law (surrounding) this issue indicates that there is no explicit authority contained in the statutes or case law that would allow for Oneida County to enforce general zoning in the shoreland zones,” Desmond wrote. “This would mean that there is no explicit authority for the county to enact and enforce general zoning around only two lakes in the town of Sugar Camp.”
For general zoning to be in effect within any town in the county, in accordance with state law, Desmond said “the town board needs to adopt general zoning in its entirety by means of town board approval.”
“The language of the statute indicates that a town either adopts zoning in its entirety for their town or is known as unzoned,” he said. “Unzoned towns have no zoning except for zoning in the shoreland areas.”
Committee chairman Scott Holewinski, who also chairs the Sugar Camp Town Board, said Desmond’s opinion informed the committee that “you either have to have general zoning, or have to have shoreland protection set by the state of Wisconsin.”
“Basically what the county did 49 years ago was they must not read the statute very clearly and forced general use on all the towns in Oneida County versus they didn’t accept it,” Holewinski said. “So then what happened 25 years ago we had a public hearing, and again Oneida County must have misinterpreted the rules back then, because we had a public hearing in Sugar Camp, we had a public hearing at the county (level), the County Board passed it, but now the interpretation is it’s no good because it’s interpreted different today.”
Holewinski said he favored keeping single family residential zoning around Sugar Camp and Indian lakes as previously passed by the County Board.
“If there’s somebody that wants to take it to court, let them take it to court,” he said. “That’s how we’ve done business for 25 years, let along the 49 years it was in general use.”
Several residents who live around the Sugar Camp and Indian lakes contacted the county’s planning and zoning department earlier this year and also appeared at a committee meeting in February in favor of keeping single family residential zoning around those two lakes.
The county currently is in the process of revising its zoning and shoreland protection ordinance in response to changes in state law in which counties that now have shoreland zoning ordinance standards more restrictive than established in the applicable state law and regulations can no longer enforce the stricter standards.
Because of those changes that came about from Wisconsin Act 55, Desmond stated in his legal opinion to the committee that “applying general zoning in the shoreland zone could be complicated.”
Desmond also warned the committee about possible violations of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“If Oneida County chooses to proceed in a manner in which they have chosen to proceed for a number of years, having general zoning in the shoreland zone, it would be my opinion that Oneida County should be consistent in how that general zoning is applied and treat all the towns in a similar fashion,” Desmond wrote. “This is especially true with regards to any claims that may be made that the request proffered by the town of Sugar Camp violates equal protection.”
In addition to the committee members voting March 22 in favor of keeping single family residential zoning around Sugar Camp and Indian lakes, they included an amendment to the motion to also seek a legal opinion on that matter from the state Attorney General’s office.