After two years of enforcing the 2010 comprehensive revision to its zoning ordinance, Waupaca County is now revising some of the revisions.
In actual practice, zoning staff and property owners have found that some of the revisions were unenforceable.
“We found certain aspects of the code to be overly burdensome,” according to Waupaca County Planner Melinda Osterberg. “The vast majority of changes we are proposing are more lenient.”
Last week, the county held two meetings to explain the zoning amendments and hear input from the public.
The county will hold a public hearing on the zoning amendments at 9 a.m. Thursday, July 12, at the Waupaca County Courthouse.
Many of the proposed changes are to ensure that the text of the ordinance does not interfere with its intent. Among the 2010 ordinance’s goals, after years of comprehensive planning meetings in communities throughout the county, was to protect farmland.
In practice, some elements of the revised zoning ordinance were hampering agriculture.
Under the current zoning ordinance, structures larger than the principal residence are considered “substantial structures.” As such, they required a conditional use permit, which requires a review and a public hearing before the zoning committee. The minimum fee for a conditional use permit is $400.
However, the barns and other work-related structures are larger than the home on a farm.
In the proposed amendments, the substantial structure provision has been replaced with a maximum building coverage standard. This will allow farmers to build barns without having to go through the conditional use permit process.
Another amendment to the ordinance will be to create a certified Farmland Preservation zoning district.
Farmers in Wisconsin can received tax credits for land that was used for agricultural purposes. To receive these credits, they enter into contracts with the state. However, in order for their land to be eligible, it must be in a certified Farmland Preservation zoning district.
To bring the code in compliance with state law, the county will create the zoning district, then work with the towns to identify the districts on the zoning maps.
Proposed changes also would make it easier for farmers to build homes on their property.
Under the current ordinance, farmers who want to build a single-family home in an Agriculture Enterprise zoning district must go through the conditional use permit process.
A proposed amendment would establish “administrative conditional use permits” and allow staff at the zoning office to issue these permits to farmers who want to build dwellings on their farms.
Another change involves the difference between reality and perception when considering “40 acres.”
Often, when a surveyor maps a 40-acre parcel, the actual size may range from 35 to 45 acres.
The current ordinance establishes a maximum density for residential development based on acreage.
“If a town has set a density of two dwellings per 40 acres, then people with a parcel that’s only 39.5 acres could not get the density rights of two dwellings per 40 because their parcel wasn’t a true 40 acres,” Osterberg said. “We’re not changing the allowed density, we’re only changing the way we calculate the area.”
Osterberg noted that one of the goals of comprehensive planning was to preserve green space by clustering homes together.
“But it did not carry through into the zoning code,” Osterberg said.
The county plans to amend the ordinance so that the clustering can take place by allowing the transfer of development rights.
For example, if someone owns two adjacent 40-acre parcels and each parcel has the right to develop two homes, that right can be transferred from one parcel to the other.
Other changes are the result of situations where the zoning office and the zoning committee could not find authority in the existing code to issue permits for what would be considered normal developments.
For example, the existing ordinance does not allow for the establishment of bed and breakfast facilities in residential areas, which is where most such businesses operate.
Osterberg said other changes are a matter of common sense. The need for the changes became apparent as staff attempted to enforce the ordinance.
“We had a resident who wanted to install solar panels on a parcel with no dwelling,” she said. “We didn’t have any direction from the code.
She also pointed to rural residents who wanted to host public events on their property.
“We had someone who wanted to hold a tractor pull on their land, and we had to hold a conditional use hearing,” Osterberg said.
Under the proposed zoning amendments, public events expected to draw under 200 people will be exempt from needed permits; those expected to draw 200 to 750 people will need land use permits, which do not require hearings; and only those expected to draw more than 750 people will need to go through the conditional use permit process.
Osterberg said residents can still have input on the zoning amendments.
“As people use an ordinance, they find things,” she said. “We can make tweaks until the amendments are approved by the county board.”