The Waupaca County Planning and Zoning Committee voted down proposed changes to the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance Thursday, Jan. 9.
Opponents said the changes could have resulted in thousands of trees being cut down along the Chain O’ Lakes.
Enacted in 1997, the county’s Shoreland Zoning Ordinance regulates development on lakes and streams.
Among its rules, the ordinance prohibits clear cutting trees and vegetation within 50 feet of the shoreline.
“Clear cutting, filling, grading and other land disturbing activities are not permitted,” the ordinance said. “Sufficient trees and shrubbery shall be retained to screen development from view from the water.”
Riparian property owners are allowed to clear no more than a 30-foot-wide view corridor between their homes and the shore.
The proposed amendment would have allowed 30 percent of the shoreline frontage or up to 100 feet, whichever is less, to be cleared for a view corridor.
While the original ordinance prohibited clear cutting on all waterfront properties, the amendment would have prohibited clear cutting only on trout streams.
“Why should trout streams be more protected than the rest of the lakes and rivers in Waupaca County?” Kay Ellis asked at the Jan. 9 zoning committee meeting.
Ellis, who lives on Dake Lake, said replacing natural vegetation with lawns results in 18 times the sediment and seven times the phosphorous going into the lakes, which leads to algae and lower water quality.
Most of those who spoke against the proposed changes live on the Chain. They argued that removing more trees and vegetation would affect the beauty of the area, which would be detrimental to both residents and tourists.
Several asked the committee to consider the long-term effects because once old-growth trees are cut down, it takes decades to replace them.
Carol Elvery, a Waupaca resident who lives on Shadow Lake, said she has been attending state conventions of lake associations.
“They tell me that Waupaca County has one of the very best shoreland zoning ordinances in the state,” Elvery said. “Why would you want to change it?”
Elvery noted the county board recently adopted resolutions which encouraged sustainability and the protection of natural resources.
“This is an opportunity to put that into practice,” she said.
Elvery observed that the removal of trees and shrubbery allows more sediment to flow into the rivers and lakes. It also eliminates natural habitat along the shoreline.
“Sediment kills microorganisms and larval stages of bugs,” Elvery said. “That’s what the fish and birds eat.”
Some of those at the meeting asked that the ordinance be more flexible.
John Hebring, who owns 375 feet of frontage on a peninsula on the Chain, complained that the ordinance prohibits him from using sod to repair his lawn.
Under the ordinance, seed and fertilizer are permitted, but sod is not allowed because it is considered fill.
Bob Underberg is president of the Chain O’ Lakes Property Owners Association and a member of the advisory committee which recommended the zoning changes.
The proposed changes would provide more balance between protecting the environment and protecting the rights of property owners, Underberg said.
He also asked the zoning committee to take into account that they had appointed the advisory committee to review and propose changes to the ordinance.
“This committee would be substituting its judgment for the judgment of the advisory committee,” Underberg said.
County Supervisor Pat Craig, who served on the advisory committee, said the zoning committee provides an opportunity for public input from citizens impacted by the proposed changes.
She also reminded the members of the zoning committee that they have the authority to accept, reject or modify the advisory committee’s recommendations.
After more than a dozen people spoke against the proposed changes, members of the zoning committee and zoning department staff examined the issue.
Most of those in favor of the proposed changes argued that the zoning committee should not ignore the advisory committee’s recommendations.
Supervisor Bob Ellis responded that the advisory committee’s vote on the issue had been 10-6.
Ellis also noted that the advisory committee member responsible for making the motions to increase the view corridor “doesn’t have a tree on his property. It’s concrete and rooftops down to the water.”
After saying he did not want to see large lots stripped of trees, Ellis made a motion to limit the view corridor to the lesser of 30 percent or 30 feet.
For most lots on the Chain, the 30 percent limit would result in smaller view corridors than is currently allowed, according to Jason Snyder, with the zoning department.
Although the advisory committee had recommended changing the view corridor limit to the lesser of 30 percent or 100 feet, Snyder said the average lot width on the Chain is between 60 feet and 75 feet.
Ellis also removed language from the proposed changes which would have allowed clear cutting on bodies of water other than trout streams.
The zoning committee voted 3-2 in favor of Ellis’ motion.
Voting for the motion to limit the view corridor to the lesser of 30 percent or 30 feet were Ellis, Dennis Kussmann and Terry Murphy. Voting against the motion were Jack Penney and DuWayne Federwitz.
The zoning committee’s recommendations will now go to the county board for a final vote.