Hortonville considers zoning codes to regulate downtown aesthetics
By Scott Bellile
Recent developments at the state level have left local officials concerned that a State Highway 15 bypass project is once again in limbo. But those have not stopped the village of Hortonville from planning for a post-bypass downtown.
Envisioning a pedestrian-friendly, destination-focused Main Street if a bypass redirects traffic around town, Hortonville is looking to create zoning codes specific to downtown.
The zoning regulations would create restrictions for downtown elements such as land usage, building aesthetics and signage.
Before becoming village ordinances, the regulations will require approval by the village planning commission and village board, along with a public hearing.
At a downtown zoning meeting at the opera house held July 19, Village Administrator Diane Wessel predicted the zoning codes could go into effect around October if approved by the village board this fall.
A village taskforce formed last year to review zoning options for the downtown. The downtown’s zoning regulations are currently the same as the village-wide general commercial zoning rules.
Wessel said this is not ideal for a growing community such as Hortonville. She said some commercial uses and design features that are currently legal do not belong downtown and should be limited to commercial districts elsewhere in the village.
Julie Arendt Vanden Heuvel, a member of the village taskforce, said the regulations are aimed at helping the downtown become a unique destination that might attract passerby from the Wiouwash State Trail or the future bypass.
“There’s something special about being down here,” she said of the downtown. “It’s different than a residential area. It’s different than an industrial park. It’s different than a retail area. It’s a different kind of retail. It’s a vibe. It’s an experience, not just a location of where you’re standing.”
Businesses currently acceptable downtown that would no longer be under the revised codes would include automotive sales and service, farm implement sales and service, banks, “adult establishments” and temporary structures.
“We don’t want to allow, say, large lot car dealerships or outdoor farm machinery implements because stuff like that just is not suitable for the downtown,” she said. “Even a drive-thru: Dairy Queen is great where it is, but it really [would not] make sense in this one-block downtown district.”
Under new downtown zoning codes, Mike Murphy Ford, 109 N. Mill St., would become a nonconforming use. This means the car dealership would be permitted to continue operations where it is despite the new zoning regulations not allowing automotive sales downtown. Mike Murphy Ford would be grandfathered in to the new codes, Wessel told the Press Star.
However, as an example, if a tornado wiped out at least 50 percent of the premises’ assessed value, then the car dealership could not continue selling cars there, she said.
As another example, if Mike Murphy Ford were to decide to permanently close one day (it has not chosen to do this), then some kind of car dealership could continue there if established within one year. After a year, the property would lose its nonconforming use status and a dealership could no longer open there, as per Village Ordinance 17.13.
Uses that would automatically be permitted downtown would be limited to restaurants, retail, government offices, professional offices, mixed-use residential properties, parks, performing arts centers and museums.
Uses that would require a conditional use permit approved by the village planning commission would include bed and breakfasts, bars, breweries, distilleries, home occupations, hotels/motels, lifestyle uses such as wellness centers or spas, retail with an outdoor sales lot and public schools.
Designs and signs
The new regulations would introduce building design standards and extensive signage requirements for the downtown.
As far as building designs, one requirement would be that storefronts facing Main Street contain stone and brick in their exteriors, said Tom Baron, associate planner with the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the regional planning agency that is assisting Hortonville with its project.
“This takes it to another step where we’re trying to create that look and feel of that historic downtown nature,” Baron said, later adding, “and if you look at it, most of the buildings downtown here already have that, so that really wouldn’t be a significant change.”
Baron said the village would also encourage – not require – downtown property owners to utilize building materials and colors “that have a historic nature.”
The new signage requirements would outline what types of signs are permissible based on size, placement and quantity.
“I think the big thing here is that it does recognize that visibility in advertisement is important for the lifeblood of a business,” Baron said. “I mean, you need to get your name out there. And this is a good balance between having that ability to advertise, but not doing it where all you’re seeing is sign after sign and your sign is getting lost in a sea of signs.”
Signage that would be prohibited downtown would include billboards, electronic message centers, inflatable signs and signs whose flashy lighting could distract traffic.
Signs that are faded, damaged or in disrepair would also need to be fixed within 15 calendar days.
Wessel seeks comments from downtown business owners and downtown building owners regarding the proposed regulations. She said whereas she expected pushback on components such as the design standards and historic colors, she has so far heard none.
She can be reached at 920-779-6011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.