At the end of last month, as reported in last week's Outdoors section, the Vilas County Lakes Partners held a meeting in Boulder Junction. Several lake associations and districts from throughout the county were present to hear informational speakers and exchange best practices. Dawn Schmidt from Vilas County Zoning was present to answer any questions the group might have. She started with the questions she most commonly gets from lake associations and riparian owners.
There were many changes that came about with Act 55, she said. Some of those changes that people have questions about are boathouses, the wreck and rebuild, averaging, nonconforming structures and lot sizes. Home owners, Schmidt said, no longer need 200 feet of frontage; they can be 100 now.
"It's a little complicated, though," she said. "I kind of threw a wrench in their plans. When I was thinking about all of this and trying to come up with a way that we could try to make these lot sizes stay somewhat larger and keep at least our 30,000 square feet, two things came to mind. I wanted to make sure that they didn't encompass large wetlands in a small piece of land to build up. So, if you can do it on 20,000 square feet, only 10 percent of that lot can be wetland."
The other thing Schmidt put into the ordinance is, after setbacks, after 75 feet from the ordinary high water mark, the set back for the principal residence, which are 15 feet from each side lot line for the depth of the lot and the set back from the road, the property owner needs to come up with 16,500 square feet of property. On most lots, she said, depending on how it is shaped, comes up to 30-35,000 square feet of property. In order to get to that, it may require the homeowner to have frontage larger than the state-mandatory 100 feet. Or, the lot may need to be deeper.
However, the lot size, she said, needs to be contiguous. Changing a lot line, other than adding property from a neighbor, would be considered a new lot and would fall under these rules. Schmidt said the county also kept the lake classification system for the purposes of mitigation and for boathouse sizing. According to Schmidt, the county tried to keep as much of the lake classification system in the zoning ordinance as they could.
She also talked about averaging. The county was given a choice in averaging and Schmidt went with the more restrictive. If a principal structure is within 200 feet of each side of the lot, the home owner can average those two neighboring structures and build at that average footage. However, she said, this is for principal structure only.
"Don't think you're going to be adding a garage or that you're going to add a deck to that structure. It's the principal structure, unless that structure gets into the 75-foot area, you're only going to build your principal structure there," Schmidt said. Also in Vilas County's ordinance is the fact that a homeowner cannot use a vacant lot in their averaging. The homeowner must have a structure on each side in order to average.
"If you have a structure at 50 feet now," she said, answering a question from the audience, "you can tear down that structure, build in the same place, and you can add 200 square feet to it, to the sides or the rear. And you can go up and down."
If any part of the home touches 35 feet, she said, and it stays within 75 feet, a homeowner can only wreck and rebuild that house and put 200 square feet onto it. If the home is beyond 35 feet, a homeowner can wreck and rebuild and, if that home reaches the 75 feet, once it reaches that mark, she said, a homeowner can do whatever they would like. Anything within the 35-foot mark can only be maintained. It cannot have any additions put on it. She clarified the 200-foot expansion by saying it is only for horizontal additions. Additions can be made vertically beyond that.
Next Schmidt covered boathouse rules. The boathouse rules, she said, say the county still kept their 300-foot boathouse rules and their 100-foot boathouse rules. If the lake is 100 acres or less, the boathouse can only be 100 square feet. If it is greater than that, she said, a 300-square foot boathouse. Five feet from the ordinary high water mark is the state setback, she said.
"The thing that happened with boathouses now is that you have to have it within your viewing corridor," Schmidt said. "And your viewing corridor is 35 feet. Which, in Vilas County, is something we've always had is that it cannot be clearcut. It has to be a select cut area."
The county decided, also, to have a minimum and maximum height level due to the allowance of flat roofs on boathouses.
"What people were already telling me they were going to do is to build three-foot boathouses just to store their paddle boards and canoes and stuff so they can put a deck on it and have a party deck down by the shore," Schmidt said.
To avoid that issue, she said, the minimum was set at 6-feet. Roofs can be flat, but they are not allowed to have sidewalls. They can have a railing for safety, however. The maximum, she said, was 10 or 12 feet, but she did not have the exact figure on hand.
"What's been going on at the state level is they have been reversing everything through laws rather than using the rules like NR 115."
She also spoke briefly about the legislation that went through the budget recently allowing rentals on a less than monthly basis. This has been a point of contention for many in the Northwoods. Schmidt said she contacted legislators and also put it on the zoning committee agenda in order to send an opinion from Vilas County zoning. She said she sent other emails as well, and talked to representatives personally, but it was all to no avail.
"What's been going on at the state level is they have been reversing everything through laws rather than using the rules like NR 115," she said. Schmidt stayed through the break in the Lakes Partners meeting to answer individual questions as well. Local municipalities, she said, have their hands tied in several ways now, but she and Vilas County did make every attempt to safeguard their lakes, to the extent that was possible.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.