/ Articles / Provisions for larger boathouses could be on the way in Vilas County

Provisions for larger boathouses could be on the way in Vilas County

December 10, 2019 by Brian Jopek

When the Vilas County board meets in January, it will have a resolution amending a portion of the county’s shoreline zoning ordinance pertaining to boat houses to consider. 

The county’s zoning committee met Thursday for nearly three hours to conduct a public hearing on the matter and then discuss proposed changes in the current county boathouse regulations proposed by St. Germain resident Glenn Schiffmann, owner of Cornerstone Custom Builders in Eagle River. 

Dawn Schmidt, Vilas County’s zoning and planning director, told the Lakeland Times later Thursday Schiffmann first approached the committee in September with his ideas. 

“He just wanted to talk about it with the committee then,” she said. “Get a feeling for what he needed to do if he wanted to do this. Whether it would be a special exception, would it be a conditional use. The committee talked about it for awhile and decided it would need to be an amendment.”

Bigger boats

Schiffmann was the first to address the zoning committee during Thursday’s public hearing. 

He said he was there on behalf of “multiple people who desire to have larger boathouses” to handle their equipment. 

“Boats are substantially more expensive than they were years ago when this ordinance was made,” Schiffmann said. “And our ordinance doesn’t have an accommodation for larger boats or things of that nature.”

He said among the things he was proposing was having future boat houses be 35 feet from the Vilas County’s current ordinary high water mark (OHWM) of five feet. 

 “And in moving them back, increase the size of them so they can accommodate the larger boats,” Schiffmann said. “They won’t fit on every lot. There’s hillsides and things like that where larger boathouses just aren’t possible but when you’re dealing with relatively level or flat lots, your boathouse will be accommodated relatively easily.”

Schiffmann said what he did was “mirror” the portion of the Oneida County zoning ordinance relative to boathouses.

The differences from the Oneida County boathouse regulations he was presenting, he said, revolved around the 35 feet and allowing boathouses up to 720 square feet on lakes 500 acres or greater in size. 

The current Vilas County regulation for boathouses pertains to lakes 100 acres or greater in size; a maximum boathouse “footprint” of 300 square feet (instead of the 720 square feet Schiffmann was after); a five foot setback as opposed to 35 feet; 100 or more feet of lake frontage for a lot (Schiffmann proposed 150 feet); minimal vegetation removal (something Schiffmann was also seeking) and the use of a boathouse’s flat roof as deck provided there’s railing installed in accordance with the Wisconsin Uniform Dwelling Code. 

Opposition to change

Besides Schiffmann, there were several people – mostly residents of the town of Presque Isle, which has had its own zoning since 1959 – were sworn in during the public hearing, a few of them asking Schiffmann questions. 

Schmidt and zoning administrative secretary Julie Waidzulis read letters received from at least six different towns in Vilas County opposed to the boathouse regulation changes. 

One town – Conover with Oneida County Planning and Zoning director Karl Jennrich as one of its supervisors – sent minutes to a regular meeting that took place Nov. 27. 

The minutes reflect the town board, with Jennrich present, voted to oppose the amendment. 

According to meeting minutes, Jennrich himself made the motion to not support the ordinance amendment relating to boathouses.  

The town board for Manitowish Waters expressed a neutral view of the issue while the Land O’Lakes town board was in favor of the proposed changes. 

Also received – and read during the meeting Thursday – were letters from the Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association and the Manitowish Waters Lake Association. 

Committee chairman Jay Verhulst, after Waidzulis was finished with the Manitowish Waters Lake Association’s letter, told Schmidt he had an issue with that letter and the one before because he said the information contained in the letters, which included statements about things like erosion increasing with newer, larger boathouses and concerns expressed about impact of new development on water quality, “is not substantiated by any fact.”

“I’m perfectly happy having them register in opposition or for the issue,” he said.

Schmidt said there were only a few more to read. 

“I think we should hear what we have,” she said. 

“I question the relevance of listening to opposition that isn’t substantiated,” Verhulst said. 

“There might be something in those letters you may want to add in your discussions,” Schmidt said and Waidzulis read two more letters, both from property owners opposed to the amendment, Karen Dickson of Manitowish Waters and the other Marv Anderson of St. Germain. 

He’s also currently a Vilas County supervisor. 

There was plenty of discussion and deliberation on the matter once Verhulst closed the public hearing. 

As the discussion progressed and the committee went over each item and added some others, it became clear as a consensus was gathered all but one committee member, Chuck Hayes, who represents the towns of Presque Isle and Winchester on the county board, were in favor of going along with changes.

Hayes was, in his words, opposed to “the whole thing.”

‘A handful of people’

“What we’ve heard here, initially, is there are a handful of people asking for this,” Hayes said. “Certainly, there’s more out there but I heard six. And we’re proposing to change the entire county ... based on this. It’s not 50 people, it’s not 100.”

He said that goes well beyond the definition of minority rule. 

“The second point I want to make is there may be people in Vilas County who don’t hold up Oneida County as a standard to be emulated on zoning,” he said. “There may be some things they do well. Maybe this is one of them.”

Hayes’s third point had to do with what can happen once numbers are changed for items such as setbacks and high water marks. 

“It becomes easier in subsequent times to adjust those numbers,” he said. “Once this is through, the next amendment will be easier to make.”

In making his next point, Hayes said anytime there’s a town or club asking for a bike trail or all terrain vehicle trail and approved, there’s a guarantee they will come back and ask for additional trail mileage in subsequent years.

“In other words, again, once the concept is established, it’s easier to expand upon it,” he said. 

Finally, Hayes said historically, the county board “has placed a great value” on feedback from town boards. 

“We’ve done that with trails all the time,” he said. “‘What does the town board think of this? Yes or no?’ You heard today, I think we had six town boards who said they were opposed to this ... the people on the Vilas County Rivers and Lakes Association know more than we do about water quality and how development effects water quality. If they don’t know more than we do, we’re in trouble. And yet, we have presumed to say, ‘Nevermind. This is going to work and it won’t be a problem.’ I’m done.” 

Eventually, the committee voted to amend the county ordinance for boathouses 4-1, Hayes voting against. 

The amendment will come back to the committee in the form of a resolution at the committee’s Jan. 2 meeting.

If it’s approved then, it will be added to the agenda for the county board’s January meeting. 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]


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