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Vilas County Board of Adjustment stays the course in Carlin water case

Ruch: ‘It’s by no means over and settled’

November 19, 2019 by Brian Jopek

It took nearly five and a half hours — including a two and a half hour closed session — but the Vilas County Board of Adjustment last week voted 4-0 to uphold the interpretation of portions of the county zoning ordinance as it pertains to plans for hauling water from the Carlin Club well in Presque Isle. 

That ordinance interpretation, from county zoning administrator Dawn Schmidt, concerned an effort by Carlin Club Properties, LLC to remove water from the well.

It goes back five years

The partnership in Carlin Club Properties, which has among its principle owners Trig Solberg of Woodruff and Bob Rynders of Minocqua, tried in 2015 to get a water bottling plant established on Minocqua’s west side. 

After a conditional use permit (CUP) got through the Minocqua plan commission and town board, Solberg, then a member of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources board, pulled the Minocqua plans days before the CUP application was to go to the Oneida County planning and development committee.

Later in 2015 and early 2016, after contentious plan commission and town board meetings in the town of Presque Isle, an effort to build the water bottling plant there failed.

A primary reason for that was Schmidt’s zoning ordinance decision. 

In 1997 and with a different owner, the Carlin Club property was rezoned from general business to residential use. 

As long as the business maintained its lodging, restaurant and bar licenses, it was “grandfathered” and could remain despite the new residential zoning designation. 

Any change in use, however, would mean, at least according to Schmidt, a zoning violation. 

The Carlin Lake Association filed a lawsuit against Carlin Club LLC in late 2016 to stop the company from taking water from the Carlin Club well. 

There were proceedings in Vilas County court in 2017 which ultimately resulted in an injunction against the company. 

Even though the company has been turned back several times to this point as far as being able to do anything with water from the Carlin Club well itself, the bottling plant has been constructed and is operating using water from a nearby well up the road in Marenisco, Mich.

The Carlin Club well water, though, is what Solberg and his partners would like to access for water bottling production. 

In November 2015, during a public information meeting conducted by the Presque Isle plan commission, Solberg described the Carlin Club well water as “a high-end water.”

Not done yet

Last Thursday’s hearing was conducted as the result of an April 30, 2019, ruling by Vilas County circuit court judge Neal Nielsen, that remanded an appeal by Carlin Club LLC to the board of adjustment for further review. 

As was the case in the July 2018, board of adjustment hearing, Carlin Club LLC was represented by attorneys John Houlihan and Greg Harrold. 

The Carlin Lake Association was represented at last week’s hearing by attorney Mike Stingl with the law firm Lawton & Cates. 

And as was the case during the BOA hearing last year, there were periods of substantial back and forth regarding interpretations of the Vilas County zoning ordinance and which part the BOA was to be addressing according to Nielsen’s direction, most of it Thursday between Houlihan, Harrold and BOA chairperson Joy Hanser. 

The public hearing portion, attended by approximately 40 people from the Presque Isle area, lasted a little more than two hours before the BOA went into closed session. 

Once the meeting was reconvened in public session, Hanser went over — and the board unanimously approved — each of six areas pertaining to Vilas County zoning Nielsen had outlined in his April 30 ruling which he felt, essentially, needed to have more detail.

After they did that, the BOA then voted, as it did last year, to uphold Schmidt’s decision regarding Carlin Club zoning. 

Afterward, Houlihan said, as he has previously, his team would have to look at where things are to determine what they’ll do next. 

“Obviously, we’re disappointed, but I do have to talk to Trig Solberg and the other members of Carlin Club Properties as to how we’re going to proceed now based on this decision,” he said. “An appeal is a possibility, but they will have to make a decision.”

On the other side, Bob Ruch with the Carlin Lake Association said the group was pleased with the BOA’s agreement with the associations position “that pumping and transporting water for commercial use was a violation of our current R1 (residential) ordinance.”

Despite success for the Carlin Lake Association in the case so far, he echoed Houlihan’s comments regarding next steps, saying “it’s by no means over and settled.”

“Trig Solberg and his investor group can and likely will appeal this decision of the BOA,” Ruch said. 

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

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