/ Articles / Vilas County Planning and Zoning Committee discusses possible boathouse draft amendment changes

Vilas County Planning and Zoning Committee discusses possible boathouse draft amendment changes

September 10, 2019 by Kayla Houp

The Vilas County Planning and Zoning Committee heard from Glenn Schiffmann on Sept. 5 regarding requests Schiffmann had received from multiple local property owners to bring possible boathouse draft amendment changes to the planning and zoning committee’s attention.

According to Schiffmann, these requests were an effort to protect the property owners’ “investment in sporting equipment.”

“The existing boathouse doesn’t really permit for much,” Schiffmann said. “I understand the objective of that, and what I wrote in a couple of quick paragraphs was an amendment to allow boathouses to be bigger, but move them back.”

Schiffmann said that, “consistent” with Oneida County, boathouses could be “800 square feet or 720 square feet.”

With some of today’s equipment being a “significant investment,” according to Schiffmann, he said rather than keeping equipment on the lake, he would propose being able to put up a boathouse of “adequate size to accommodate a boat like that.”

“It’s a little bit of a hybrid between Vilas and Oneida County,” Schiffmann said. 

What Schiffman was proposing was to move the boathouse back outside of the primary buffer, move it back “35 feet minimum” in order to accommodate a larger boathouse.

“To me it makes perfect sense,” Schiffmann said. “As it goes back, it gets bigger. You go back 75 feet, it doesn’t matter, you can put up anything you want. Size is unlimited, but that’s a little bit unrealistic for boathouses and having tracks run 75 feet up into the yard.”

Schiffmann said what he was proposing was a “reasonable accommodation” and was “for people that have nicer equipment and nicer boats.”

He said he understood the need and desire to protect that equipment, and though the equipment can withstand being outside, storing it inside would “extend the lifetime.”

Schiffmann’s proposal was met with some resistance.

“I think that that’s the size of a small garage, correct?” Vilas County zoning administrator Dawn Schmidt said.

Schiffmann said it “mirrored” the Oneida County ordinance.

“That’s not big enough to house some of those big boats,” committee member Steve Doyen said.

Doyen said his own boat would “just fit” in a 30-foot garage “with the trailer and everything.”

Schmidt wanted to clarify that, at this point, Schiffmann’s proposed changes were “just a discussion.”

“My biggest concern is the concern we have right now with people turning these into guest cottages,” Schmidt said. “And once you get past a certain size they start being used for other things.”

Another concern revolves around boathouses being allowed to have flat roofs in Vilas County.

“You mentioned that you’re here at the request of several of Vilas property owners,” committee vice chair Chuck Hayes said. “Fourteen towns, one city in the county. Can you give us a better idea of how many property owners and where are they located in the different municipalities?”

“I would say probably six have come to us and asked or requested,” Schiffmann confirmed. 

Schiffmann said these property owners were from the Eagle River area and the Minocqua and Lac du Flambeau areas.

“As far as Vilas County is concerned, Minocqua is not part of the issue. We’re talking  Arbor Vitae and Lac du Flambeau, and possible in to St. Germain,” committee chair Jay Verhulst said.

“Lac du Flambeau, Fence Lake, more specifically,” Schiffmann said.

Hayes said, under his understanding, Schiffmann was proposing 30-by-24-foot structures 35 feet away from the high water mark using tracks to get the equipment from the high water mark into the structure.

Schiffmann said tracks today were “flush to the ground” and were no longer raised.

‘A violation nightmare’

“So, how does this differ from what we allow now, if you said we already allow ...,” committee member Kim Simac asked.

“We allow 300-square-foot boathouse for, you know, putting a boat, canoes, water related equipment and that. They still can use tracks,” Schmidt said. 

According to Schmidt, they had suggested if people want to park larger boats to run the tracks to the 75 foot line and put them in “however large” of a structure.

Schmidt said a 30-by-24-foot boathouse could fit a large party deck. 

“Yeah, so does that bother anybody? It doesn’t bother me,” Simac said.

“Think about the short-term rentals that would do this,” Schmidt said. “You could put a small band up there.”

“Well, and worse yet, during the summer when you don’t have boats in there, there can be a lot of cots in there,” Verhulst said. 

“I just see it as a violation nightmare for us to control,” Schmidt said.

“Somehow we gotta figure out how to let people improve their properties,” Simac said. “Maybe certain plans coming in would make sure that they weren’t allowed to do just that.”

Schmidt said they had that now with garages where people had turned a garage into short-term rental.

“It seems like maybe that’s a problem that we have to figure out how to get on compared to other ways that people want to utilize their property,” Simac said “We can’t let everything that’s going to go on in progress be stifled by the problem that we have with people utilizing their property for things that maybe they shouldn’t be.”

If there was a problem with how property owners were handling their property, Simac said the committee should figure out how to create a way to address the issue.

“Boathouses are usually not very conducive  to people sleeping in down below,” Simac said. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to sleep in a boathouse.”

Schmidt said it would be “very easy” for someone to install a loft or a wall.

“I guess what I’m understanding is basically they want to have a permit to build a garage closer than 75 feet to the water,” Doyen said. “Period, is what it really amounts to.”

‘Moving forward’

As the item was discussion-only, if the committee wanted to move forward with it, it would have to go to public hearing.

“If you would like me to look into this,?I will look into this, I will come up with some language,” Schmidt said.

Should the issue go to public hearing, it would be at Schiffmann’s expense as he was the one who brought it before the committee and move it forward as an amendment change.

Simac said there were multiple things to consider with the proposed changes, one being that improving property would increase the tax base and property values in the country.

Another was how to tackle the issue of regulating how people were renting their property.

“How do we control what’s going on with all this renting without infringing upon people’s personal property rights?” Simac asked. “With something like this, if people want to improve their homes and their lots.”

Moreover, Simac said she didn’t think this issue wasn’t one that should be “axed.”

“I don’t think we’re going to axe it. I think it is going to go on to a future meeting and we’re gonna have to look at this as far as the issues we have discussed here and issues that we haven’t gotten to yet,” Verhulst said.

Schmidt said Schiffmann had brought it forward to “get a feel” for how it may be received.

She also said they could enforce having a pitched roof at the proposed setback.

“Vilas County is the most restrictive when it comes to boathouses, period. The reality of it is that people have bigger equipment, more expensive equipment,” Schiffmann said.

Hayes asked if the committee would have another discussion on the issue prior to making a decision.

Schmidt said Schiffmann would have to fill out a request to amend the ordinance before it went to a full public hearing, after which it would go to the full county board for approval.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg for what needs to take place,” Schmidt said.

Verhulst advised the committee the “real cost” would be with enforcement rather than permitting.

“I think it can be worked out. I think if Mr. Schiffmann wants to go forward with this, there’s no reason not to,” Verhulst said. “I can see where there is going to be some controversy about it.”

Schmidt said she would “massage” the language and get back to Schiffmann if he decided he wanted to go in that direction.

“What Mr. Schiffmann wants to know today here is, if he comes forward with an ordinance amendment, is the committee going to be receptive to hearing the amendment,” Schmidt said.

“I think we have to hear it, we don’t have a choice,” Hayes said.

“I see no problem with hearing a amendment,” Verhulst said.

“I guess what he’s looking for is a consensus, is he throwing money away prematurely,” Doyen said.

Schmidt said they couldn’t say whether or not they would vote for it.

“But I would tell you that I think the makeup of the committee is such that you will get a balanced decision,” Verhulst said.

Schiffmann said committee member and county board supervisor Jerry Burkett, who was absent from last week’s meeting, was in favor of his amendment.

“Well, you can’t say that because you may think he is,” Schmidt said, saying if Burkett had a predetermined stance he would have to recuse himself from the vote.

“But we don’t know until, that cannot be discussed prior to,” Schmidt said.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]


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