Local Shoreline Development Rules Loosened

July 28, 2015

Counties are now prohibited from adopting zoning rules stricter than state law when it comes to what shoreline property owners can do with their property.

The change was approved by the GOP-controlled legislature and Gov. Scott Walker earlier this month as part of the 2015-17 state budget. Zoning rules govern how close structures can be to water, lot sizes, building maintenance, and vegetation, among other things, in order to protect water quality in streams, rivers, and lakes.

Legislative Republicans, like Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, say some local shoreline zoning rules too severely restrict the rights of property owners to build or maintain structures, and that a balance can be struck to protect property rights and the environment.

But more than a dozen environmental groups, like Clean Wisconsin, Trout Unlimited, and the Nature Conservancy, said the new rule will increase runoff pollution, hurt tourism and other businesses that depend on clean water, and deprive local governments from tailoring laws to protect the unique needs of their lakes and rivers.

The change affects at least 20 counties that had shoreline zoning rules tougher than state law.

Democratic Rep. Terese Berceau, of Madison, called the provision a “blatant sellout” to developers during the Joint Finance Committee’s consideration of the item in June.

The construction and real estate industries, which traditionally have an interest in regulations that affect the sale and maintenance of private and commercial property, contributed nearly $1.7 million to current Republican legislators and another $7.1 million to Walker between January 2011 and December 2014.

Meanwhile, individuals who work for environmental groups and their political action committees contributed only about $3,500 to Republican legislators, and $1,550 to Walker between January 2011 and December 2014.