PR&D says rezone would violate state law
By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee is recommending that the Dunn County Board deny a request for a rezone to industrial for the Vista Sand transloading facility near Knapp.
The PR&D committee made their unanimous decision at a meeting held September 11.
A public hearing on the rezone was held August 28.
R.J. Sikes, representing Vista Sand, a company based in Texas, said he realized the request for a rezone pitted the property rights of the seller against the property rights of the neighbors.
On the other hand, Vista Sand has received over 60 employment applications in the past few weeks without soliciting for applications, he said.
“This is the right time for this project … it brings a lot of value for a lot of folks,” Sikes said.
Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing and a member of the PR&D committee, wondered if Sikes had discussed his proposal with public officials in Boyceville and Knapp.
Vista Sand is planning to mine frac sand south of Glenwood City in St. Croix County and then haul the sand through Downing and Boyceville on state Highway 170, and then proceed on state Highway 79 to U.S. Highway 12 where the loading facility would be located between 330th Street and county Highway Q, and then travel back to Glenwood City through Knapp on Highway 12 and on State Highway 128.
Sikes said he had not talked to public officials in Boyceville and Knapp but that he has worked closely with the Union Pacific railroad.
The railroad will work with Vista to make sure that the loading facility is developed responsibly, he said.
“They are very closely watching the project … they are very interested,” Sikes said.
Quinn also wondered about the tax benefit concerning property taxes and fuel taxes that Vista would pay.
How much in direct taxes would Vista pay to Wisconsin for use of the roads? Quinn asked.
Sikes said he had done some research on the question but that he had been told it would be difficult to determine the amount of fuel tax that would be paid to the state.
“The jury is still out” on the miles per gallon for compressed natural gas, he said.
As for property taxes, Sikes said he had been told that the transloading facility would not add anything to the tax base but would instead lower the property taxes for other properties.
Sikes did not provide the PR&D committee with any numbers concerning the property tax benefit.
Robert Walter, county board supervisor from Menomonie and a member of the PR&D committee, said he had read all of the letters submitted about the project and that more than 90 percent had concerns about traffic.
Traffic will be present on state and federal highways, and the railroad will have trains, he said.
When someone buys a property, there is no guarantee road or rail traffic will remain the same, Walter said.
An increase in truck traffic to perhaps one sand truck every ten minutes is not a relevant issue for Dunn County because the traffic would be on state and federal highways and not within the control of the county, he said.
If people do not like the road and rail traffic, they can always move, Walter said, adding that if he were the one living there, he knew he would feel differently about it.
The relevant issue is the county’s comprehensive plan, Walter said.
State law requires that if a rezone is granted, it must be consistent with the comprehensive plan, he said.
State law essentially says that if communities go through the extensive planning process, they should pay attention to the plan that is adopted, Walter said.
State law is saying, “don’t just jump at the next ice cream cone that comes along,” he said.
The county’s comprehensive plan is based on land use plans developed and adopted by the townships, Walter noted.
The comp plan focuses on quality of life, maintaining air and water quality and preserving farmland. The plan also says that streams within 300 feet of development should be protected, and there is a stream within 300 feet of the Vista site, he said.
The request for a rezone from agricultural to industrial for the loading facility is not consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan or the planning process, Walter said.
If the citizens of the Town of Menomonie and Dunn County want a transloading facility at that site, they should go through the planning process again to change the comprehensive plan, he said.
Conflicting land uses
Gary Bjork, county board supervisor from Colfax and a member of the PR&D committee, said zoning is intended to keep conflicting land uses separate.
The Vista Sand proposal for a railroad loading facility would occupy a 190-acre site.
A rezone would be “sacrificing ag land,” Bjork said, noting that one aspect of the county’s comprehensive plan is preserving farmland.
The impact of the Vista proposal for a rezone would cast a “broad shadow” over a 40-mile route of truck travel, said Kitz Cleary, county board supervisor from Colfax and a member of the PR&D committee.
One of Dunn County’s responsibilities is to promote public health, safety and welfare and to consider economic stability and property values, she said.
The Vista proposal is not a “simple” rezone and the entire footprint of the project would affect the public welfare and property values, Cleary said.
The county’s comprehensive plan requires the county to consider the general welfare of its citizens, he said.
Vista has made a “narrow case” for income and jobs, Quinn said.
The applicant did not make a case for broad economic benefit, he said.
Joe Plouff, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the PR&D committee, noted that residents in the Town of Menomonie said, in the planning process, that they wanted a rural landscape.
The PR&D committee cannot say that the goals of residents in the Town of Menomonie should be changed, and more work would be needed at the township level to change the comprehensive plan to change the zoning, Plouff said.
In addition, Vista did not give a good justification for changing the zoning from agricultural to industrial, he said, noting that changing the zoning could be judged as illegal spot zoning.
The Vista proposal also was based on the site for one particular sand mine in one particular location, Plouff said, adding that Vista’s application has currently been withdrawn from St. Croix County, and if the parcel in the Town of Menomonie were rezoned to industrial, there would be no guarantee that the St. Croix County Zoning Board of Adjustment would approve the sand mine if the Vista application were resubmitted.
Vista would create 13 jobs in Dunn County, along with, perhaps, 40 truck driving jobs, but the assessed property value for the railroad transloading facility would not add much to the tax base, and the residential properties that would be impacted could be expected to make up for the Vista property value, Plouff said.
Motion to deny
The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee unanimously approved a motion to recommend that the Dunn County Board deny the request by Vista Sand for a rezone to industrial.
The reasons for recommending a denial included that the rezone was not consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan as is required by state law; that the economic impact was not sufficiently positive to offset costs to local units of government; that a rezone could possibly be interpreted as illegal spot or contract zoning; that a rezone is not in the best interests of the public’s health, safety and welfare.
The Dunn County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the PR&D committee’s recommendation at the September 19 county board meeting.