Forest forwards zoning ordinance to county for review

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF FOREST —  Following a public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance, the Forest Town Board has approved sending the ordinance to St. Croix County for review.

The Forest Town Board held a public hearing on the draft zoning ordinance July 9.

About 20 people attended the public hearing.

After the county reviews the ordinance and makes suggestions, the zoning ordinance will be sent to the Forest Plan Commission for review.

The Town of Forest’s zoning ordinance must be approved by the town board by December 29 when a moratorium on development in the townships expires.

St. Croix County must also approve the Town of Forest’s zoning ordinance before it can go into effect.

After St. Croix County reviews the ordinance and makes comments, and the ordinance has gone back to the Forest Plan Commission for review, another public hearing must be held.

If a zoning ordinance is not approved by the December 29 deadline, the Town of Forest will revert to being an unzoned township.

Several people who spoke at the public hearing said they were opposed to the ordinance stipulating that residents within a quarter mile must be notified of a proposed development project.

Those who spoke on the issue agreed that the town residents living within one mile should be notified.

Several people also objected to the amount of power the ordinance assigns to a zoning administrator.

The zoning administrator is not a building inspector, but the zoning ordinance would give the administrator access to property at any time, said Pat Scepurek, town supervisor.

The ordinance should be amended to say that the zoning administrator would have access to property for the purpose of reviewing an application or for the purpose of enforcing the ordinance, he said.

The proposed ordinance also gives the zoning administrator the authority to initiate legal proceedings, Scepurek said.

Katherine Munkittrick, the attorney for the Town of Forest, suggested removing the zoning administrator and the attorney from the section about initiating legal proceedings and adding “as directed by the town board.”

During her comments at the public hearing relating to the zoning administrator, Jan Scepurek pointed out that the United States constitution protects people and their homes from unreasonable searches.

Scepurek also wondered why the Town of Forest’s proposed zoning ordinance was so similar to the St. Croix County zoning ordinance.

“Why did we spend money when we could have taken the county zoning for free?” she asked.

It was “a huge mistake” to reject county zoning years ago, Scepurek said.

One section of the draft zoning ordinance also refers to allowing electrical generating facilities that generate 12,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.

Several people objected to the number of kilowatt hours allowed.

Forest is open to “all kinds of renewable energy in the comprehensive plan,” said Pat Scepurek.

According to state law, zoning ordinances must be consistent with the municipality’s comprehensive plan.

The electrical generating facility would be a special exception that must go through the plan commission and the town board, noted Rick Steinberger, town supervisor and chair of the plan commission.

The comprehensive plan should be modified to include only residential renewable energy, said John Strom, township resident.

Munkittrick pointed out that anyone can ask for an amendment to the zoning ordinance.

The amendment would be referred to the plan commission for a recommendation, and then a public hearing on the proposed amendment would be needed, she said.

Munkittrick cautioned the town board about “keeping the (draft) ordinance in the town too long” because if the town board spends too much reviewing the zoning ordinance, the moratorium will expire and the Town of Forest would go back to no zoning.

The Forest Town Board approved on a vote of two to one to send the draft ordinance to the county for review with proposed changes concerning notification, the zoning administrator and the electrical generating facility.

Junker and Steinberger voted in favor of the motion.

Scepurek voted against the motion.