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Forest plan commission approves zoning ordinance

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF FOREST — You know that little business you’ve got of knitting mittens and then selling them through a website on the Internet and filling those orders at home and sending them out through the mail?

After the Town of Forest’s zoning ordinance is in effect, you may no longer be able to sell your mittens — and at the very least, you will need a permit from the Town of Forest to knit the mittens.

Following a public hearing October 9, the Forest Plan Commission recommended that the Forest Town Board approve the proposed zoning ordinance.

About 25 people attended the meeting.

The current draft of the zoning ordinance and the map that accompanies it have been sent to St. Croix County for comments and returned on two different occasions, noted Rick Steinberger, town supervisor and chair of the plan commission.

The current version that was under consideration following the public hearing has not been sent back to the county yet but does have previous county comments incorporated into it, he said.

After the Forest Town Board approves the zoning ordinance, it must be sent back to St. Croix County for approval before it officially becomes a zoning ordinance, said Catherine Munkittrick, an attorney representing the Town of Forest.

The public hearing lasted for nearly two hours, and during that time, town residents brought up a number of concerns about the ordinance, including restrictions on home occupations, setbacks, the size of signs, the size of mobile homes, the size of residential dwellings, and the zoning administrator.

Home occupations

Under home occupations, the ordinance does not allow the direct sale of products and requires that the occupation be conducted in the house and not in a separate building, such as a detached garage, meaning that anyone who knits mittens or makes jewelry or soap, for example, would not be able to sell those products from their home.

It was not clear from the discussion how an Internet-based business would fit into the ordinance for taking orders through a website and then filling those orders at home and mailing them out. The ordinance only references telephone orders and “parties.”

Town of Forest resident Mark Tellijohn wondered about an Amish bakery.

And what would be wrong with someone working out of their garage? he asked.

Several other people mentioned concerns about the home occupations section of the ordinance as well and referred to people who might want to sell homemade jelly or honey.

If the minor home occupation is one that is allowed under the Forest zoning code, the resident must receive a land use permit from the township.

Some of the occupations that would require a permit include accounting; computer programming; sewing; home cooking for sale off site; home crafts for sale off site; painting, sculpting or writing; real estate services; secretarial services; tutoring.

Home occupations take place in a dwelling in a residential zone and not in a commercial district, Munkittrick said.

Restricting occupations that people can do at home “keeps the negative impact to a minimum,” she said, adding that traffic from people coming to buy products could disturb the neighbors.

As for major home occupations in an agricultural district, which do not have to be conducted in the house, those activities must be related to agriculture.

Jan Scepurek, town resident, said St. Croix County does not require a permit for home occupations and that it “seems unfair” to prohibit the selling of products in home occupations.

The ordinance should allow home occupations that are compatible with Forest’s rural heritage, she said.

Setbacks

The current setback for animal housing structures from property boundaries is 75 feet, but the new zoning ordinance puts the setback at 100 feet, Tellijohn noted.

For farmers who have buildings at the current setback, what provision is in the ordinance to allow them to build additions onto existing buildings? he wondered.

The 100-foot setback is consistent with the county’s zoning ordinance, Steinberger said.

The proposed zoning ordinance states that if non-conforming structures can be built in a such a way that it does not increase the non-conformity, they are acceptable, Munkittrick said.

In other words, if farmers build additions away from the property line on existing structures — rather than toward the property line — the additions will be acceptable under the proposed zoning ordinance.

Signs

Tellijohn said he was concerned about the sign regulations, too.

The ordinance restricts signs to no more than six square feet, which is a sign that could be two feet high by three feet wide, he said.

In town, where drivers travel at 25mph, a six-foot sign might be sufficient; out in the country, where someone is trying to catch the attention of someone driving by at 50 mph, a six-foot sign is small, Tellijohn said.

Tellijohn noted that one big sign on the side of a barn advertising antiques would be prohibited under the new ordinance.

Current land uses are grandfathered in, including the big sign on the barn, said Doris Schmidt, Forest resident.

Home sizes

The size of mobile homes and residential homes also was a subject for discussion.

The proposed zoning ordinance initially only allowed double-wide (26 feet) mobile homes and houses that were 1,120 square feet or larger, meaning that houses smaller than 28 feet wide by 40 feet long would not be allowed in Forest.

What about people who want to put a trailer on their property while they are saving money to build a house? Tellijohn wondered.

What about higher energy costs for a larger home and single people living alone? he asked.

During the plan commission meeting that followed the public hearing, plan commission members amended the section dealing with mobile homes and houses to require mobile homes to be a minimum of 12 feet wide, 15 years old or newer, and that all dwellings must be a minimum of 600 square feet.

Zoning administrator

The proposed zoning ordinance for the Town of Forest is about 70 pages long and is quite detailed.

The township will have to hire a zoning administrator to administer the ordinance.

Lee Tellijohn, plan commission member, said he thought it would be a conflict of interest if the zoning administrator were a plan commission member or a town board member.

The zoning ordinance also creates a board of adjustment for the township.

One person attending the public hearing wondered how the zoning administrator would be paid and where the money would come from.

Pat Scepurek wondered where the zoning administrator’s records were going to be kept.

The Forest Plan Commission approved fines ranging from $50 per day to $1,500 per day for violations of the zoning ordinance.

Lee Tellijohn questioned whether the person who is being fined would have to pay the amount if the zoning violation is appealed and at what point the fine would start accumulating.

Paying $1,500 a day for six months while working through an appeal process is a tremendous amount of money, Tellijohn said.

The Forest Town Board must now approve the proposed zoning ordinance before it is sent to St. Croix County for final approval.