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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — American Patriot Storage on state Highway 25 north of Menomonie will have the request for a rezone from General Agriculture to General Commercial approved — eventually.
On a vote of 13 “yes” to 15 “no” to deny a rezone request for the self-storage facility in the Town of Sherman, the Dunn County Board at the April 17 meeting sent the issue back to the Planning, Resources and Development Committee to write an ordinance approving the rezone.
Anthony and Dawn Baier of Elmwood, the owners of American Patriot Storage, made the request for a rezone of the 6.31 acre parcel, and the PR&D committee held a public hearing on the request March 12.
Up to eight storage buildings are allowed on the parcel now with the General Agriculture zoning and a special exception granted by the Dunn County Zoning Board of Adjustment. Six buildings exist on the parcel with plans to build two additional units this summer.
The Baiers requested the rezone to allow for future expansion of the business.
Following the public hearing, the PR&D committee recommended the county board deny the request for a rezone because the rezone is not consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan; the permitted uses in the General Commercial district might not be compatible with neighboring properties; and the rezone constitutes “spot zoning.”
During the discussion at the PR&D committee meeting, “there was some level of disagreement,” said Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing and chair of the PR&D committee.
Once a rezone is granted, the property is open for any use that is allowed in the zoning district, he noted.
The existing zoning of General Agriculture allows the business to continue operating and to expand under a special exception granted by the Dunn County Zoning Board of Adjustment, Quinn noted.
If circumstances were to change, the owner could submit another request for a rezone, he said.
“It is really hard to say ‘no,’” said Mike Kneer, county board supervisor from Menomonie and a member of the PR&D committee.
So that all rezones are treated the same, PR&D is working to develop a reliable process, he said.
Denying the rezone would not change the owner’s ability to use the property as it is being used now, Kneer said.
The comprehensive plan lists the property in an area preferred for farmland preservation, he said.
The rezone would be considered “spot zoning” because it benefits an individual and not the general public, Kneer said.
Rezoning the parcel to commercial would make American Patriot Storage “a little island in a sea of general agricultural,” said Diane Morehouse, county board supervisor from Menomonie and a member of the PR&D committee.
The business is already permitted to expand by two storage units because of the special exception, and the owners can still operate the business as it is, she said.
If the parcel is rezoned to General Commercial, “20 years from now, who knows?” Morehouse said.
The PR&D committee is “trying to be more deliberative about the process” and “looking toward the future,” she said.
If the rezone were denied, would it cause financial hardship or harm? asked Gary Seipel, county board supervisor from Eau Galle and a member of the PR&D committee.
Baier did not indicate it would cause financial hardship, he said.
Charles Maves, county board supervisor from Boyceville, said he was against denying the rezone and was speaking from the perspective of the Sherman Town Board and as an advocate for local control.
Maves was a town board supervisor at the time the Sherman Town Board indicated support for the rezone.
The rezone is consistent because commercial properties tend to be developed along highways, he said.
As for future uses that could be developed because the commercial zoning allows those uses, the rezone could include a stipulation to not allow additional uses of the property, Maves said.
Not granting the rezone is “hampering the owner from being able to complete future expansion,” he said.
Elton Christopherson, county board supervisor from Elk Mound, serves on the Elk Mound Town Board.
“The Town of Elk Mound does not have zoning for this reason,” he said.
James Tripp, county board supervisor from Menomonie, cautioned about “unintended consequences” because no one can predict how circumstances will change in the coming years.
To illustrate an example of unintended consequences, Tripp said he had owned a trailer house in a small trailer court when he was a student.
Tripp wanted to sell the trailer, and a buyer came along who would only buy it if it could stay in the “mom and pop” trailer court.
The owner did not want to allow the potential buyer to stay in the trailer court, but the owner went against his instincts and allowed the buyer to stay as a sort of a favor to Tripp.
The person who bought the trailer “murdered his girlfriend on the front step of what used to be my house,” Tripp said.
The revelation elicited audible gasps from the other county board members.
Tripp said he was certain the trailer park owner had wished with all his heart that he had followed his instincts.
“That’s why we have zoning, so we don’t have to predict (what will happen in the coming years) to protect the neighbors,” he said.
Mike Rogers, county board supervisor from Menomonie, suggested putting conditions on the rezone so that if something changed about the business, the zoning would revert back to agriculture.
Zoning with stipulations is illegal in Wisconsin and cannot be done, said Paul Miller, county manager.
One way to ensure uses are more limited is through Planned Unit Development, he said.
The county is considering using Planned Unit Development, and it may create opportunity for the owners of American Patriot Storage and other business owners, Miller said.
Gary Stene, county board supervisor from Colfax, said the discussion was a good example of “democracy in action.”
Stene said while the rezone was a “tough decision,” he believed the county board should honor the wishes of the township.
The county board should “lean toward the people” and “do what is right,” he said.
“Do we say ‘yes’ to those we like and ‘no’ to those we don’t like?” Kneer asked.
At one point in the discussion, it was mentioned that the Town of Sherman is predominantly General Agriculture.
The town board kept Sherman in agricultural zoning to “keep it as open as possible,” Maves said.
James Anderson, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said it was “an awesome discussion” and that he generally operates on the idea that a committee making a recommendation to the county board has “studied the issue more than I have and knows more than I do.”
Refuse to deny
If the resolution to deny the rezone is voted down, the Dunn County Board is refusing to deny the request for a rezone, said Nick Lange, Dunn County corporation counsel.
If the county board refuses to deny, the rezone is sent back to the PR&D committee to write an ordinance that approves the rezone, he said.
After the PR&D committee writes an ordinance approving the rezone, the ordinance comes back to the county board for consideration.
If the resolution to deny the rezone is approved by the county board, the approval constitutes a “final denial,” Lange said.
To clarify, Lange reiterated that a “yes” vote on the resolution denied the rezone, and a “no” vote on the resolution sent the rezone back to the PR&D committee for an ordinance to approve the rezone.
David Bartlett, county board chair from Boyceville, said it seemed as if the vote might be too close to call by a voice vote.
Stene asked for a roll call vote.
The 15 Dunn County Board supervisors voting “no” on the resolution to deny a rezone were Vaughn Hedlund (Boyceville); Maves (Boyceville); Randy Prochnow (Menomonie); Quinn (Downing); Rogers (Menomonie); Ron Score (Boyceville); Teresa Lyall (Menomonie); Bartlett (Boyceville); Stene (Colfax); Sheila Stori (Menomonie); Carl Vandermeulen (Menomonie); Jim Zons (Colfax); Anderson (Menomonie); Larry Bjork (Menomonie); Christopherson (Elk Mound).
The 13 Dunn County Board supervisors voting “yes” on the resolution to deny a rezone were Kelly McCullough (Menomonie); Morehouse (Menomonie); Seipel (Eau Galle); Mary Solberg (Menomonie); Robin Sweeny (Menomonie); Donald Kuether (Menomonie); Tim Lienau (Menomonie); Tripp (Menomonie); Gary Bjork (Colfax); Dale Harschlip (Mondovi); Brian Johnson (Colfax); Sarah Kennedy (Menomonie); Kneer (Menomonie).