Archive for July, 2012

Legislature Enacts Changes in Zoning Law Regarding Nonconformance

Friday, July 27th, 2012

With the passage of 2011 Wisconsin Act 170, the state legislature made several significant changes to Wisconsin’s zoning laws with respect to nonconforming structures.  The provisions in the new law went into effect on April 17, 2012.  Many of the changes affect shoreland zoning, and some affect zoning in general.

With respect to shoreland zoning, the new law limits the ability of counties to be more restrictive than the DNR shoreland regulations, NR 115, for substandard lots and nonconforming structures.  NR 115 sets minimum standards for such things as building setbacks, lot size, boathouses, etc.

With respect to shoreland and general zoning, probably the most significant change is that local (county, city, village or town) zoning ordinances “may not prohibit, or limit based on cost, the repair, maintenance, renovation, or remodeling of a nonconforming structure.”  It is fairly common for zoning ordinances to limit repair, maintenance, renovation, and remodeling based on a 50% rule which had been the statutory rule until the enactment of the new law.  Any such provision is now unenforceable.

Note that this does not say that no limits may be placed on the repair, maintenance, renovation, or remodeling of nonconforming structures.  Only that such limits may not be based on cost.

Finally, the new law did not affect floodplain zoning, so presumably limits on repair, maintenance, renovation, or remodeling in floodplains based on cost remain valid.

Court Ruling on Liquor License Premises Descriptions – How General can the Premises of a Liquor License Description Be?

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

In a unanimous decision in Wisconsin Dolls v. Town of Dell Prairie, the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with Wisconsin Dolls LLC that a description of the “premises” for an alcohol license which states something along the lines of “all 8 acres of the resort” is sufficient.  While the court was clear that in granting the initial license, the Town could have reviewed the description of the premises and possible sought clarification, under Wisconsin law, there is no requirement to be more specific than “all 8 acres of the resort.”

The circuit court had sided with the Town of Dell Prairie’s attempt reduce the premises to only the main bar building, and the appellate court had agreed, though on different grounds.  The appellate court had held that the previous licenses had been void because of the vagueness of the description of the premises.  But the Supreme Court reversed, stating that a description such as “all 8 acres” was sufficient, and the time for a municipality to question such a description is before granting the license in the first place, not at a subsequent renewal. Justice Prosser stated,  “Towns may attach conditions to an alcohol beverages license, including limitations to the described premises, when the license is initially granted.”  But once a license is granted, the rules for non-renewal are well defined by statute, and do not include a town’s desire to reduce the premises because they had not carefully reviewed the license when it was initially granted.  Town’s do not have the authority to unilaterally modify the description of the premises.  Although the holding and language in the case was specific to towns, the application of the holding should apply to villages and cities as well.