County Shoreland Zoning Preempts Town Zoning with Shoreland

Counties are required to have shoreland zoning under Wisconsin Statute § 59.692. Towns are not required to have zoning of any kind. But towns, under some circumstances, may have their own general zoning. The interplay between counties and towns in Wisconsin can sometimes be quite complex. (Cities and Villages generally fall under different rules and will not be discussed in this article). What happens if the same piece of land happens to fall under both a county shoreland zoning ordinance and a town general zoning ordinance?

In the case of Hegwood v. Town of Eagle Zoning Board of Appeals, the circuit court held that county shoreland zoning preempted town zoning. This means that the town zoning could not be enforced within the shoreland zoning area – in other words, the landowner only had to deal with the county, not the town. Hegwood had applied to the County for variances from its ordinance, and the county had approved the variances. However, the town authorities denied the variances, and Hegwood went to court.

Shoreland zoning’s reach includes land within 1,000 feet of a lake or pond, or 300 feet of a river or stream. You may own shoreland real estate and not even realize it!

This is a published decision of the court of appeals, and will have general applicability to all towns in Wisconsin. The only exception to the county shoreland preemption is if a town had a zoning ordinance in place before the county enacted shoreland zoning. In that case, a town’s more restrictive provisions would still be enforceable.

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