News for Lakefront Property Owners

Wisconsin is home to thousands of inland lakes. Walworth County is no different, boasting beautiful lakes, including Geneva Lake, Delavan Lake, and their surrounding neighbors. The beauty of these lakes draws a wide array of people, causing a delicate balance of maintaining the lakes’ beauty but also developing the land to its fullest potential. As such, the Shoreland Zoning laws have been adopted to create statewide standards for building around lakes in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin legislature recently enacted significant changes to the Shoreland Zoning laws, including further limits on DNR and County control with respect to how they administer the Shoreland Zoning laws. The changes also establish minimum standards and rules governing non-conforming structures. We’ve highlighted some key issues below.

A structure located in Shoreland Zoning must be lawful when constructed at the time of construction. Under the recent changes “maintenance, repair, replacement, restoration, rebuilding, or remodeling” can be undertaken in the Shoreland Zoning so long as the action does not expand the footprint of the structure.

A new structure to be built within Shoreland Zoning must meet the following criteria: The required setback is 75 feet from the Ordinary High Water Mark, however setback averaging may apply. The minimum lot size is 65 feet with a minimum area of 10,000 square feet (publicly sewered) and 100 feet with a minimum area of 20,000 feet (not sewered). Under the new rules impervious surfaces are limited to 15% unless the lot is in a highly developed shoreline, mitigation is required, or the lot has features to treat runoff. Further building height is limited to 35 feet within 75 feet of the Ordinary High Water Mark of navigable waters.

The statutes exempt six types of structures from the setback requirements: boathouses above the Ordinary High Water Mark, gazebos and similar structures, fishing rafts, certain antennas and satellite dishes, utility lines and facilities, and walkways, stairways, or rail systems that are necessary to provide access to the shores and are no more than 60 inches wide. The recent statutes even allow new construction of these exempt structures within the setback.

Walworth County zoning ordinances limited the amount of money that could be spent on maintenance and repairs to “non-conforming structures” in the Shoreland Zoning area to 50% of the assessed value of the structure. This reflected an overall policy goal of eliminating non-conforming uses and structures by restricting the repair of the structures. This “50% Rule” to non-conforming structures in the Shoreland Zoning area, regardless of use, is no longer enforceable.

When purchasing property on a Walworth County lake, it is important for your attorney to review the statutes, administrative code (NR 115), as well as Walworth County ordinances to determine whether the current structure is a conforming, legally non-conforming, or illegally non-conforming structure. If you are looking to build a new home or change an existing improvement in any fashion within the Shoreland Zoning Ordinances, it is even more important for your attorney to review the law and provide you with legal counsel. The number and significance of Shoreland Zoning changes has been daunting. Recent legislation has dramatically altered the Shoreland Zoning framework.

The information provided above is only a summary and does not constitute legal advice to be relied upon.