MADISON, Wis. — Two Republican legislators introduced bills Thursday that would make it easier for people to sell and develop their land and for sand mine companies to win local permits.
Local government groups blasted the bill as an attack on local control within hours of its introduction. But Rep. Adam Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany said during a news conference that the bills are designed to restore property rights following what they consider terrible U.S. Supreme Court and Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions earlier this year.
“I believe that the courts have fallen down,” Tiffany said.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision involved the Murr family’s attempt to sell vacant land in St. Croix County in 2004. The lot is adjacent to another lot the family owns. The family acquired both lots in the early 1960s. County officials blocked the sale, citing a 1976 county ordinance that treats two adjacent lots as one property and prevents the sale and development of one.
The Murrs argued the ordinance amounted to a government taking of their land since they couldn’t sell it or develop it and they deserved compensation. The high court rejected those arguments in June.
The state Supreme Court ruled in May that a Trempealeau County environmental committee was within its jurisdiction when it denied AllEnergy’s application for a sand mine conditional use permit citing health concerns, even though the company met all the permit’s conditions.
The bill would allow people in situations such as the Murrs’ to sell or develop land adjacent to land that they already own and prohibit local governments from considering lots merged with the owners’ consent. If a court finds that a government restriction deprives a landowner of all or most of the use of the property the court must order the government to pay compensation and rescind the restriction.
The measure also requires local governments to issue conditional use permits to applicants who meet all the permit’s requirements. The government’s decision on the permit must be based on substantial evidence. Public comments about the project in question wouldn’t qualify as evidence.
The bill goes on to prohibit local governments from requiring variances for rebuilding existing structures that don’t conform with zoning ordinances, allow dredging of self-contained private ponds without a Department of Natural Resources permit and require condominium and homeowner associations to let members fly the U.S. flag.
“(The bill will) correct and help other Americans,” Donna Murr said during the news conference, flanked by signs that read “If you want my land, you have to pay for it” and “don’t Murr der my property rights.”
Curt Witynski, assistant director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said Thursday his group opposes the bill. He said the measure bypasses local zoning boards and leaders who know what their communities would accept.
“Wisconsin has long cherished the role of local government in safeguarding the interests of its citizens,” Witynski said. “People that make decisions that impact a community should answer to their community — not to Madison.”
Jarchow and Tiffany introduced another bill Thursday that would prohibit local governments from imposing special or seasonal weight limits on propane delivery vehicles on highways under their jurisdiction if the vehicles weigh less than a certain tonnage depending on the number of axles.
The measure also would allow shoreland property owners to place riprap in navigable waters adjacent to their property without a DNR permit. State agencies proposing any rules that affect the cost of housing construction and financing would have to submit an analysis of the rule’s effects.
NAIOP Wisconsin, a trade association representing nearly 400 commercial real estate developers and owners, issued a news release praising the bills. The group said the legislation will provide certainty and spur investment.
“For too long the approval process to reasonably use and develop private property has been subjective, arbitrary and unfair,” NAIOP Wisconsin CEO Jim Villa said in the statement.
Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said Fitzgerald supports the bills and Tiffany is working to build support among Senate Republicans.
Kit Beyer, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ spokeswoman, didn’t immediately reply to an email.
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