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“Surprise” Wisconsin Campground Causes Uproar Among Citizens, Town Officials

On July 2, over 100 people attended a rushed public awareness meeting at Sand Lake Town Hall. It addressed recent news about several campgrounds in Sand Lake being planned despite the fact that Burnett County does not have comprehensive zoning.

These issues were discovered by unaware neighbors and elected officials in the town, who were not aware of any pending expansions or proposals for campgrounds.

Until June 14th I didn’t know, or would have never known, about a campground being constructed, just 35-feet away from my property!” said Melanie Connor Johnson, Town of Sand Lake Treasurer. She spoke extensively about the proposals and the issues surrounding the “surprise” campgrounds. “They have not contacted us (towns officials), because they don’t need to without comprehensive zoning.”

Johnson and others noted that Sand Lake doesn’t follow Burnett County’s comprehensive zoning regulations, so there is little reason for Sand Lake developers to seek interaction with local government beyond driveway permits or applications for sanitary sewer construction or uniform dwelling codes.

One exception is if the affected property lies within 1,000 feet of a water body. This triggers the Shoreland Zoning county zoning rules.

“The truth is that there’s not much we can do right now in Sand Lake,” Melanie Connor Johnson stated. She also said that comprehensive zoning should be implemented by the town. So that we can have (development), in a fair and transparent manner, that’s been applied equally.

Many speakers criticized the town board for failing to consider the comprehensive zoning process. While many people understand it is not a pressing issue now, they still want it to be an example of what could go wrong if there are no real checks and balances in land and development.

Johnson said that it could be too late to use but begged the town board to adopt county zoning. 

“But it may not be too late for you. We beg the town board to adopt county zoning,” she said.

Don Taylor, Burnett County Board Chairman and Sand Lake Supervisory Representative, briefly addressed the topic and said that they could not stop the expansion or development of campgrounds, even though there is comprehensive zoning.

Taylor stated that “Zoning will not stop a camp,” as he talked about another proposal, which involved denial of a conditional permit (CUP), for a campsite in another part of the county.

“The truth is that it’s difficult for Zoning (department officers) to deny a permit which has been properly done,” Taylor said.

The board chairman also mentioned the county’s current moratorium on CUP proposals for new campgrounds, and that he fully expects the current moratorium will be extended for several more months, despite the state having “a general hatred for them.

Taylor suggested that the county or the town might draft any issues they wish to include in these limits or add to the existing rules, so that when the moratorium expires they can make those changes.

It was also said that research and studies continue on the topic, but some of the issues mentioned are hard to prove as adverse. This includes increased traffic or increased pressure on law enforcement. Taylor also suggested that elected officials don’t need to be notified about any CUP applications or permits, other than those relating to driveways and septic systems, because there isn’t comprehensive zoning within several Burnett County towns.

Taylor stated that the town board would be notified about a CUP application. Once it was zoned, Taylor would give his opinion on zoning issues.

Melanie Connor Johnson also stressed the point that there is “No real process” currently and that new campsites can be up “By next week”. They have appealed to the state DNR to have their shoreland zoning included, but the underlying problem is that they don’t have the correct mapping to know exactly who or where these zoning rules will take effect.

Many people suggested the need to have a more precise LIDAR mapping of the city so that they can confidently identify which shoreland zones and people are affected.

Johnson recommended DNR water specialists in Spooner come in to determine where the water really is.

Taylor suggested that the next step is to have the residents politely speak up with the board. He also suggested that a town referendum be the best way for comprehensive zoning.

The meeting was not attended by the Town of Sand Lake board members, but the treasurer and clerk were present.

Two of the “new” campgrounds they mentioned are Rachel Swanson’s. She proposes a 60-plus site RV camping area off Dongala and Peterson roads. This has been halted while the DNR examines the shoreland zoning issue.

According to information provided at the meeting, Swanson is currently building a 6-unit campsite. He also plans to expand the site to 30 adjacent sites. None of these would be affected under the shoreland zoning but has received septic permits.

Possible Third Campground Proposal

A third possible Sand Lake campground proposal is also being considered, according to Okerlund Road. However, this is speculation at best. The DNR was asked to investigate the shoreland zoning issue for that one as well.

Many residents spoke out at the meeting to highlight the benefits of not being zoned. They pointed out how small structures can be built more easily and less expensively, as well as how sheds, additions, and small structure construction are much simpler and cheaper. However, others pointed out that there is no difference in the legal requirements for zoning.

Melanie Connor Johnson nodded and said, “Yes, regulations that you’re asking neighbors to follow, you will also have to follow.”

There are other potentially negative effects of having more big campgrounds in the town, including septic waste disposal, lack of facilities to treat effluents, road damage, noise, and possible impacts to local services such as law enforcement, medical, and invasive species.

Chairman Taylor stated that the true problem is the inability to accommodate more people.

“But I think the real issue is, and this is just what I think, is that we can’t support having so many more people here,”  Taylor said.


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Modern Campground

Modern Campground

Modern Campground is the most innovative news source in the Outdoor Hospitality industry. We provide global news coverage for RV Park and Campground owners, operators, managers, and their team members.
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Hi, you might find this article from Modern Campground interesting: “Surprise” Wisconsin Campground Causes Uproar Among Citizens, Town Officials! This is the link: https://moderncampground.com/usa/wisconsin/surprise-wisconsin-campground-causes-uproar-among-citizens-town-officials/