By Dave Fidlin


Whitewater officials are in the midst of combing through a revised ordinance aimed at syncing up the city’s comprehensive zoning code with recently enacted changes in state law.

Members of the Plan and Architectural Review Commission discussed the changes March 11 with City Attorney Wally McDonell and gave a favorable recommendation to the Common Council.

Council members held a first reading at their most recent meeting March 19. A second, and final, reading of the changes is slated for next month.

At the Plan and Architectural Review Commission meeting, McDonell said the impetus behind the ordinance revisions come on the heels of changes lawmakers in Madison have implemented.

“They haven’t been included in our ordinances,” McDonell said of the new provisions in the statute.

At its core, the changes go into greater specificity on the technical definitions of a number of issues pertaining to when and under what circumstances exceptions are granted for developments.

Commissioner Sherry Stanek said she believes the changes will be a positive to the community.

“I thought this was very useful,” Stanek said.

The changes touch on such concepts as nonconforming structures, nonconforming uses, nonconforming lots and development regulations.

Although the changes are in response to state statute, McDonell said he believes the amendments are beneficial to the city as well since he saw flaws in the wording of some of the prior provisions in the municipal code.

“It goes into more detail,” McDonell said of the changes. “It helps city staff interpret specific situations. I think it corrects a few deficiencies in our prior ordinance.”

The changes implemented in Madison are not necessarily in relation to anything specific that had taken place within Whitewater.

Broadly speaking, McDonell said the state’s changes came into play after assertions some municipalities were not treating landowners fairly in how they are able to use their lots.

At the Plan and Architectural Review Commission meeting, McDonell pointed to one specific example that does not correlate directly to Whitewater but was a topic of discussion when state officials made the changes.

If the owner of a cottage loses the dwelling to a natural disaster, such as a tornado, he or she should be permitted to rebuild the structure even if it is non-conforming to the use of the land on the municipality’s books.

“I’m paraphrasing because there’s a lot more to it,” McDonell said of the example he gave.

But the spirit of the grandfathering concept is sprinkled throughout the changes planned within the city.

An amended passage in the city code on nonconforming lots, for example, defines the concept as, “A lot, the area, dimensions or location that existed at the time of the effective date of this ordinance or an amendment thereto that does not conform to current regulations of this ordinance.”

The amendment further states, “Such nonconforming lots are also referred to as substandard lots.”

McDonell said the regional Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission organization was helpful in implementing the local changes. SEWRPC made available a template to local communities to ensure all of the changes within state statute were being incorporated, he said.



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