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St. Joseph signs on with new St. Croix County zoning

The St. Joseph Town Board voted recently to sign on with revised county zoning that affects, among other things, the “Ag Residential” category now covering most town properties.

The board’s unanimous roll-call decision May 8, however, could be changed in the future as St. Joseph moves forward with a new round of town comprehensive planning while the River Crossing bridge project plays out.

The township was under a one-year timeline that ends Sept. 30 for deciding whether to accept St. Croix County’s new zoning ordinance or develop its own substitute, subject to county approval.

But Board Chairman Dan Gavin noted that St. Joseph’s most recent comprehensive plan – adopted in 2006 – complicates the go-it-alone option.

The plan, for example, does not accommodate the county’s two new agricultural zoning categories: AG-1, which applies to many traditional agricultural uses; and AG-2, which also allows some industrial and commercial use.

The 2006 plan — which would have been superseded by new county zoning in the absence of town action before Sept. 30 — designates most of its properties as “Ag Residential.” But that category is “going away” under St. Croix County’s new zoning framework, Gavin said.

Those properties will now be converted to the county’s new “Rural Residential” designation, which applies — like “Ag Residential” — to large-lot home sites on land that has minimal agricultural value, he explained.

“Going forward as we update our comprehensive plan, if we decide we want to allow ag zoning once again, we can,” Gavin said. “And if we want to go to AG-1 or AG-2 , we can do that too...The only caveat is that the county must give their blessing.”

He added: “We’re just beginning the process of updating our comprehensive plan with River Crossing mitigation funding. That will take the next year to a year-and-a-half.”

Board member Richard Thompson, meanwhile, urged town residents to keep a sharp eye on St. Joseph’s land-use options as the next round of comprehensive planning takes shape.

“What needs to happen is that people really need to look at their zoning because there really are advantages involved,” he said.

St. Croix County adopted its new zoning ordinance to comply with its Farmland Preservation Plan, its own comprehensive plan and new Wisconsin statutes.

Road crack-sealing plan approved

Faced by a $91,000 2014 Public Works budget deficit in the wake of extraordinarily frequent snow-plowing this winter, the board also unanimously approved a scaled-back, $53,000 road-improvement plan that includes only crack-sealing projects this year.

Follow-up seal-coating on those projects is scheduled for next year under the new plan, which was recommended by Town Engineer Lee Mann.

When the snow-plowing budget crisis came to light in April, the town was forced to abandon any major road-construction projects in 2014.

After a subsequent review of the town’s budget and road-repair options, the board also decided last week not to accept any bids for planned early 2014 crack-sealing and seal-coating maintenance on 12 local streets: 122nd, 125th, 130th and 138th avenues; 24th, 30th, 31st and 33rd streets; Heritage Trail, Pioneer Circle, Settler’s Way and Thiesen Farm Trail.

Those bids were authorized in February, but board action was deferred until this month after the snow-plowing deficit was announced.

At last week’s board meeting, Mann unveiled a wider-ranging proposal under which 55 local roadways were designated as either “primary” and “secondary,” depending on how much damage will require crack-sealing and seal-coating repair.

Thirty-six roads were included in the primary category, while 19 were on the secondary list, but all will get crack-sealing work in 2014, Mann said.

Seal-coating is most effective when done a year after crack-sealing, he added.

Gunfire near Arbor Hills Drive

In other action at last week’s meeting, Gavin said he would consult with Town Attorney Catherine Munkittrick in the wake of numerous resident complaints about repeated incidents of multiple gunshots near Arbor Hills Drive and elsewhere in the township.

Several residents complained at last week’s meeting that they were being regularly bothered by shots that appeared to be from an automatic weapon, sometimes for as long as four hours a day.

“It’s thousands of rounds on a Sunday afternoon, and it’s constant,” one resident said. “It’s ruining the quality of life we’ve become used to for a long time.”

Gavin noted, however, that the town no longer has a gun ordinance, leaving a state prohibition on gunshots within 300 feet of a residence as the only regulation that local gun enthusiasts must follow.

Police responding to the Arbor Hills Drive residents’ complaints have said that they have been unable to verify whether the 300-feet threshold is being violated.

Gavin noted that local gun regulation “is a very contentious subject” and that any new local ordinance, for example, would likely have to focus on noise and public-nuisance factors, rather than gunshots, per se.

“We have to ask, ‘Do we want to start that process again?’” he said. “If so, our starting point would have to be to ask (Munkittrick), ‘If we are to address the issue, what’s the proper way to do it?”

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

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