A 15-year legal battle ended in victory for a family of western Wisconsin property owners after a law was passed undoing barriers that sent the issue to the nation's highest court.
Gov. Scott Walker on Monday, Nov. 27, signed a package of bills dubbed the "Homeowners Bill of Rights" that includes a provision lifting restrictions on shoreland zoning. The bill erases St. Croix County and state restrictions that kept the Murr family from selling one of two parcels of adjoining land it owns along the St. Croix River in the town of Troy.
"What had happened was not what the Constitution is supposed to protect," said Donna Murr, one of the siblings who owns the land.
The family's effort brought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court this year, where jurists rejected the Murrs' argument that state and county laws governing the splitting off of substandard lots were unconstitutional.
Murr, an Eau Claire resident, said the decision was deflating — but not for long. About four hours after getting word about the high court's decision, she got a call from Rep. Adam Jarchow.
Murr said the Balsam Lake Republican told her how he was developing legislation that would render the U.S. Supreme Court's decision moot.
"I only had like three or four hours to be bummed out," Murr said Tuesday.
The bill cruised through the Legislature at a pace that "blows my mind," she said.
The legislation saw little opposition in the GOP-controlled Legislature, though Democrats — notably, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma — and an environmental group objected to the bill. The St. Croix River Association earlier this month called on supporters to oppose the legislation, arguing its impacts could alter water quality protections.
Murr said Walker's signature represents the culmination of 15 years spent attempting to free the family from regulations that kept them from selling an undeveloped parcel in order to pay for improvements to the family cabin built on the other parcel.
She said previous efforts to enlist legislators' help led to partisan barriers. Having the Republican Walker in office, along with the GOP-controlled Legislature, helped the family's effort gain traction in Madison, Murr said.
"Looking back, we never wavered," she said. "We were in it 100 percent from the get-go and we never looked back."
The family was represented at the U.S. Supreme Court by the Pacific Legal Foundation — an official from which declared Monday's bill-signing a victory for property rights.
"Securing property rights is fundamental to the protection of individual liberty, and the Murr family deserves thanks for their long, determined fight to vindicate those rights — for themselves and everyone else," said PLF litigation director James Burling.
The family will be free to sell the undeveloped parcel now that the regulations have been swept away, but Murr said they're going to sleep on it for the moment.
"We're more thrilled that we have our options back," she said, " ... but the cabin still needs some work."