Viewpoint: Allowing a select few to bypass local zoning is hypocritical

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Gov. Walker and State Legislators, this letter is to you.

I'm paying attention. When a court ruled against new owners of a church camp (converted to wedding venue) in St. Croix County where I live, you went to work on a bill to give those owners the right to do what they wanted with the property regardless of local zoning plans agreed to by the township, county and residents. And to add insult to injury, this property is along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a publicly held area that is much loved in my part of Wisconsin. While this bill (AB399/SB309) seems to be "dead in committee" at the moment, this action got the attention of our local governments and citizens.

Then again, local government's authority was attacked in SB387/AB479 currently in public hearings. What particularly caught my eye is that public comment would not be viewed as "evidence" in a Board of Adjustment hearing for conditional use permitting.

We have some experience in my township with the fallout from these types of legislation. In 2004 and 2015, you removed local government's authority when siting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Here in Emerald, we are neighbors to Emerald Sky Dairy, a 1,700-cow CAFO operational due to a conditional use permit in our rural residential-zoned neighborhood.

Similar to Kewaunee and LaCrosse counties, rural property owners in my township have noticed an increase in drinking water wells contaminated with nitrates, salmonella and E. coli bacteria these last few years.

Now Emerald Sky Dairy is currently seeking permits to expand to over 6,000 cows, all while being investigated by the DNR after a massive manure spill went unreported for at least three months in 2016. Residents downstream from the spill just discovered E-coli in their well water. Coincidence? We won't know, since Madison DNR denied requests for advanced testing to find the type/source of contamination.

With this proposed legislation, you are, in essence, denying our right to testify or provide public comment because it is not "evidentiary" in a potential Board of Adjustment hearing. To omit firsthand experience seems exclusionary to me when a neighbor could affect my property value and clean drinking water.

Growing up, my pastor taught me "your liberty ends at the other guy's nose." In other words, I do have a right to do on my property what I wish, but when it starts to negatively impact someone else, I have overstepped my constitutionally guaranteed boundaries.

As I learned from my pastor, "liberty" is different from "freedom"—even though today we use them interchangeably. You won't find the word "freedom" in either our Declaration of Independence or Constitution, only in the Bill of Rights ("freedom of the press," etc.)

In the late 1700's, "Liberty" had the connotation of "WITH boundaries or restraint" while "Freedom" had the connotation of "WITHOUT boundaries or restraint" (such as "freedom" from slavery or indentured servitude).

Thus, it appears to me the rash of legislation focused on taking away local control and public comments or allowing certain individuals to "bypass" local zoning is hypocritical coming from those who proclaim "freedom" and "liberty" while espousing "local control" and "anti-big government."

Do ordinary citizens who want to feel safe in our homes with clean drinking water matter to you? Or is our property value, a lifetime of investment, up for grabs by irresponsible neighbors? Have ordinary citizens lost control over their homes and communities? It seems to be so.

I am paying attention and so are my neighbors. My hope is you will govern for ALL of the people and not just for the few. Local control and local government are the bedrock of our democracy. "Liberty" requires we have regard for our neighbors—freedom WITH boundaries and restraint!

I urge each citizen to contact their state elected officials and oppose these bills. Your voice as to what happens in your community depends on it!