Zoning battle ignites county debate

road-workBy JAMES KATES / Capstone Staff

Jefferson County supervisors took the rare step of overruling their own Planning and Zoning Committee on Tuesday after a sometimes-heated hearing on a family-owned business in the Town of Lake Mills.

On a 3-24 vote, the County Board rejected a resolution that would have denied a conditional use permit for Philip and Sandra Bittorf’s business, Mid-State Traffic Control. The vote effectively orders the Zoning Committee to revise and resubmit the family’s request, according to county Corporation Counsel J. Blair Ward.

The revised permit, if approved by the full County Board, will rezone 3.2 acres of the family’s 40-acre property on Stoney Creek Road from A-1 Exclusive Agricultural to A-2 Agricultural and Rural Business. The family will use three existing buildings at the site to house light trucks and equipment such as traffic signs, barricades and orange construction barrels.

The Bittorfs, whose business previously was based in Dane County, moved to the Stoney Creek Road property in March. After being told their business might violate zoning, they applied for the conditional use permit, which was approved by the Town of Lake Mills in August.

At a hearing in September, the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee heard from several speakers opposed to the plan. No one except Philip Bittorf and an attorney for the family spoke in favor. The committee rejected the permit.

Since then, however, the Bittorfs have rallied the support of neighbors, many of whom showed up for the County Board meeting Tuesday. Twelve citizens spoke in favor of the Bittorfs and one against.

“I am so hurt … by the way things are going in our nice small neighborhood,” said Karen Battist, referring to the continued opposition to the business from some people along the road. “Let’s get real. This is foolish, and I do support the Bittorfs.”

Tyler Wilkinson, an attorney for the family, noted that Stoney Creek Road is maintained by the Town of Lake Mills, which had expressed no concerns over the small increase in traffic. Employees typically keep the company’s trucks at their homes during the week and visit the property only to pick up equipment, he said.

“The work does not happen at the property,” Wilkinson told the board. “The work happens at the job site.”

Attorney Jay Smith, representing four couples who oppose the rezoning, said his clients still had concerns about truck traffic, noise and safety.

To say the Bittorfs’ business is related to agriculture is “a stretch at best,” Smith said. “We think the business is being mischaracterized. It’s more like a shipping and logistics business.”

Steve Nass, the chairman of the Zoning Committee, said the panel had been caught off-guard by the sudden shift in public sentiment. He expressed hope that, in future situations, neighbors could get together and work out their differences before governments had to be involved.

Supervisor Greg David, another member of the zoning panel, noted that the committee was not supposed to vote based on whether petitioners such as the Bittorfs were “nice people” or whether their plans would create jobs.

“It’s not our job to support business,” David said. “It’s our job to follow the zoning ordinance as enacted by this county.”

The revised permit could restrict operating hours or other aspects of the business to minimize disruption. Supervisors also noted that the speed limit on the road might be reset from 45 mph to 35 mph for safety.

In other action Tuesday, the County Board:

• Heard exactly zero public comments on the proposed 2016 Jefferson County budget. No one showed up to speak about the plan, which includes an overall tax levy of about $28.6 million.

The levy includes just over $1.1 million for debt service, to help pay for the county Highway Department’s new shop in Jefferson and satellite facilities in Lake Mills and Concord.

One bright spot in the budget is an expected $200,000 increase in the county’s take from its half-percent sales tax. County Administrator Benjamin Wehmeier attributed the increase to lower gas prices, which help spur consumer spending.

The County Board is slated to vote on the budget at its Nov. 10 meeting.

• Heard from Henry Gibbemeyer, the first graduate of the county’s Alcohol Treatment Court.

Gibbemeyer, who was facing a prison term for his fifth OWI, instead enrolled in the new court, which provides intensive monitoring, treatment and supervision. He spent a year in the program, making 17 court appearances in the process.

“I’ve been clean and sober for over 18 months. This program is a firm but fair one,” Gibbemeyer told the board, which responded with applause.

• Celebrated the launch of Get Connected, a Web site that helps link potential volunteers with service opportunities in Jefferson County and Whitewater.

The site, run by the county and the local United Way, is at http://www.volunteermain.com.