New legislation set to pass in Wisconsin would allow additional development along the St. Croix River and its tributaries — which could have significant impact on the Wild & Scenic River. The bills would circumvent last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld rules regarding scenic protections in St. Croix County, Wis.
Senate Bill 387 and Assembly Bill 479 would eliminate local rules that prevent splitting substandard lots in common ownership. While it would let the Murr family, who lost at the Supreme Court, sell one of their lots for additional development, it would also have statewide implications.
It passed the state Senate yesterday on a voice vote and is expected to clear the Republican-controlled Assembly soon.
“It’s unfortunate that the state of Wisconsin and legislators like Adam Jarchow are creating laws that are disregard land and water protections,” said Deb Ryun, executive director of the St. Croix River Association. “They are more likely to listen to out-of-state entities such as the California-based Pacific Legal Foundation than the state’s citizens and local elected officials.”
The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Thomas Tiffany of northeast Wisconsin, and in the Assembly by Rep. Adam Jarchow, whose district includes St. Croix Falls. It was supported by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights advocacy organization based in California. The organization also provided free legal support for the Murr family’s unsuccessful Supreme Court case.
The Sacramento organization seeks to either remove local land-use regulations or require compensation to land-owners if their property is affected by rules. Such compensation would make most protections unfeasible due to the cost to the public.
The group’s lead lawyer lauded the legislation in a statement.
“All of us at Pacific Legal Foundation are very pleased with the legislative progress made today,” said John Groen, PLF’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel. “Special thanks to Rep. Adam Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany for recognizing the need to restore property rights for the Murrs and the people of Wisconsin.”
The legislation was strongly opposed by St. Croix County, which said such “merger provisions” are common across the country, even affecting eight other property-owners near the Murr cabin.
The county passed its zoning rules in 1976 to “reduce the adverse effects of overcrowding and poorly planned shoreline and bluff area development, prevent soil erosion and pollution, to allow for the provision of sufficient space on lots for sanitary facilities, minimize flood damage, maintain overall property values, and to preserve and maintain the exceptional scenic, cultural and natural characteristics of the water and related land.”
The Supreme Court decided in June that the restrictions on development were legal, because even though the family couldn’t sell one of the lots, the family was still able to renovate or rebuild their cabin, or sell the property as a whole. The Murrs previously stated they intend to sell the smaller lot for new development and use the proceeds to renovate their structure.