By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two Republican legislators introduced bills Thursday that would make it easier for people to sell and develop their land and for sand-mine companies to win local permits.
Local government groups blasted the bill within hours of its introduction as an attack on local control. But Rep. Adam Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany said during a news conference that the bills are designed to restore property rights following what they deemed bad decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court and Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this year.
“I believe that the courts have fallen down,” Tiffany said.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision involved the Murr family’s attempt to sell vacant land in St. Croix County in 2004. The lot in question lies adjacent to another lot the family owns.
Despite that ownership, county officials blocked the sale, citing a county ordinance from 1976 that treats two adjacent lots as one property and prevents the sale and development of one by itself.
The Murrs argued the ordinance amounted to a government taking of their land since they couldn’t sell it or develop it and they deserved compensation. The high court rejected those arguments in June.
The bill that Jarchow and Tiffany put forward Thursday would allow people in situations like the Murrs’ to sell or develop land adjacent to land that they already own. If a court found that a government restriction deprived a landowner of all or most of the use of the property, the court would have to order the government to pay compensation and rescind the restriction.
Separately, the legislation would deal with the fallout from a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision. The state’s high court ruled in May that a Trempealeau County environmental committee was acting within its authority when it denied AllEnergy’s application for a conditional-use permit to build a sand mine after citing health concerns, even though the company had met all the permit’s conditions.
The bill would also require governments to rely on substantial evidence when making decisions on permit requests. Public comments about a project in question wouldn’t qualify as evidence.
The bill would go on to prohibit local governments from requiring variances for rebuilding existing structures that don’t conform with zoning ordinances, allow dredging of self-contained private ponds without a Department of Natural Resources permit and require condominium and homeowner associations to let members fly the U.S. flag.
“(The bill will) correct and help other Americans,” Donna Murr said during the news conference, flanked by signs that read “If you want my land, you have to pay for it” and “don’t Murr der my property rights.”
Curt Witynski, assistant director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said Thursday his group opposes the bill. He said the proposal would bypass local zoning boards and leaders who know what local residents will accept.
“Wisconsin has long cherished the role of local government in safeguarding the interests of its citizens,” Witynski said. “People that make decisions that impact a community should answer to their community — not to Madison.”
Separately on Thursday, Jarchow and Tiffany introduced a bill that would prohibit local governments from imposing special or seasonal weight limits on propane-delivery vehicles if the vehicles weigh less than a certain amount. The lowest allowable maximum weights would vary in accordance with the number of axles a particular vehicle has.
The measure also would allow shoreland property owners to forgo getting a DNR permit before placing riprap in navigable waters adjacent to their property. State agencies proposing any rules that could affect the cost of housing construction and financing would also have to submit an analysis of the rule’s effects.
Aides for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately reply to emails seeking comment on the bills’ prospects.