Plan Commission to tackle substandard lots, illegal duplexes in town
Two long-standing practices in the Town of Belgium are coming under scrutiny by the Plan Commission as it revises its zoning code.
The practice of lakefront owners putting vacant lots into a trust for their children and houses being turned into two-family residences were common practices before the zoning code was adopted, but are restricted now.
A proposed change to the zoning code would not allow a vacant substandard lot to be sold or used if the adjoining lot has common ownership, which is defined as an individual alone or as a member, shareholder, trustee or other principal of a trust, corporate entity or other landholding venture.
Two-family residences are no longer allowed except those that existed prior to 1966 in residential areas and 1985 in agriculture districts. Once a duplex becomes a single-family home, it cannot be turned back into a duplex, according to the ordinance.
However, Town Chairman Tom Winker said two-family dwellings are common in the township.
The issue was raised at the Sept. 16 Plan Commission meeting because Bill Eischen requested two fire numbers for property he owns on Highway KK.
Zoning Administrator Charles Parks said Eischen is renting the house on the property and also wants to rent a chicken coop that had been remodeled as a dwelling for his daughter who no longer lives there.
“I don’t think he should have two fire numbers,” Parks said. “I think if the town puts a fire number on it that could open the town to liability. Now, we say you can’t do it. If they do it and something happens, we can say it wasn’t allowed.”
Winker said he believes everything should be “above board and transparent.”
“I think we should go out and see what’s out there and come to agreement if we want to allow it or not allow it,” he said.
Plan Commission member John Paulus agreed.
“We sit here year after year working on these ordinances, and people do what they want and we don’t push it,” Paulus said.
Parks said he doesn’t know everything that’s happening in the township and he relies on people to report violations.
“If you see something, tell me about it and we’ll send a letter to them,” Parks said.
The issue of common vs. identical ownership when it comes to vacant substandard lots was raised for the second time by commission member Catherine Urness.
She owns a lot and home with her husband and abutting land and a cottage in a trust with her brother. There are houses on both lots, so the ordinance doesn’t apply to her situation.
“But if there wasn’t a house, would it be fair to other members of the trust to be penalized because of me?” Urness asked.
“I think you’re going to penalize people because it’s been in the family for generations. That (practice) was common on the lake.”
Paulus said he believes such substandard parcels should be combined.
“Is it better to have two 20-acre parcels or one 40-acre parcel? I think it’s better to have one,” he said.
Urness said common ownership of land is also prevalent among farm families.
Rick Kania of Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, who is updating the ordinance with Parks and Plan Commission member Kay Wolfe, said the town has to decide if it wants to keep common ownership or change it to identical ownership.
The issue will be discussed again at the next commission meeting.