PRESS EDITORIAL: Enforcing the rules: someone has to do it

When in doubt, rail against government regulation.

No primer on running for political office could be worth its salt without that advice.

Even though most people understand that society has to have rules and that government’s job is to make and enforce the regulations that comprise the rulebook for a country, state, municipality or town, bashing regulation is a political crowd pleaser.

Just ask Donald Trump. It worked so well for him as a campaign theme that he is keeping the flame alive among his hard-core supporters by presiding over a dismantling of federal regulations, particularly those affecting the environment.

Nevertheless, like taxes, regulations are certain, and government office holders at some point will always have to make rules and enforce them. That applies even at the most basic level of government in semi-rural towns like those of Ozaukee County.

The towns have populations so small that that most residents know one another and elected officials end up having to make rules that regulate their friends and neighbors. This can be uncomfortable work, but as the saying goes, someone has to do it.

The members of the Town Boards of Port Washington and Belgium are currently facing some of that work with the knowledge that however they handle it they will irritate some constituents and please others.

In the Town of Belgium, the issue is hunting. No surprise there—as farmland is converted to residential use, conflicts with the long enduring hunting culture are inevitable.

In the Town of Port, the issue is a surprise. It’s shipping containers, those steel boxes as big as 40 feet long that you can see stacked on ocean-going ships, carried on rail cars or mounted on semi trailers traveling on highways. You can also see them—two of them (so far)—on property in the Town of Port. Not a pretty sight anywhere, they are an incongruous presence when plopped on land in or near residential areas for use as storage buildings, workshops or even homes.

Rick Fellenz, the Town of Port Washington’s building inspector, warned the Town Board at a recent meeting that private use of shipping containers as permanent structures is a growing phenomenon and that the town needs to adopt regulations to prevent the proliferation of these utilitarian objects that can look, in his words, like big “rusty boxes” on its land.

Fellenz is right on both counts. The world is awash with shipping containers—hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of them—and those no longer used for shipping are selling like hot cakes on various internet sites. Forty-footers can go for as little as $1,500. Some offered on eBay are free to anyone who can manage the pick up and transportation. The town needs to write container rules before the fad sets in here.

The building inspector noted that as long as required setbacks are observed, shipping containers can be put just about anywhere in the town and residents objecting to the unsightly additions to their neighborhoods would have no redress.

“If there’s a neighborhood dispute, someone could put up a wall of these,” he said.

Few subjects get more attention in the rulebooks of cities, villages and towns than the appearance and structural integrity of buildings. There’s a reason for that: The way our communities look is fundamental to the character and appeal that inspires community pride. The Town of Port, as do other Ozaukee towns, needs rules to prevent big steel boxes, rusty or not, from littering the landscape.

The Town of Belgium Plan Commission dealt this month with a subject even touchier than zoning and building codes when it voted against a conditional use permit for a pay-to-hunt business.

Hunting on the town’s thousands of acres of farmland and countryside is a revered tradition, and as residential development has expanded town officials have been diligent in trying to balance those competing land uses. Deer hunting generates a few complaints, but generally hunters and residents have been getting along in rural Belgium.

Homeowners, however, are not interested in getting along with a pheasant hunting business that would bring year-round hunting to land near a lakeshore residential area. Nearly 50 of them made that clear when they showed up at the Plan Commission meeting to argue against allowing the hunting operation.

Even so, the commission’s decision wasn’t easy. The would-be operators of the hunting enterprise planned for 65 acres of land they own near the intersection of Silver Beach and Lake Church road are longtime town residents who have successfully, and responsibly, operated a pheasant hunting business for years in a less developed part of the town.

The complaining residents made their case by pointing out that they shouldn’t have to be disturbed by shotgun reports near their homes on any given day throughout the year. Hunting for wild pheasants is allowed in the area, but only during an 11-week season that started Oct. 20. Besides, there are few wild pheasants in the town, so there is not much shooting noise to contend with.

Commission members voted 7-1 to recommend denying the permit. It was the right decision, one that the Town Board should ratify. After all, it’s job is enforcing rules, and this one is needed.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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