Town to grapple with shipping container issue

Large steel boxes are popping up on rural Port landscape, leading officials to consider regulating them

Shipping containers like the one popping up in the Town of Port Washington can purchased for less than $3,000 are used for everything from storage sheds to houses.
Ozaukee Press staff

Shipping containers have been used for everything from housing to storage, in addition to their original purposes — and those additional uses have officials in the Town of Port Washington concerned.

Building Inspector Rick Fellenz brought the matter to the Town Board recently, saying he’s had a number of inquiries about them lately but there are few regulations as to their use.

A resident recently called to suggest the town consider regulating shipping containers, Fellenz said, noting he’s received a number of inquiries about them in recent months.

“Right now, shipping is down and they’re probably relatively cheap,” he said.

The town requires a building permit for accessory structures of more than 150 square feet, but if they meet the setbacks he has no option but to issue the permit, he said.

Conditional use permits are only required if someone installs the equivalent of 800 square feet or larger, Fellenz said. Since the average shipping container is eight feet wide and anywhere from 10 to 40 feet long, someone could install as many as 10 in a row without a permit.

“Technically they could put up 800 square feet of shipping containers and the neighbors couldn’t say anything,” Fellenz said.

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

In addition to the sheer size of a mass of containers, he said, there are aesthetics to consider.

“Some look like modern houses. Some look like a bunch of rusty boxes,” he said. “Do you want something that’s pleasing? Do you want something that’s a rusty box?”

Housing is a potential use for shipping containers, Fellenz said. Someone asked about that potential to convert a container into a home in the Town of Grafton — where he also serves as building inspector — about a year ago. They never pursued it, he added.

“It usually costs more to do that than to build a house,” he said, noting that the state regulates the containers when they’re used for housing.

Currently, there are two storage containers in the town, Fellenz said, both used for storage.

But he wants to make sure that the town can regulate these. 

“Right now, it’s not an issue,” he said. “But I think we should at least look at how  we want to regulate them. 

“I don’t think we can stop (the use of) the shipping container as a house, but we can regulate them as an accessory structure.”

The town Plan Commission is expected to take up the issue when it meets on Wednesday, Dec. 12.


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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.

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