Property Rights/Zoning Behind Town Board Challenge
Written By: Travis Buhler | Posted: Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
When Todd Koeppel moved to the area near Spring Valley, Wisconsin, little did he know the freedoms he had on his own property. Like many people throughout history, knowledge of one's freedom does not come until it is threatened or taken away. This happened last year to St. Croix County's Town of Cady, where Koeppel resides. Last June the Town Board voted to end their long history of property freedom for what Koeppel describes as, "A huge, 184 page, highly restrictive, and intrusive zoning ordinance written by a Dane County attorney."
Prior to last year, Cady, like fewer and fewer townships across Wisconsin, had no zoning laws. Property owners were free to build what they wanted as long as it complied with the county and town ordinances. But pressure to enact a zoning code was building up from forces within and without Cady. In particular was the Town Board's insistence that there was no choice but to adopt some sort of ordinance. According to Koeppel, "they said that if we (the town board) didn't do this, the county would force us to adopt county zoning. But afterwards I talked to the county planning authority director and found out that none of that was true -- they weren't forcing us to adopt any form a zoning at all."
Cady's particular zoning ordinance has taken years to write. In June, 2012, the Town Board brought the ordinance up for a public hearing. According to Koeppel, "About 20 people at the June hearing showed up and asked for an additional 30 days for review of the bill before it was adopted. But they wouldn't give us the thirty days -- they went ahead and adopted it."
Upon adoption the bill was sent to St. Croix County for approval (which to this date is still pending). Later that summer, some of the residents took action. Said Koeppel, "that September my family and I and a couple of friends in the town took a couple of snippets from the zoning ordinance, put them on a flier and passed them around to everybody in the town and let them know what kind of things were in the ordinance the board had passed along with questions challenging the information that was presented during the public hearing."
The brochure also invited residents to come to the September board meeting to voice their concerns. In response, over 100 people out of a town of 820 showed up to voice their disagreement with the ordinance or how it was passed.
While many residents were angry at the small amount of public hearings and the excessive size of the bill, Koeppel's disagreement goes far deeper,
"When it comes to zoning I am a minimalist. I think it should be left to the landowners to decide how to use their land. I think people are better judges of what is best for them and their families. It is arrogance to think you know what is best for your neighbor -- that you know what is best for your townspeople. I think it is the government's role to protect our individual liberties, not to take control of them and try to force them on to other people. Otherwise you end up taking away things that people don't wish to give up in order to please a majority or even a minority of people that we think are in agreement with us. That's not the way to use the power of government. That's not the way to use the power of money or control. The government really has a servant's role and that is for the protection of our property -- not to take our property or our rights away from us."
As time passed, Koeppel brought up many of these and other concerns over the bill to the Town Chairman. "They said that if you want us to reconsider this zoning ordinance you'll have to vote us out of office." Thus started the effort to form a coalition of candidates to gain a majority of seats on the Town Board.
"We have been working towards finding challengers to the Town Board since September," said Koeppel. "We managed to get 50 people to come to the nomination caucus this year." While many times Town Board incumbents face no opposition, three challengers were nominated that night to run against them. Current Chairman Mike Tully will face Koeppel in the April 2nd race for the Town Chair. The two Town Supervisor's, Bob Klanderman and Jim Mikla, will face James Stauffer and Jacob Schnur, both of whom are members of the property rights coalition organized last fall. There is also a challenger for the Town Treasurer office but neither candidate is involved with the group opposed to the ordinance.
Says Koeppel, "We are not necessarily running against the town board members, we are running against this ordinance." Other issues Koeppel would like to address upon gaining the Town Chair is more communication, especially to renters in the area, and the use of "Dane County" lawyers in the writing of ordinances.
Koeppel understands that not every resident will want to completely eliminate zoning. Some may merely want a less intrusive ordinance. Says Koeppel, "I will work to implement the zoning ordinance that works for Cady by maximizing property rights, minimizing regulations, and discouraging the most undesirable elements from coming to our town."
While many conservatives throughout the country are looking for the one leader in which all of the pro-liberty voters can rally behind; Koeppel, Stauffer, and Schnur represent the growing amount of grassroots citizens who have lifted the standard of freedom in their own local government. Perhaps a national leader will not be needed. Perhaps a freer country will rise from the actions of local governments rather than from someone in Washington or Madison.
Travis Buhler is the Managing Editor of the US Journal and the Eau Claire Journal.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org