A proposal that would more than double the size of allowable boathouses and require them to be 35 feet from the shoreline on lakes greater than 500 acres was presented to the Vilas County Zoning and Planning Committee during a public hearing last week.

The proposal did see opposition from a number of local municipalities and was different from recommendations of the Vilas County Zoning Office staff.

Glenn Schiffmann, owner of CornerStone Custom Builders in Eagle River, petitioned to amend the county boathouse ordinance to allow new boathouses 720 square feet in size, up from 300 square feet, with a maximum width of 24 feet, up from 15 feet, on a lot with at least 150 feet of water frontage. 

According to Schiffmann’s proposal, the larger boat­houses would also have to be 35 feet from water. Other restrictions were discussed and added by the committee during three hours of deliberation.

“I’ve had requests from a number of people who wanted accommodations for larger boats, including pontoon boats, with the larger boathouses 35 feet from the shore,” said Schiffmann.

Currently, the smaller 300-square-foot boathouses can be 5 feet from the shore. Those boathouses would still be allowed. Schiffmann said he believed the larger boathouses 35 feet from the shore would be better, visually, than covered boat lifts along the shoreline.

A number of individuals said they were concerned lake lots would have to be cleared of trees to accommodate a rail system to get watercraft from the water to the boathouse. There were also concerns of erosion control, mitigation issues and more impervious surface area leading to runoff.

Town boards opposed to larger boathouses included Washington, Presque Isle, Plum Lake and Land O’ Lakes, with Manitowish Waters favoring the 500 acres or more minimum size. The Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association provided a letter in opposition. 

Zoning office draft

Vilas County Zoning Ad­min­istrator Dawn Schmidt told the committee zoning office staff studied the proposed amendment and made a number of suggestions for the committee to consider.

She said staff believed the minimum lake size for the larger boathouses should be 800 acres. There are 52 lakes in Vilas County that are 500 acres in size or larger out of 549 named lakes, while there are 25 lakes that are 800 acres or larger and 17 lakes that are 1,000 acres or larger.

Staff also recommended a minimum 200 feet of shoreline frontage and a maximum 600-square-foot boat­house with a maximum width of 20 feet.

The committee opted for the 500-acre minimum size lake, with a minimum 150-foot lot. They also opted for a maximum boathouse size of 720 square feet and a 24-foot width.

Flat roofs or sloped roofs were also debated, with the committee supporting flat roofs. They said it would be visibly lower than a peaked roof. 

In other zoning office recommendations, boathouses could not be built on slopes greater than 20%, could not be attached to any other structure and would have to be a minimum of 10 feet from another structure. If other structures exist within the 75-foot setback area, no new boathouses would be allowed. The larger boathouses could not be built on rivers or streams. The committee agreed with those terms.

The committee also agreed that an erosion mitigation plan would be required, there could be no driveways within the 75-foot setback area and a boathouse could not be built if no principal home existed on the property. In addition, a garage-type overhead door would be required to face the lake, with only a 4-foot Americans with Disabilities Act service door on any other side.

Most of the zoning committee votes on the minimum requirements were 4-1, with Supervisor Chuck Hayes of Presque Isle opposed. Other Zoning and Planning Committee members are Jay Verhulst, Jerry Burkett, Steven Doyen and Kim Simac. 

What’s next?

The zoning committee will now develop a draft county board resolution for its January committee meeting and will likely make final recommendations to be presented to the Vilas County Board at the January meeting.

If adopted by the county board, the new boathouse provision would apply to any Vilas County town without a local town zoning ordinance. Those towns that have a local zoning ordinance can amend their ordinance to comply with the county changes or be more restrictive than the county ordinance.