Zoning change revives quarry plan
The board voted unanimously Monday to throw out a longstanding wetland zoning overlay on a parcel owned by Scott Traynor.
Traynor asked the board to apply the zoning change to the land, 67 acres of which was blanketed by wetland overlay. The request is tied to a controversial plan by Traynor and developer BR Amon & Sons of Elkhorn to build a 138-acre gravel pit on the parcel.
The board in February denied a conditional-use permit for the proposed quarry, saying at the time that a C-1 lowland conservancy did not allow gravel pits.
Town board Chairman Bryan Meyer said Monday's zoning change shores up an "error" on the town's zoning maps.
Meyer said federal soil surveys of Traynor's parcel don't match required soil types for C-1 conservancies. The surveys are from the 1970s, but Meyer said the town believes they're still accurate.
Meyer said that while Traynor's land is adjacent to a lowland marsh, the area that's pegged for potential quarry operations is on a hilltop.
Amon & Sons and Traynor pointed out both discrepancies at a public hearing on the zoning change Monday and during past arguments in favor of the quarry plan.
The zoning change effectively paves the way for Traynor and Amon & Sons to rekindle the quarry plan. On Tuesday, Amon & Sons owner Tom Amon said his company plans to submit a new conditional-use permit request for the plan, but he wouldn't give a timeline.
Amon & Sons wants to build the quarry to supply gravel to the nearby Highway 26 bypass project, which starts this spring.
The plan commission and the board would have to consider the permit request through another public hearing, which would factor in possible environmental concerns and other arguments that supporters or opponents could have, officials said.
The plan could require Rock County to issue a special permit because some of the pit operations could be within 1,000 feet of a wetland that's in a county shore land overlay district.
Monday's zoning change comes despite opposition by Neighbors and Friends of Klug Road and Storr's Lake Wildlife Area, a group of Milton Township residents who oppose the quarry plan.
The group argues the board's decision Monday flies in the face of state and local zoning rules. Its members opposed the quarry plan, arguing that it could damage property values, harm adjacent wetlands and create traffic and dust.
Brandon Crandall, a member of the neighbors group, argued against the zoning change Monday. Rock County Zoning Administrator Colin Byrnes also showed the board evidence Monday that the hillside where the quarry is planned is part of an aquifer that controls runoff to adjacent marsh areas.
Crandall said the arguments were to no avail.
Meyer argued that zoning of one parcel doesn't need to factor in zoning of adjacent areas. He said the parcel in question will retain agricultural zoning, which would address potential environmental concerns linked to gravel quarries.
Crandall said his group believes a state statute requires that any zoning changes be "consistent" with a town's comprehensive plan, which is the town's long-term vision for land use. He pointed out that the comprehensive plan describes the land in question as "environmentally sensitive open space."
Crandall believes the town board ignored state law and its own rules Monday. He believes the decision could make it easier for landowners to press for zoning changes for any reason.
"If they (the town board) don't make changes consistent with the comprehensive plan, then it's is not being used. From our perspective, environmental zoning is gone," Crandall said.
He said the neighbors group plans to continue fighting the quarry plan, and it's considering legal action.
Meyer argues that the town didn't compromise its own rules—it simply corrected an earlier zoning mistake.
"You can't designate and place zoning if it (the land) doesn't qualify literally. Correcting that error doesn't violate or compromise the intent or the terms of the comprehensive plan," Meyer said.