Regulations on large-scale farms in Walworth County could change in coming months after the state Livestock Facility Siting Review Board rejected several conditions the county attached to a permit last year.
Under Wisconsin statutes, local governments are allowed to require conditional-use permits for new or expanding livestock operations. In Walworth County, farms seeking to house 500 animal units or more must have a conditional-use permit issued by the Walworth County Zoning Agency.
But state statutes limit how much counties can regulate large-scale farms, frustrating some Walworth County officials.
“(The zoning agency) would like to be able to do more, but they feel like their hands are tied,” said Shannon Haydin, deputy director of the Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Department.
In June 2017, Adam and Jennifer Friemoth applied for a conditional-use permit with the county to expand their farm near Elkhorn from about 300 animal units to up to 944.
Animal units vary by animal. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, 1,000 beef cattle, 715 milking cows or 200,000 chickens is equivalent to 1,000 animal units.
During the conditional-use issuing process, Haydin said, neighbors of the farm raised concerns that the expansion could cause well-water contamination.
The zoning agency eventually issued a permit granting the expansion but added several conditions to regulate odor and lighting, which the county believed were within its jurisdiction.
Cary and Laurie Glenner, neighbors of the farm, appealed the Friemoths’ planned expansion to the state Livestock Facility Siting Review Board in October 2017 after the conditional-use permit was issued.
They argued the Friemoths’ application was “inaccurate, incomplete, not credible and inconsistent,” according to the review board’s decision.
In January 2018, the Livestock Facility Siting Review Board ruled in favor of the farm and revoked several conditions of the county-issued permit, writing that the county’s regulations weren’t consistent with state statutes.
Now, Haydin said, the zoning agency has instructed the land use and resource management department to strike from its ordinances the conditional-use permit requirement for livestock siting.
A public hearing on the ordinance change tentatively is slated for August, Haydin said.
Haydin said the state board’s decision to revoke the conditions was deflating for the zoning agency. She said it comes as the state Legislature increasingly “constrains local government’s ability to be more restrictive.”
“It’s just happening more often, and it’s certainly frustrating for people who want local government to be able to do more,” she said.