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Under Sussex policy, village trustees won't vote on Meijer

Dec. 4, 2012

Village of Sussex - Appointed members of the Plan Commission rather than the elected trustees of the Village Board will have the final say on whether the nearly 200,000-square-foot Meijer super center receives a conditional use permit.

Village officials have confirmed to the Sussex Sun that according to zoning code, the Plan Commission, not the Village Board, has the final determination on issuing conditional use permits (CUPs)

While the local zoning code may be consistent with state-wide trends, it is unusual in Lake Country where larger municipalities leave it up to the elected officials, rather than the plan commission, to make the final determination on key zoning and land use issues.

According to the code, a conditional use is "such a special nature" that it is "impractical to predetermine the permissibility of such uses or to detail in this chapter the specific standards, regulations or conditions which would permit such uses in individual situations."

There is a broad range of conditional uses, according to the code, ranging from bed and breakfast establishments to quarries, various outdoor entertainment venues, manufacturing plants, and retail stores of more than 100,000 square feet located in business zoning districts, including Meijer.

A majority of the Village Board - four trustees - were not aware they would not get to vote on the Meijer CUP until they were informed by the Sussex Sun.

"Wow," was Trustee Pat Tetzlaff's reaction.

"I am stunned," said Trustee Tim Dietrich.

"That is not the way I understood the process was supposed to work," added Trustee Bob Zarzynski.

"I thought all of the recommendations of committees and commissions had to be approved by the Village Board," concluded Trustee Matt Cmeyla.

Two members of the Village Board - President Greg Goetz and Trustee Jason Wegner - were aware of the ordinance and defended it.

"We have done it that way since I have been on the village board," said Goetz.

Goetz suggested the ordinance allows the village board to rely on the plan commission to develop the expertise and knowledge necessary to establish whether a conditional use permit meets the requirements in the code. He said having a plan commission of appointed citizen members helps remove "politics" from conditional use decisions.

"The Village Board, by adopting the land use plans and the building and zoning codes, establishes the parameters in which the Plan Commission operates. As long as the commission is operating within those parameters, you don't need the involvement of the village board. If the commission starts operating outside those parameters, then the trustees might get involved. After all, we appoint the plan commission members," Wegner explained.

However, it appears Sussex's policy is the exception rather than the rule compared to the village's so-called "peer communities."

There are nine "peer communities" that village staff and elected officials use as a comparison to various Sussex operations, programs and budgets.

The elected governing boards, not the plan commission, make the final determination on conditional use permits in six of those nine communities which include the villages of Elm Grove, Hartland, and Germantown and the cities of Oconomowoc, Pewaukee and Delafield.

The Plan Commission makes the final determination in the villages of Grafton and Pewaukee and the City of Hartford.

"If the elected board members in most of our peer communities - the communities we like to compare ourselves to - are making the conditional use decisions, think I think we need to discuss this further and find out why we aren't doing it," said Cmeyla.

"I want to continue moving forward with Meijer. But, after we are done with that, I think we should have more discussions on this," added Tetzlaff.

Trustees Zarzynski and Dietrich indicated they are satisfied with the explanation they received from the village staff regarding the Plan Commission determining conditional uses.

"There are two trustees sitting on the Plan Commission including the village president who chairs the commission. I think if any the trustees have a concern they can relay that to village board members on the commission," explained Zarzynski.

Dietrich added that trustees have several other opportunities to cast votes that will determine the fate of a major development seeking a conditional use permit.

Village Administrator Jeremy Smith believes that Plan Commissions make the final decision on conditional uses in most communities of the state.

Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities partly agreed with Smith.

"There are more than 600 cities and villages in Wisconsin and we don't have central depository for that kind of information. But, I think as a general rule most municipalities leave it up the Plan Commission. However, that can vary from region to region and according to the size of the municipalities. In bigger municipalities it is left up the Plan Commission but in smaller municipalities the Village Board or the Common Council make almost all of the decisions," Thompson concluded.

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