County: Rural residents need zoning permits; Mower staff to continue to educate property owners

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ignorance of the Mower County zoning ordinance has been excused in the year since the Board of Commissioners put more teeth in its non-compliance penalty. Another instance came Tuesday over a shed.

The commissioners waived the larger penalty due and instead accepted the price the permit would have cost in the first place. Then they talked about how the county has struggled to educate constituents.

The county’s zoning ordinance has been in place for a long time, but it’s also been ignored by residents, County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

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“What we find is a lot of people over the years have just never bothered to get a permit, and then we find out 10 years after the fact,” he said, adding that sometimes it’s discovered “two months after the fact.”

The board began to address the problem last year.

“So, what the board did last year is they imposed what’s called an after-the-fact, you might call it a penalty fee,” he said. “So, if we catch you, it’s triple what the normal fee would be, and if you don’t pay it, then we’re going to take you to court.”

However, the county has and will continue to try to educate rural residents.

“It’s tough to educate enough people,” Oscarson said. “We’re in the process of trying to do more education.”

Zoning manager Angie Knish described at the board’s Monday meeting how she is going to try to do some more outreach with residents and contractors.

Although the county would like if rural residents were as apt to think of zoning permits when embarking of building project as city residents think of building permits, Oscarson said the permits are markedly different.

“Our zoning permits are not a building permit,” he said. “We don’t do the building code. So the zoning permit is more for our staff to make sure the set backs are adhered to, so you don’t build on your neighbor’s property line, you don’t build right on the road.”

County staff also will make sure certain property owners don’t build in flood zones, Commissioner Jerry Reinartz said. That mistake could lead to the forced demolition of the new building.

The county also is being called on by the state to enforce new shoreline regulations, County Board Chairman Tim Gabrielson said.

The county will be trying to get word out about those requirements as well, which will be a challenge, he said.

“Trying to get word out is really tough,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Ankeny said the county is comparing its ordinances to the new shoreline regulations and making changes.

“Those are some rules too that are changing,” he said. “

The zoning permit case discussed by the board on Tuesday involved county employee Amanda Kiefer who sought a waiver of the after-the-fact penalty for building a shed without first getting a zoning permit. She discovered the requirement in the course of doing her job, she said. That prompted her step forward to voluntarily admit the violation.

The board agreed to waive the penalty — which is three times the original cost of the specific permitting process would have been — and have her pay the original $75 price tag.