Town of Grafton looks to control landscaping businesses
Code review to refine conditional uses

By Melanie Boyung - News Graphic Staff

May 15, 2018

GRAFTON — The town of Grafton Plan Commission revisited its zoning code recently, including deciding to remove some landscaping businesses from residential areas.

The Plan Commission met May 2, with most of its meeting devoted to reviewing the current zoning code. That is in response to state Act 67, passed last November, which changes the requirements for how and why a municipality may reject a conditional use permit application.

Local towns, villages and cities employ conditional use permits to allow for a variety of uses on a case-by-case basis; business, commercial and residential uses can all require such permits, under which a certain use is allowed, as long as the permit holder follows conditions set by a municipal board.

Among Grafton’s conditional uses are three levels of landscaping businesses allowed in residential properties. Town officials have fielded several complaints about related businesses, including one dispute that has been ongoing for about a year.

“Experience is telling us residential and landscaping don’t mix,” Town Chairman Lester Bartel said.

After some discussion, the Plan Commission decided to strike some portion of landscaping from residential zones, though some question remains as to how much.

“I think we should get rid of it, we shouldn’t have it at all in residential,” Plan Commissioner Dan Vogel said.

While fully striking landscaping was proposed, the commission eventually directed staff to come up with some options for a controlled version of level one, the smallest version of landscaping, that might continue to be allowed in residential.

The problems the town has had included larger operations, with employees, that were different than they represented themselves. Individuals who employ themselves, working on other people’s lawns or gardens, would be unlikely to cause disruption.

“Some guy has 10 acres, zoned R-3, wants to build a 24-by-24 garage and and cut people’s lawns? I have a hard time telling him he can’t, I really do,” Commissioner Patrick Stemper said. The town of Grafton implemented a moratorium last month on all new conditional use permits, until the code review is complete. For the time being, no new permits can be applied for, ensuring residents do not try to come in now and rush permits for things that will no longer be allowed after the review is complete in a few months.

Under Act 67, conditions have to “be reasonable and, to the extent practicable, measurable” and “the town’s decision to approve or deny the permit must be supported by substantial evidence.” The act also sets specifications that substantial evidence includes facts and information, not “merely personal preferences or speculation.”

“We had the health and welfare rule, which has been a provision bodies use to deny conditional use permits,” town attorney Sara McCartney said. “What’s going to be required now is quantitative, measurable standards.”

McCartney has said at previous meetings the Town Board should remove any conditional uses they are not certain they want in the town or a particular district; if the use is in the code, it will be much harder to disallow it, even if neighboring residents strongly object.

The Plan Commission did not take formal action Wednesday. They are revising the code, and once revisions are finished will take action to change the code. Some of the other uses the Plan Commission selected to remove during the first round of review include:

Commercial butchering of animals or the commercial raising and breeding of mink, fox or fowl in agricultural zones.

Mineral extraction.

Large-scale recreational uses such as arenas, fairgrounds, exhibition halls and gymnasiums, previously allowed in all zones. It was noted in discussion that some such conditional uses may remain allowed in specific zoning types, but will be removed from the “recreational uses” conditional use list that is allowed in all zones.

Language was clarified or removed in some areas to simplify the code or align it further with Act 67.