A debate over the handling of the law that governs accessory buildings in Onalaska was quashed by the Planning Commission last week after commission members voted to send a revised ordinance back to common council for approval with only minimal typographic corrections.

The ordinance provides rules for the number of accessory buildings, such as swimming pools, garden sheds or garages, residents are allowed to erect in Onalaska. The ordinance was originally sent back to the Planning Commission at the Common Council meeting on Oct. 10, at the urging of council member Jerry Every.

“I still think that we need to revise that ordinance,” he said. “I want to bring back our suggested change and see if there is a way to make it better.”

During public comment, Every commended the city staff and the planning commission for rewriting the ordinance.

“I need to tell you that I sincerely appreciate what you do,” he said.

But Every also expressed concern that the city may be overstepping boundaries in dictating how many accessory buildings were allowed. He said people in Onalaska are putting up accessory buildings with or without the necessary permits.

Every said went looking for how many requests for accessory buildings he couldn’t get a definitive answer. He said this was because there were so many kinds of accessory buildings, many which required a permit, like a swimming pool and many that don’t.

“We have no idea where these accessory buildings are now,” he said. “You don’t know if they are a fire hazard if their a flood hazard or what they are.”

He urged the planning commission to adopt more lenient amendments to the ordinance.

“There is a compelling reason to change,” he said. “Why make people lawbreakers?”

Every asked the commission to consider changing the ordinance to allow a maximum over of 25 percent of the property and allow for a 400 square-food detached garage that would not be included in the calculation.

Leanne Stokes of Onalaska also spoke in support of Every’s request.

“We were the original people who brought the original accessory building issue to the forefront,” she said. “I am in complete agreement with Jerry, and I am hoping you will look at this in time and possibly change it.”

Planning commission member Craig Breitsprecher said he didn’t think it was right to change an ordinance just because one person doesn’t think it should apply to them.

“I don’t understand why we are revisiting this,” he said. “I don’t think this should be coming back to us in the first place.”

Breitsprecher said a report presented by staff showed that Onalaska’s ordinances were already generous compared to other municipalities.

“I understand Jerry’s (Every) point of view of what he considers compelling rationale to change it, but that’s not a compelling rationale.”

Breitsprecher said changing an ordinance because one person didn’t get what they want is a bad reason to start amending ordinances.

“Not that I wish any ill will toward those folks (Stokes), but they already exceed what is allowed already,” he said. “I don’t think you change the ordinance to make up for that shortcoming.”

Breitsprecher said he felt changing the ordinance could create a dangerous precedent that could cause trouble for the common council in the future.

“If we change this we’re granting any one individual who feels that an ordinance does not apply to them we will change it, so they don’t have to suffer,” he said. “I think that is a terrible president to set.”

The commission voted unanimously to move the ordinance forward for consideration and approval by the common council. The common council will review the ordinances once again at its next meeting Nov. 14


Tobias Mann is a reporter with the River Valley Media Group. He can be reached at tobias.mann@lee.net or at 608-791-8216.

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