Franklin sand mine prompts rezoning policy changes

2013-01-09T16:25:00Z Franklin sand mine prompts rezoning policy changesby Cassandra Colson | Reporter La Crosse Tribune
January 09, 2013 4:25 pm  • 

The process to seek approval for a frac sand mine in the town of Franklin has prompted Jackson County to revamp its rezoning application process.

Coulee Frac Sand LLC’s elongated — and at one time renewed — attempt to rezone land to allow for a mine has the zoning department preparing to put restrictions on zoning application procedures.

“In the 20-plus years I’ve been here, I don’t ever remember (an applicant reapplying mid-process),” said Jackson County Zoning Administrator Terry Schmidt. “We don’t have (restrictions) in our ordinance now, so I said, “Let’s correct this so we’re prepared.’”

Coulee Frac’s request to rezone 130 acres to allow for a dig-and-haul operation ultimately was denied by the county board in December 2012 after four months of debate, seven votes and two $200 rezoning applications submitted by the company.

The proposed zoning ordinance changes include mandating applicants wait at least six months if they plan to resubmit an unchanged rezoning application after its been through the entire process and denied.

In addition, they involve involve requiring “significant” alterations to a rezoning request if an applicant plans to withdraw and resubmit a request mid-process, like Coulee Frac opted for in November 2012.

The company’s proposal was shuffled between the Franklin Town Board, county zoning committee and county board several times since August 2012, including coming before all three entities twice last month because of the company’s decision to pull its application and resubmit it on the eve of the November county board meeting.

Company representatives said they’re considering resubmitting their rezoning application for a third time but wouldn’t elaborate further.

“I think that’s all I better say right now,” Coulee Frac co-owner Jon Sopher said.

Schmidt said a rezoning application is required by state law to go before the town board, zoning committee and county board in all counties that have a comprehensive land use plan whenever one is submitted.

He said counties cannot restrict an individual or company’s ability to apply, but it can place time restrictions and stipulations in its ordinance, like Jackson County is opting for now.

Requiring “significant” changes to allow for reapplication mid-process likely will be open to interpretation, Schmidt said.

However, he envisions an allowable change would be an applicant re-applying to rezone the land for agricultural use rather than for non-metallic mining or greatly changing the proposed scope of one’s operation.

“It’s going to have to be a significant change of the operation or of land use to fall under that,” Schmidt said.

Coulee Frac’s rezoning request was one of 12 in Jackson County’s 14 zoned towns since the start of the region’s sand boom in 2010. The company’s proposal is only one of two that have been denied by the county since. The other was for a 240-acre operation in the town of Cleveland that was denied by town, zoning committee and the county board in early 2012.

The entire Western Wisconsin region has become a hotbed for high-sought after frac sand, which is used after processing to extract natural gas from underground wells.

Coulee Frac’s proposal — the first for the town of Franklin — created a stir among local residents, some of whom wore red to public meetings as a sign of opposition.

Schmidt said he hopes to have the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance to the county’s zoned towns for review as soon as possible to allow for possible approval in three months.

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