Kevin Struck, Community Development Educator
Sheboygan County has a robust online land records site with 17 GIS maps and applications (apps) to assist citizens with a variety of land related inquiries, including determining acreages, legal descriptions, assessed values, and zoning, to name a few. The ability to go online to quickly get answers to these questions saves citizens, municipal clerks, and professionals in real estate businesses a lot of time. It also frees up County employees to work on other projects rather than having to respond to these inquiries over the phone—or in person, which is not an option under the COVID-19 Safer-at-Home order.
One of the most popular and useful of these maps and apps is the Zoning Map. Since zoning has a major impact on how a property is used, there are times when it is important for landowners, potential property buyers, and local officials to know what the zoning district designation is for a particular property. Each district sets forth certain permitted and conditional uses, a minimum lot size, building setbacks, and other standards.
It is therefore important to keep the zoning district designations for each property up-to-date. This can be challenging, because there are typically numerous zoning changes in each community every year. Most of the time, these changes are accompanied by a land division, which splits a parcel into two or more parcels. Processing land splits and updating the parcel layer can be a complex and time-consuming effort.
Under the current system, changing the zoning designation on the online map must wait until the beginning of each year when the new parcel layer that contains all of the previous year’s land splits is ready. At that point there is a substantial backlog of zoning changes waiting to be entered into the system. Up until the last two years, the County had only one person updating the zoning layer, and that person had many other GIS tasks to complete as well.
Since Kevin has assisted 9 towns with revisions to their zoning ordinances over the past few years and is proficient in GIS, he offered to update the zoning maps for these 9 towns last year. The process worked well, and the County employee was grateful to have the help, so Kevin is doing the updates this spring too, which will help get the new information online faster.
There is an added benefit to having Kevin do these updates, since it provides a way for him to review the previous year’s administration of zoning ordinances at the local level and offer tips for improving the process. There are also occasions when Kevin uncovers an error that was made in a local rezoning process. This presents an educational opportunity that can improve everyone’s understanding of their zoning ordinance.