The Town of Bass Lake Planning Commission on Thursday, Sept. 3, gave unanimous approval for a rezone and conditional use permit (CUP) to convert the former Hayward National Golf Course into a 197site RV campground.
At a meeting of the Town of Hayward Planning Commission on Tuesday, Sept. 1, regarding the same rezoning request, to rezone a portion of the former golf course in Bass Lake Township, no motions were passed, according to chair Joan Cervenka. Twenty-one of the 197 sites would be located in the Town of Hayward.
There was public opposition to the proposed RV campground at both meetings.
At the Bass Lake meeting, attended by the Record via Zoom, the opposition was concerned that the proposed campground could negatively impact adjoining property values and quality of life. Several said they had chosen to live in the area because they thought they would be near a golf course, not a campground.
However, Phil Nies, a member of the Bass Lake Planning Commission, pointed out the campground was consistent with the town's comprehensive plan and the commission had no legal argument to reject a rezone from agriculture one (AG-1) to residential/recreational two (RR-2), in which campgrounds are allowed as a CUP under the county zoning ordinance.
Later the Bass Lake Planning Commission approved a CUP for the former golf course and an adjoining residential property.
The next step will be consideration by both town boards. The Town of Bass Lake Board, meeting Sept. 14, will have a recommendation for approval to consider. The Town of Hayward Board, set to meet Sept. 15, will have no recommendation in front of it because no motion was passed at the Sept. 1 meeting.
Following the town boards' vote, the rezone and CUP requests will proceed to the Sawyer County Zoning Committee on Sept. 18.
With a recommendation
from the county's zoning committee, the rezone request then would proceed to the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors. (CUPs are not forwarded to full county board.)
The rezoning request
Steve Skoug of Chetek is seeking the rezone of the golf course to an RV campground.
For over two years, Skoug said, he had looked at 66 sites in six states to create a "roomy campground like a state campground."
Skoug said his proposed RV campground would be oriented to older campers (55 years and above) and would have quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and would be open only from May 1 to Oct. 15.
For most of the site, he noted, the setback from adjoining properties would be far in excess of the 50 feet required by county ordinance, with most setbacks exceeding 400 feet.
Regarding the complaint that RV campgrounds degrade property values, he said the Realtor he had consulted with, who specializes in selling campgrounds, said drops occur adjacent to mobile home parks, but not RV campgrounds.
"This is not a mobile home park," he said. "There are no mobile homes allowed in this campground."
Skoug claimed the vehicle traffic to a 220-site campground would be similar to that of the 18hole golf course.
When asked how many of the 197 sites would be seasonal and how many daily, Skoug said he didn't know what the demand would be. He compared his plan for the campground on 150 acres to the 24-acre KAO campground north of Hayward, which has 199 sites, adding that his campground would not include a water park or swimming pool like KAO.
For and against
Mark Olson, chair of the Bass Lake Planning Commission, read two letters in opposition to the rezone request. The letters expressed concern over reduced property values of neighboring properties, increased traffic and noise and the presence of many transient persons.
A man whose name was Ed said he was in favor of the campground for providing employment as long as the development didn't negatively add sewage to the environment or disrupt the water table.
Guy Houston, who lives in the Town of Hayward off Sunshine Acres Lane, said he and his wife and neighbors were opposed.
"My wife, our neighbors, we do not want a 197-unit RV campground in our neighborhood," he said. "I have nothing against campgrounds. There are many nice campgrounds. Lake Chippewa Campground on the Flowage is real nice. KAO outside of town is real nice. There isn't a lot of residential housing around there, but putting a big campground in our neighborhood is just ridiculous. My wife and I and my mother-in-law and my neighbors don't live outside of town only to have 500 people in our backyard."
"If you are looking for a house, would you want it next to 197-site campground? No, you wouldn't," Houston said.
A woman named Debbie claimed the golf course had a deed restriction on it to stay a golf course and AG-1 zoning, and she was critical that Skoug had not presented a detailed plan on how he would develop the site.
Ken who lives on Fun Valley Road, the entrance road to the site, said he moved to the area in 2004 from a big city for the outdoor activities and chose a nine-acre lot near the golf course with lots of wildlife in the area — not to be near people residing overnight at a campground.
David Johnston and Nena Gourley also spoke in opposition. Johnston said Gourley owns acreage near the golf course entrance, off nearby Brodi Lane, and the campground and the traffic it would attract would create unsafe conditions for younger people visiting the couple.
"We literally cleared the property last week to build a home, and it was not to have 200 campers drive in and out," he said. "We have grandchildren, nieces and nephews and relatives planning on riding their bicycles up and down a blacktop highway or road."
"I don't want to build a brand new home and have almost 200 campfires blowing in my windows," added Grouley.
A man named Roger said he bought his home near the golf course four years ago thinking the AG-1 zoning designation would protect his values. He predicted the 400-plus campers, who might be at the site at anytime, would put a strain on local cell and internet providers.
A woman named Cindy said for 18 years she camped in an RV as a seasonal resident and noted there had been issues with underground septic systems in some campgrounds and related odors.
"I don't want that smell around my house," she said.
Another man, Gregory, asked why Skoug didn't develop some of the farm he owns near Chetek as a campground. Skoug replied that there are several campgrounds in the Chetek area.
During discussion, Nies pointed out the town's comprehensive plan considers future use for the property under "parks and recreation," which includes "town parks, nature reserves, athletic fields, boat landings and campgrounds."
"Taking that in account, this plan is consistent," Nies said. "Now, whether you want to go forward that's another question. We need to look at whether the rezone is consistent with the comprehensive plan."
Nies added court challenges to rezoning decisions look at whether decisions are consistent with the comprehensive plan.
He also noted that under the AG-1 zoning district an animal rendering plant would be acceptable, a suggestion that a campground would be preferable.
"The public use of it is very similar to what it was before," he said.
Olson noted the site is not considered prime agricultural land and also pointed out a campground is consistent with the town's comprehensive plan regarding economic development to support tourism.
Commission Member Mark Laustrup asked how sewage would be addressed.
Skoug said would rely on the recommendation from Northern Wisconsin Engineers taking elevation, soils and water table into account.
Commission Member Dan Tyrolt asked if Skoug would keep all the buffer setbacks or would he expand with more sites. Olson responded the CUP would set the number of sites at 197.
There was a question if a deed restriction on a house on the edge of the former golf course that Skoug also is buying and seeking a CUP for had also a deed restriction requiring the golf course stay a golf course. Skoug explained the existing golf course owner would pay the existing homeowner $25,000 as a condition for the deed restriction to be lifted, and then the deed restriction would end.
Skoug was asked if he could create a main entrance to the proposed campground off Highway 27 instead of Fun Valley Road. Skoug said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) had rejected his request for a Highway 27 entrance from the west but he was still pursuing it.
Nies pointed out the county ordinance for campgrounds allows 10 sites per acre, far less than the 197 Skoug is pursuing.
All the members of the planning commission voted approval to rezone. Olson abstained because he noted he is a member of the Sawyer County Board of Appeals that may eventually hear an appeal of the rezone.
Following the vote, there continued to be public opposition for the CUP for the golf course and neighboring home, but the commission was not deterred.
Olson pointed that Act 67 had changed on how CUPs are approved and noted that decisions had to be based on "substantial evidence, facts and information and not personal preferences."
Nies also added Act 67 had created a "presumption" that land uses with conditions as stated in zoning ordinances are allowed.
Skoug said he would be adding gravel roads, buried power and sewer lines, an open-sided shelter, bathrooms and showers to the campground.
Nies proposed dropping conditions the commission had previously discussed with the Town of Hayward and added another that existing vegetative cover stay in place, two motions the other members accepted.
Olson said a number of conditions were included in the CUP, but those conditions were not visible during the online meeting.
Skoug noted as part of his campground rules that a staff person would be required on site 24 hours a day during the camping season and fireworks or firearms would not be allowed. Each site would be permitted to have just two vehicles and ATVs coming off nearby trails and routes were only permitted to drive to a specific campground site and not drive around the grounds.
Again the members voted unanimously to approve, with Olson again abstaining.
After five concerning weeks when the number of new positive COVID-19 cases rose noticeably from week to week, Sawyer County has entered a second week with fewer new cases than the week before.
During a worldwide pandemic, a decreasing number of new cases is the positive news all public health officials want.
On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julia Lyons reported 166 cumulative COVID-19 positives for the county (13 cases are active), up just four from the previous Tuesday, Sept. 1, when 162 were reported. In the previous two weeks, 15 and 30 new cases had been reported, on the heels of three one-
week periods when over 30 new cases had been reported each week.
As of Sept. 8, the county's seven-day average per 100,000 population, six per 100,000, is considered next to the lowest level of transmission.
"That is amazing that we have dropped that much," Lyons said.
Just a few weeks before, the level of transmission in the county was one of the highest in the state and above the national average.
"Everybody is doing a great job," she said, noting perhaps the desire to get kids back in school has motivated people to be more cautious. She also said, "We are not seeing people spread it from one person to the next at larger get-togethers or parties."
Once there has been a stop in the spread, Lyons said, the natural result is fewer new cases.
"When you get a lot of positives without that social distancing, it is going to spread pretty quickly," she said. "I think the information got out that we shouldn't have those get-togethers, and if we do, there should be social distancing. We are still being very careful. I think that message is working."
The statewide mask mandate, which continues until Sept. 28, also has had a positive impact on reducing new cases, she said.
However, Lyons remains guarded as to whether the downward trend will continue. After last weekend's long Labor Day weekend with many visitors in the area, she will be monitoring for an uptick in new cases. If there was community spread over the long weekend, she anticipates a rise in new cases about the middle of next week.
Of the 166 positive cases recorded since March, 153 have recovered, but 13 are still considered active, and seven have been hospitalized. There have been no deaths in the county from COVID-19.
Sixty persons are being monitored via community tracing.
And over 20% of Sawyer County residents (4,111) have tested negative. Some have been tested more than once but are counted only as one case/person.
Since last week, Lyons reports most businesses are complying with the statewide masking mandate for public places.
"Most businesses are in compliance," she said. "However, there are a few out there that I keep hearing about."
On Sept. 1 the Hayward School District was the county's lone district to allow in-person attendance. After one week, Lyons said, there have been no symptomatic cases reported in Hayward schools.
Starting Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Winter School District began K-5 in-person attendance, and on Monday, Sept. 14, the Winter middle and high school students will transition from virtual to in-person attendance.
The Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) K-12 will continue with virtual schooling until Sept. 21. However with the lower rate of spread for COVID-19 in the county, Lyon believes LCO may reconsider its timeline.
Lyons said there is much more interest in being vaccinated for seasonal influenza this upcoming flu season than in years past.
People are concerned about possibly becoming ill simultaneously with the flu and COVID-19, which has no vaccine at this time, Lyons said.
Increased flu vaccinations and mask wearing should noticeably reduce the number of people who become ill from the seasonal flu this year, she said.
The 490-acre lake that gives the community of Stone Lake its name has risen to the point this year where it's causing damage to shorelines and to some homes, and is giving shoreowners anxiety.
Statistics kept by the Shore Owners of Stone Lake Association (SOSLA) show that the lake this year is almost five feet higher than its 20-year low point in 2012-13. The water body, 49 feet deep at its maximum, is a "seepage lake" with no surface water outlet.
One of the most visible signs of the upward trend is the swimming beach near Avery Pond, on Lake Road about one-
half mile north of Highway 70. It's been used by local residents for many years.
But this year there is no beach, only a slim rocky shoreline that's almost entirely covered by water. The nearby culvert that runs beneath the road and connects the Avery Pond to the lake is almost full.
"There's a consensus here on Stone Lake that the water's as high as it has ever been and maybe a little higher," said Cathie Erickson, an SOSLA board member. "There's a large rock near the bridge between Stone Lake and Avery Pond that locals use as a 'measuring' tool.
"Many shoreowners are concerned about erosion along the shoreline caused by the combination of high water and wave action, as there has been a noticeable increase in boat traffic this summer," Erickson said. "Our lake association's approach to dealing with this so far has been increased communications about the impact of waves on shorelines, and we plan to offer a written document that property owners can share with their renters and guests.
"Ice damage to properties over the past winter was also severe due to the high water," Erickson added. "Most of our residents have witnessed the cycles of high and low water levels and hope that the water will again go down naturally, but that will take several years.
"A few properties have had more significant impacts such as flooded basements, but to the best of my knowledge they're dealing with those situations individually," Erickson said.
Allan Rosenwald, who owns a shoreline residence on the south end of the lake, said, "Our shoreline has eroded, no question about it. Certainly it (the water) is the highest I've ever seen in the 25 years we've owned our home here. Other people who've lived here a lot longer said they've never seen anything higher.
"Not all that long ago, the lake was so low that people were extending their docks," Rosenwald added. "That's mother nature. Several years ago the shoreowners paid to dredge the channel between Little and Big Stone Lakes because you couldn't (navigate) it. There's sure not a problem now."
SOSLA President John Ryan said, "There have been no independent studies of the lake water elevations. However, we have been monitoring the lake level for approximately 20 years, which shows a long-term cycle of high and low levels over the period." By Sept. 4, the lake level had reached almost six inches higher than the last high water mark in 2002, but since then has receded slightly, he said.
"There is no inlet or outlet to the lake, other than a small inflow stream in the spring," Ryan added. "Stone Lake is fed by precipitation and springs in the lakebed. These springs are fed by aquifers under the ground. The aquifers have filled up.
"With additional rainfall and snow from recent years, the ground has become more saturated and caused more runoff into surrounding ponds and lakes. Trees and vegetation absorb much of the precipitation in drier years," Ryan said.
He added, "There have been several homes and garages on the lake that have experienced some damage. If the water continues to rise, some homeowners say they will face major consequences to their property.
"A big issue that many shoreowners face is the erosion of their lakeshore. Numerous trees are dying, and some are falling into the lake, because of root saturation along the lakeshore," Ryan said.
"We have reached out to the DNR for input," Ryan said. "As for an option to drain a portion of the lake, it would be extremely costly, require an engineering study, and could take years. A big issue would be where any excess water could even be drained.
"The Lakeshore Owners Association has spent a lot of time discussing ways that we can minimize lakeshore damage," Ryan said. "The most effective means is to keep boat and other watercraft speeds down, and away from the shoreline.
"However, DNR regulations alone are not sufficient to reduce shoreline erosion under our current circumstances, so the Shore Owners Association is encouraging boaters to limit all wake generating activities, such as tubing, water skiing and jet skiing, to the center of the lake."