Vilas County, a Wisconsin Municipal Corporation, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Timothy Bowler, Kim Bowler and Alpine Resort of Presque Isle, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.
from a judgment of the circuit court for Vilas County, Cir.
Ct. No. 2017CV132 NEAL A. NIELSEN III, Judge. Affirmed.
Stark, P.J., Hruz and Seidl, JJ.
Timothy Bowler, Kim Bowler and Alpine Resort of Presque Isle,
Inc. (collectively, the Bowlers) appeal a summary judgment
granted in favor of Vilas County to enforce an ordinance
establishing a uniform addressing system within the County.
The structures on the Bowlers' property consist of a
residence from which the Bowlers operate their resort
business and several cabins the Bowlers rent out on a
short-term, seasonal basis.
The Bowlers assert the County lacked authority under the
relevant ordinance to name the road serving their residence
and rental structures. Their argument in this respect is
twofold. First, they contend the road does not satisfy the
ordinance's definition of a "private road."
Second, they argue the road does not satisfy the
ordinance's requirement that the road serve three or more
"residences or lots." We conclude the road is a
"private road" within the ordinance definition
because it is a road located on private property that leads
to the ten structures on the Bowlers' property, each of
which is a "primary" or "principal"
structure under the ordinance because it is used for human
habitation. We also conclude the buildings satisfy the
ordinance's requirement that the road serve three or more
"residences," which include all of the Bowlers'
The Bowlers also challenge the County's authority under
the ordinance to assign addresses to their rental cabins.
They argue these buildings are not "principal" or
"primary" structures and, therefore, are not
subject to the County's addressing requirement.
Consistent with our conclusion regarding the County's
authority to name the Bowlers' private road, we reject
this argument and hold that each of the ten structures at
issue (the Bowlers' residence and their nine rental
cabins) is a "primary" or "principal"
structure to which the County may assign an address.
Finally, the Bowlers argue the ordinance is invalid because
the County is applying it beyond the scope of the Wisconsin
statute authorizing the County to adopt a rural naming or
numbering system. We disagree and conclude the ordinance may
be properly applied to each home or business structure on the
Bowlers' property. Accordingly, we affirm.
The relevant facts are largely undisputed. The Bowlers own a
parcel of real property in Vilas County that is located in
the Town of Presque Isle. Located on the parcel is the
Bowlers' permanent residence, out of which they run their
business, Alpine Resort of Presque Isle, Inc. The remaining
nine buildings on the parcel are cabins that are rented on a
short-term, seasonal basis in connection with the
Bowlers' resort business.
In 2008, the Vilas County Board of Supervisors adopted a
Uniform Addressing System Ordinance (the Ordinance) as
chapter 28 of the General Code of Vilas County. The
Ordinance, adopted pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 59.54(4),
made explicit its purpose as being to "facilitate the
naming of roads, signing of roads, assigning of addresses,
location of address signs and house numbers in order to aid
emergency personnel in providing fire protection, emergency
medical services, law enforcement services, delivery of mail
and meet other general location needs of the public."
Vilas County, Wis., General Code of Vilas County § 28.01
(hereinafter, Vilas County Code).
To that end, the Ordinance gives the County the authority to
name "[e]xisting public or private roads serving three
(3) or more residences or lots." Vilas County Code
§ 28.06(3). The Ordinance also dictates that "[a]ll
homes, businesses, farms, multifamily dwellings, structures
for human habitation, and other establishments, within the
unincorporated areas of Vilas County shall have an assigned
uniform addressing number." Vilas County Code §
28.09(1). In describing the addressing number system, the
Ordinance states: "Each principal structure shall be
assigned an address based on where the driveway to the
structure intersects the named road"; and, "Where
more than one principal structure exists, each structure
shall be assigned an address." Vilas County Code §
In early 2015, the County began an address assessment of the
Bowlers' Presque Isle property. During the assessment, the
Vilas County Addressing Coordinator determined that, in
addition to the Bowlers' residence, the nine rental units
comprising Alpine Resort required address numbers, and the
road serving those units and the residence had to be named.
The County notified the Bowlers of its conclusion by letter,
and it requested that the Bowlers submit a road name request
form so the County could proceed with naming the private
road. The County stated it would assign address numbers to
the structures along the private access road after the road
had been named.
The County received a telephone call from the Bowlers
objecting to the County naming their road. Then, on August
31, 2015, the Bowlers attended a meeting of Vilas
County's Land Records Committee and objected to the
application of the Ordinance in its entirety to the
Bowlers' property, including the County's decision to
assign address numbers to their rental cabins. The Land
Records Committee concluded it was without authority to
exempt any property from the Ordinance, and the Addressing
Coordinator sent the Bowlers another letter advising them of
the County's intent to name their road and assign
addresses to the structures on their property.
As of October 5, 2015, the County had not received a response
from the Bowlers regarding their preferred road name, and the
County designated the existing road "Alpine Resort
Dr." The Bowlers then notified the County that they
wished for the road to be named "Private Resort
Dr.," which the Town of Presque Isle subsequently
approved. The County notified the Bowlers that signs would be
installed on their property reflecting the new road name and
assigned addresses for the buildings.
On December 1, 2015, the Town of Presque Isle installed a new
road name sign at Private Resort Drive's intersection
with Crab Lake Road, a public right-of-way. The Bowlers
confronted the town official who was installing the sign and
refused him entry onto their property to install address
numbers, claiming his presence was unlawful and he was
trespassing. Thereafter, the Bowlers continued to refuse
access to their property for installation of address numbers
assigned to Private Resort Drive.
The County filed this action in September 2017, asserting the
Bowlers' conduct constituted a "flagrant and
continuing violation" of the Ordinance. The County
sought an injunction prohibiting the Bowlers from interfering
with the installation of any necessary signage, as well as
forfeitures for their alleged violations of the Ordinance. In
response, the Bowlers asserted that the Ordinance, by its
plain terms, could not be applied to their property, such
that the County was prohibited from naming their road or
assigning an address to any building except their residence.
The Bowlers argued that even if the Ordinance could be
construed to permit those activities, it exceeded the scope
of the authorizing legislation codified in Wis.Stat. §
59.54(4), and therefore was unenforceable by the
The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment
regarding the enforceability of the Ordinance. At the summary
judgment hearing, the County asserted that the Ordinance
permitted it to assign addresses to any building used for
human habitation, and further that such an interpretation was
permissible under Wis.Stat. § 59.54(4) because each of
the Bowlers' rental structures was a "business"
or "establishment" within that statute's
meaning. The circuit court stated it understood the
County's position. But the court also remarked it could
"certainly understand that the [Bowlers] have an
interest in the name of their business, and they have an
interest in an address that has been established and used for
marketing … for a long time."
The circuit court adjourned the hearing without granting
either summary judgment motion and encouraged the parties to
explore the possibility of reaching a "cooperative
resolution" involving the Land Records Committee. The
Land Records Committee met in February 2018 to again consider
the application of the Ordinance to the Bowlers'
property, but the Bowlers did not attend the meeting. The
committee again concluded the Bowlers were required to comply
with the Ordinance.
The County then filed a motion for default judgment based
upon the Bowlers' failure to appear before the Land
Records Committee. At the continued hearing on the various
motions, the circuit court declined to hold the Bowlers in
default, but it granted the County's summary judgment
motion. The court concluded that Liberty Grove Town Board
v. Door County Board of Supervisors, 2005 WI.App. 166,
284 Wis.2d 814, 702 N.W.2d 33, was "conclusive" of
the County's authority to adopt the Ordinance. It also
concluded the rental structures on the Bowlers' property