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Vilas County v. Bowler

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District III

July 30, 2019

Vilas County, a Wisconsin Municipal Corporation, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Timothy Bowler, Kim Bowler and Alpine Resort of Presque Isle, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.

          APPEAL from a judgment of the circuit court for Vilas County, Cir. Ct. No. 2017CV132 NEAL A. NIELSEN III, Judge. Affirmed.

          Before Stark, P.J., Hruz and Seidl, JJ.

          HRUZ, J.

         ¶1 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.

         ¶2 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' cabins.

         ¶3 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.

         ¶4 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.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         ¶5 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.

         ¶6 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).

         ¶7 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 § 28.10(2), (3).

         ¶8 In early 2015, the County began an address assessment of the Bowlers' Presque Isle property.[2] 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.

         ¶9 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.

         ¶10 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.

         ¶11 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.

         ¶12 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 County.[3]

         ¶13 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."

         ¶14 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.

         ¶15 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 could ...


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