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State ex rel. Anderson v. Town of Newbold

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District III

October 29, 2019

State of Wisconsin ex rel. Michael Anderson, Petitioner-Appellant,
Town of Newbold, Respondent-Respondent.

          APPEAL from an order of the circuit court for Oneida County No. 2017CV55: PATRICK F. O'MELIA, Judge.

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

          SEIDL, J.

         ¶1 Michael Anderson owns shoreland property in the Town of Newbold (the Town) that he sought to divide into two lots. The Town denied Anderson's proposed division on the ground that the two lots would fail to comply with the Town's applicable minimum shoreland frontage requirement. The issue before us is whether the Town may lawfully enforce its shoreland frontage requirement, which it enacted under its subdivision authority, even though an identical shoreland frontage requirement would not be enforceable had the Town enacted it under its zoning authority.

         ¶2 We conclude that the plain language of the applicable subdivision enabling statute gave the Town authority to enact its minimum shoreland frontage requirement. Thus, even though our state legislature has removed shoreland zoning authority for towns through the enactment of Wis.Stat. §§ 281.31 and 59.692 (2017-18), [1] we affirm the circuit court's order upholding the Town's decision.

         ¶3 We recognize in reaching our decision that there is undeniable tension between the legislature's decision to restrict towns' shoreland zoning authority while at the same time granting towns the power to enact a shoreland frontage requirement under their subdivision authority. We conclude, however, that in the absence of clear legislative intent demonstrating that the zoning enabling statute takes priority over the subdivision enabling statute, it is not the role of this court to resolve that tension. That task lies within the purview of the legislature alone.


         ¶4 Anderson owns a lot in the Town that has 358.43 feet of shoreland frontage on Lake Mildred, and thus is classified as shoreland property. See Wis. Stat. §§ 59.692(1)(b), 281.31(2)(d). In 2016, Anderson submitted a certified survey map to the Town that proposed dividing his current lot into two lots. The two proposed lots were to have shoreland frontage of 195 and 163.43 feet, respectively.

         ¶5 The Town's planning commission considered Anderson's proposal at its November 3, 2016 meeting. According to the minutes of that meeting, the commission voted to recommend that the Town deny the request "because it does not comply with Town of Newbold On-Water Land Division Standards 13.13[.02 ("the Subdivision Ordinance")] which requires a minimum 225 foot lot width at the ordinary high water mark" on Lake Mildred. One week later, the town board adopted this recommendation and thereby denied Anderson's proposal.

         ¶6 Anderson sought certiorari review of the Town's decision in the circuit court. The court ultimately affirmed the Town's authority to enforce the Subdivision Ordinance and therefore upheld the Town's denial of Anderson's proposed subdivision. Anderson now appeals.


         ¶7 On an appeal from a judgment on certiorari, we review the actions of the town board, not the circuit court. Lake Delavan Prop. Co., LLC v. City of Delavan, 2014 WI.App. 35, ¶5, 353 Wis.2d 173, 844 N.W.2d 632. Certiorari review requires us to consider whether the board: (1) kept within its jurisdiction; (2) acted according to law; (3) acted in an arbitrary, oppressive, or unreasonable manner; and (4) whether the evidence was such that the board might reasonably have made the order or determination in question. Id., ¶4.

         ¶8 Here, the sole issue is whether the town board acted according to law. To resolve this issue, we must interpret portions of Wis.Stat. §§ 59.692 and 236.45. Statutory interpretation presents a question of law that we review independently. Wood v. City of Madison, 2003 WI 24, ¶11, 260 Wis.2d 71, 659 N.W.2d 31');">659 N.W.2d 31.

         ¶9 When interpreting a statute, our objective "is to determine what the statute means so that it may be given its full, proper, and intended effect." State ex rel. Kalal v. Circuit Court for Dane Cty., 2004 WI 58, ¶44, 271 Wis.2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110. Our analysis begins with the plain language of the statute. Id., ¶45. Statutory language is given its common, ordinary, and accepted meaning, except that technical or specially-defined words or phrases are given their technical or special definitional meaning. Id. In addition, statutory language must be interpreted in the context in which it is used; not in isolation but as part of a whole; in relation to the language of surrounding or closely-related statutes; and ...

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