Westlake, California (I THINK WE NEED ZONING !!!)

Black Oak Lake Area Zoning

Our 22 year District County Supervisor, Lowell Conrad (who died one week after he left office in April, 2006 at age 92), had the following information on the history of zoning. When the concept first came upon Vilas County in the mid 1900s it was agreed that the area needed businesses to thrive. People needed places to shop and to work while vacationers needed rentals. So, the General Business zoning designation was applied to virtually the whole county including all the land around Black Oak Lake. There were two resorts on the lake, Pine Terrace in the west bay and the Black Oak Resort next to the public beach. By the early 1970s both resorts had shut down and sold piecemeal to private parties. Simultaneously, mobile home parks and rental type complexes were popping up on other county lakes. Black Oak residents wanted to keep the lake in the completely residential status it happened to have at that time.

BOLROA was formed in 1976 with one of its primary goals being the rezoning of the land parcels that touch the lake from General Business to Single-Family Residential. The organizers of that day had a handful of objectors one of whom was Jim Lowenstine. Jim was secretly planning the Conserve School and intended it to be on Black Oak Lake. He needed the General Business zoning to continue. One of his local contractors was a Land O’ Lakes Town Board member named Gary Schmidt and through him our proponents’ efforts were repeatedly delayed, rebuffed, or flat denied at the town level. As a last resort BOLROA tried to go directly to the County Board over the heads of the town. Without the Town Board’s approval their effort was doomed but at a late 1977 County Board meeting they did manage to get a 10 – 10 vote which was a denial.

In 2004 the effort was again undertaken. This time the objections were few and there were still no businesses on the lake. It was a 15 month effort costing nearly $5,000 and involving two Town Board meetings and three County Board Meetings. Finally, at their Nov 8, 2005 meeting the Vilas County Board of Supervisors voted 21 – 0 to rezone all of the land parcels that touch the lake except the Public Beach and some thin access strips owned by the Town of Land O’ Lakes. It is ironic that in this successful effort one of the key PRO votes came from the Conserve School Board! Their reasoning was that Jim Lowenstine wanted his land to remain natural. With him gone (he died in 1996) the Conserve School Board signed on to our rezoning effort as a way to protect Jim’s land against possible rogue development plans of future unknown boards.

The specifics are spelled out in the Vilas County publication “Zoning District Uses”. A simple comparison of the following two descriptions makes it clear why the rezoning effort was so important.

Under “General Business” we read:

The General Business District is established to create areas for a wide variety of commercial purposes on relatively large lots. Examples of types of uses for which the GB District is created include, but are not limited to, automotive sales, service and repair, building supply sales, recreational equipment sales and service, and retail sales and service. Non-commercial property owners in this district should be prepared to accept inconveniences associated with mixing potentially non-compatible land uses.

Under “R-1 Single-Family Residential” we read:

The purpose of the Single-Family Residential District is to create areas for exclusively low density residential use and prohibit the intrusion of uses incompatible with the quiet and comfort of such areas.

In Single-Family zoning the only rentals allowed are those that legally existed before the zoning change and continue without a 12 month interruption at any time since the change. Any property may be rented if the rental period is more than 30 consecutive days. Also, home occupations as defined in Article XI of the Vilas County General Zoning Ordinance are allowed. Vilas County definitely plays hardball when it comes to zoning. Click here to read about how a zoning violation near Presque Isle in 2014 was handled. Though the 30 day time limit has now (2017) been reduced to 7 days there are additional restrictions in place to use the new number.  

Protection of Black Oak Lake Tranquility

Development pressure has decimated other lakes in the area. Though we are well protected with our zoning designation we must realize that Board compositions change and variances can be granted. We must be ready to mount a strong opposition to any threat to the tranquility of Black Oak Lake.


Documented action taken by the Vilas County Board
Vilas County Zoning and Planning Committee Rules and Members
Vilas County Zoning and Planning Department