A Wisconsin legislator plans to introduce a bill Thursday on behalf of a family that recently lost a St. Croix River private property rights appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, will seek to benefit the Murr family, which owns two riverfront lots and a cabin in Troy, Wis., a town south of Hudson.
In a 5-3 decision, the high court last month rejected the family's argument that conservation rules unfairly stripped their land of its value. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said "a reasonable land-use regulation" was intended to preserve the St. Croix River and surrounding land.
It's the second time in a matter of weeks that Jarchow is seeking private property exemptions on the St. Croix, one of 208 rivers nationwide protected under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Jarchow's first bill seeks to loosen government control over use of a blufftop property once advertised as a "premier wedding destination." That 284-acre tract, owned by Family First Farms, is subject to state and local zoning laws and within the boundaries of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a national park.
The St. Croix River Association opposes the bill, saying it will undermine scenic protections on the river. It's scheduled for a legislative hearing on July 19 in Madison.
Jarchow's new bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and supported by the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Pacific Legal Foundation. The latter advocacy organization provided legal representation for the Murrs in their case against St. Croix County and the state of Wisconsin.
The Murrs and their attorneys had alleged overregulation of the riverfront property, arguing that because governments can view two contiguous parcels as a "parcel of the whole," property owners are denied compensation for one of them.
In response, St. Croix County said that granting the Murrs an exception to laws protecting the river would weaken the government's ability to guard against overdevelopment anywhere on the St. Croix.
The dispute began in 2004 when the Murrs tried to sell a vacant lot to pay for improvements on their family cabin on the adjoining lot. County officials blocked the sale, citing 1976 regulations that bar new shoreline construction to prevent overcrowding and pollution on the river.
Jarchow said his forthcoming legislation would protect property owners from local laws barring development and establish a "more fair and reasonable" approval process for conditional-use permits.
Kennedy's opinion said the Murrs had not suffered a regulatory taking of their property or been "deprived of all economically beneficial use of their property." In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts said the court majority had undermined the Constitution's protections for private property owners.