The Ladysmith Planning Commission voted 7-0, last Thursday to recommend amending the city’s zoning code to allow 2-family residential dwellings by conditional use permit in single family zoning districts.

The recommendation, which still needs final approval by the city council, would allow duplexes next to single family homes if granted permission on a case-by-case basis by the planning commission through a conditional use permit.

The reason is basically to provide nicer housing options to people in the workforce.

Area resident John Kenyon sought the change as he is interested in building a duplex somewhere in the city, but found only three lots currently zoned for multifamily and at least 20 single family buildable lots. Unit sizes mentioned during the hearing were about 1,200 square feet per side each with a rent of about $1,200 per month.

“The proposal for the commission tonight would allow an R-2 duplex on an R-1 lot. An R-1 is single family. An R-2 is 2-family,” said city resident Al Kenyon, who was speaking for his son, who is seeking to build. “That does a number of things. It increases the number of lots to build a duplex, but it doesn’t really change anything. Any duplex that would be built on an R-1 lot would have to come back to this group for approval as to size, location, lot size and all of that.”

There are currently no proposals to build, but several lots were mentioned including a lot currently owned by Al Kenyon at 910 E. Second St. S near College Avenue.

“If all these dots are appropriately lined up that is where John could build a duplex this fall,” Al Kenyon said.

Higher end workforce rentals aimed at households earning $50,000 per year each are difficult to find in Ladysmith, according to Kenyon. “It is that kind of a place that John is thinking about,” he said.

A recent Ladysmith Housing Study was presented that states the city can support as many as 17 for rent and 56 for sale units targeted at empty nester households. The city could also support 90 units of workforce housing and 45 units of assisted living.

Kenyon cited the report in stating more than 603 workers commute 50 miles one way to Ladysmith to work. He said these commuters would benefit from the introduction of additional housing options in the city.

Under state law, municipalities can only grant conditional uses if that requested use is allowed by local ordinance. Hence, Kenyon’s request amending the city’s zoning code to allow 2-family residential dwellings by conditional use permit in single family zoning districts.

In years past, conditional use permits were sometimes granted no matter what the zoning was, according to City Zoning Administrator Kurt Gorsegner.

“Now it has to be listed in the ordinance so the public is aware of what can and cannot happen,” Gorsegner said.

State law also prohibits spot zoning.

“You would have to make a whole block R-2. You can’t just pick out a lot. That is why it would have to be conditional use,” Gorsegner said.

Planning Commission Chairman Dave Willingham called for an organized method of expansion. He added some single family lot size dimensions will not easily lend themselves to duplex use.

“Obviously,  conditional use permit does sort of allow you to mix and match and pick and choose which sometimes planning commission bodies and councils don’t like to do because sometimes it makes sense to do it and sometimes it doesn’t,” Willingham said.

No residential units were built in the city last year. One was built in 2018.

John Kenyon cited Rice Lake and many new duplexes he sees being constructed there.

“I think part of those commuters would locate to Ladysmith and tend to live here rather than somewhere else,” John Kenyon said. “Although it takes a little longer to fill a more expensive property, the people who rent them stay longer.”

Commission member Chrysa Ostenso asked what impact the requested zoning change could have on existing single family homes.

“If we made this change could [owners of] existing properties that are single family homes come in and ask us to convert them into duplexes?” Ostenso said.

“I would say, ‘yes,’” Gorsegner said.

Commissioner Adam Kaiser spoke optimistically about the request, hoping the commission is faced with many requests. He added the commission will be able to review each request on a case-by-case basis.

“With one house built in the last two years, I hope we have to meet about it a lot. If we are going to have 10 of them that is a lot of work getting done around here,” Kaiser said.

Willingham believes this is a step officials can take to improve housing in the city. He also called for developing rules for duplex construction, some of which are already covered under existing home sizes, setbacks and other limits.

In other matters, the commission voted 6-0 with one abstention to allow a conditional use permit to allow residential use of the ground floor level of premises at Village Parlor Ice Cream Parlor & Gift Shop, 121 Lake Ave. E.

The property is owned by commission member Sue Moore, who abstained from voting. She wants to operate the ground floor business through this year’s tourism season and then close so she can move from the upstairs to the lower level for health reasons.

Moore stated it is possible she may decide at some point in the future to rent out the lower level for commercial use.

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