FAQ List

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Q:          Do I need an appointment to visit the office and how long does it take to process a permit?

 A:          No appointment is necessary to get information or a permit from the Development Services office. Allow at least an hour before lunch or closing to allow staff to review information with you. Some permits can be issued while you wait; others may require additional information or further review before processing. The office has up to 30 days to process a permit once all applicable information has been submitted.



Animals / Bees

Q:      Can I have a horse(s) or farm animals on my property?

A:      Section 20-1018 of the Zoning Ordinance states that “except for commercial raising, propagation, boarding, or butchering of animals or fowl, which are conditional uses, any restriction of the number and type of animals and pets permitted within a particular district shall be in the responsibility of the local town boards.  This includes beekeeping in districts zoned residential.”  For example, a horse used for personal use would be allowed by County code, but the Town should be contacted to see if their regulations are more restrictive.  A horse boarding operation would require conditional use approval.



Accessory Uses and Structures

Q:      Can an accessory use or structure be put on a vacant parcel?

A:      Per section 20-1008 of the Zoning Ordinance accessory uses and structures are permitted in any district, but not until their principle structure is present or under construction.  For example, a detached shed or garage cannot be constructed until a house or business is present or under construction on the same lot.  There is one exception to this rule and that is for accessory structures in agricultural districts.  The exception allows an accessory structure prior to the presence of the principle structure provided that the parcel is 10 contiguous acres in size or larger, the structure is intended for agricultural use, it meets the minimum setbacks required for a principle structure and is at least 100’ from any existing structure.


Q:      Is there a limit on the size or number of accessory structures that I can have on my property?

A:      Per section 20-1115 of the Zoning Ordinance, accessory structures (pole barns, garages, sheds) are limited to a certain size dependent on the lot area.  Please contact Development services at (262) 886-8440 for an explanation, as the rules are quite complex.



Q:      Do I need a zoning permit for a fence?

A:      Non-residential security fences require a permit.  All fences should be designed so that they do not obstruct traffic visibility at street intersections (See Section 20-1086 of the Zoning Ordinance).  Residential fences are only controlled if they obstruct traffic visibility on corner lots, will be located near a navigable body of water (lake, river, pond, flowage) or if they will be in a shoreland-wetland or floodplain area.  Please contact Development Services for further details (262) 886-8440.  Also, contact the Municipal Building Inspector for local fence regulations.

Home Occupation

Q:      Do I need a permit to work out of my home?

A:      A zoning permit is required for a home occupation.  Download the Home Occupation Application form for more specifics.



Parcel or Lot Specifications

Q:      How many people are allowed to live in a home on a parcel zoned for a one-family dwelling?     

A:      One family could live in the home, which is defined as any number of persons related by blood, adoption, or marriage, or not to exceed four (4) persons not so related, living together in one (1) dwelling as a single housekeeping entity.


Q:      Can I have a two-family dwelling on my property?

A:      The R-6, R-6A, R-8 and A-2 zoning districts could allow two-family dwellings. Call the Development Services office at (262) 886-8440 for details.


Q:      Does road right-of-way get included with lot measurements?

A:      No.  Lot area includes the total area within the peripheral boundaries of a parcel exclusive of any highway right-of-way or road easement.  The street yard setbacks are measured from the outer limit of the highway right-of-way or private road easement.


Q:      How much lot width is needed for a parcel?

A:      A minimum of 33’ of all lots shall abut upon a public street, or other means of access that was in existence prior to the original adoption of the Zoning Ordinance and which has been approved by the Town.  In addition, each parcel shall have the minimum lot width that is specified for the zoning district in which it is located.  Some Towns have more restrictive lot width requirements and should be contacted for details.  Lot width shall mean the width of a parcel measured at the rear of the specified street yard and defined in Section 20-1 of the Zoning Ordinance.  Please contact Development Services (262) 886-8440 for an explanation, as the rules are quite complex.


Q:      How is building height defined?

A:      Building height shall mean the vertical distance measured from the mean elevation of the finished lot grade along the street yard face of the structure to the highest point of flat roofs; to the mean height level between the eaves and ridges of gable, gambrel, hip and pitch roof; or to the deck line of mansard roofs.


Q:      Can I live in a mobile home on my property?

A:      Mobile homes (not manufactured dwellings or manufactured homes) intended for human habitation are only allowed within mobile home parks.


Q:      Can I build a home on my lot?

 A:      Since there are so many factors involved in siting a home on a property (yard setbacks, floodplain, wetlands, shoreland regulations, height limits, minimum core living area, etc.) it would be best to sit down with Development Services staff during normal business hours to discuss your particular situation.


Q:      What is a POWTS?

A:      POWTS is an acronym for “private onsite wastewater treatment system” or what is sometimes referred to as a private sewage system.  This would include various sewage treatment and disposal systems such as a holding tank, mound system, in-ground soil absorption system, at-grade system, pressure distribution system, drip-line effluent dispersal system, etc.


Q:      How do I obtain a sanitary permit for a POWTS?

A:      The Sanitary Permit Procedures document provides detailed information for permit application.  A Certified Soil Testers List and Restricted / Master Plumbers List are available for your use.  These lists are for information purposes only and should not be construed to be a recommendation or endorsement.  Any properly licensed individual is allowed to perform the applicable duties.


Q:      What areas of the County are under the Racine County Development Services jurisdiction?

A:      All of the unsewered areas in Racine County come under this office’s POWTS jurisdiction.  It is possible that the POWTS jurisdiction could be extended to an area that is served by municipal sewer if the sewer district granted permission or a variance to do so.


Q:      How long is a sanitary permit good for and can it be renewed?

A:      A sanitary permit is valid for two years from the date of issuance. The property owner / agent may renew a permit following written application to the Development Services office and submittal of the proper fee.  The renewal shall be based on current code requirements in force at the time of renewal and changed requirements may impede renewal.  If a sanitary permit is not renewed prior to expiration, a new permit would be required to complete any desired POWTS installation.


Q:      Can a sanitary permit be transferred?

A:      A valid sanitary permit may be transferred from the holder to a subsequent owner of the land.  A new Sanitary Permit Application form must be competed, signed by the plumber and submitted to the Development Services office with the required fee to obtain a new sanitary permit.  Transfer of ownership does not affect the expiration date or renewal requirements.


Q:      Can I change plumbers after the sanitary permit is issued?

A:      When an owner with a valid sanitary permit wishes to change plumbers, it will be necessary to submit a new Sanitary Permit Application form (signed by the new plumber) along with the applicable fee, to the Development Services office to obtain approval prior to system installation.  Plumbers can only be charged if the original plan was prepared by an architect, engineer, or plumbing designer unless a new plan approval is obtained by the new plumber.


Q:      Can I elect to install a holding tank as a POWTS?

A:      In most cases, a holding tank can only be utilized of a soil evaluation shows that no other type of POWTS can be installed on the property and if the local Municipality allows the use of the requested holding tanks.  Some exceptions exist for the temporary use of a holding tank.  In addition, the installation of a holding tank in a subdivision is prohibited unless it is the only alternative and it replaces a failing POWTS that serves am existing habitable building on the subject property.  For further details on holding tank use, contact the Development Services Office at (262) 886-8440.


Q:      Why does Racine County charge a fee for the maintenance requirements for POWTS?

A:      The Development Services office was delegated the responsibility of creating an inventory of each POWTS that may exist within the County, setting up databases to enter the information, sending out the maintenance notices (postage, post cards, copy costs), collecting and electronically recording the resulting maintenance dates, updating ownership, tracking for maintenance compliance, collecting and depositing fees and enforcing violation (notice of violation, citations, court cases).  The County must have computers, software, employees, legal counsel, desks, phones, storage area, etc to run the program, maintain records, and respond to inquiries.  In addition, there are audits by the State, and the County must provide the staff time to facilitate this as well.  Ultimately, the County Board approved a nominal fee to help cover the costs to run the program.  The fee is charged to the owners of the properties served by a POWTS, while people served by public sewer get separate utility fees that are not imposed on properties outside of the service area.  It is a user-based fee to help recover costs for the time effort and expense to run the State mandated program.  There are double or triple fees assessed if the proof of maintenance / fee is overdue.


Q:      Does Racine County have a maintenance requirement for POWTS?

A:      State codes require that all counties enact a maintenance program for all POWTS. The owner of POWTS is responsible to ensure that the operation and maintenance of the POWTS occurs in accordance with State and County codes and any approved management plan.  A properly licensed individual must visually inspect septic tanks and lift pump trucks within 3 years of the date of system installation and at least once every 3 years thereafter.  Documentation of the inspection must be sent to the County (along with an administrative fee of $10.00) and shall certify that the system is in proper operating condition without ponding on the surface of the ground and that after inspection and pumping, if necessary, the tank is less than 1/3 full of sludge and scum.  Some management plans will require more frequent maintenance.  A licensed individual must pump holding tanks when the wastewater in the tank reaches a level one foot below the inlet invert of the tank.  Proof of this pumping must be submitted to the Development Services office along with a $10.00 annual administrative fee.  Further maintenance requirements can be found in Section 10-105, of the Utility Ordinance.


Q:      Does Racine County allow the installation of constructed wetlands, evapotranspiration beds or pit privies? 

A:      No


Q:      How do I apply for an appeal of a sanitary administrative action or decision?

A:      The Economic Development and Land Use Planning Committee shall act as the board of appeals and shall hear appeals of the final decisions for Chapter 19 – Utilities Ordinance.  Requests shall be filed in writing with the Development Services office within 3 weeks after the final administrative action or decision.  The appropriate fee must accompany the request.  After hearing the appeal, the Committee shall render its decision at or before its next regularly scheduled meeting.




Q:      Are permits required for an advertising sign or billboard?

A:      An advertising sign is defined as a sign pertaining to goods sold or manufactured or services rendered on the premises upon which the sign is located.  A billboard is a sign that advertises a product or service not offered on the premises on which the billboard is located.  In most instances a permit will be required to locate, erect, enlarge, convert, or structurally alter an advertising sign or billboard.  Some signs do not require permits under certain conditions (nameplates, real estate, political, directional, legal, memorial, subdivision, temporary construction.  Contact Development Services (262) 886-8440 for details and requirements.




Q:      Can I park a business vehicle on my residentially zoned lot?

A:      Section 20-1009 of the Zoning Ordinance pertains to parking requirements.  Vans or pickup trucks used for private and recreational use or a commercial vehicle per Section 20-1009(b) used for transportation to and from a place of employment or workplace of the occupant may be parked on a residential property.  No other vehicular equipment of a commercial or industrial nature is allowed to be parked or stored for more than 2 consecutive hours and 4 accumulated hours during any 24-hour period on any lot in any zoning district except business and industrial districts or as permitted by conditional use in the A-2 zoning district.       


Q:      Can recreational vehicles be parked on my residential property?

A:      Sections 20-1009(c) and 20-115(b) and (c), if applicable, addresses recreational vehicle parking regulations.  In general, recreational vehicles that are accessory to a residential use can be parked in the rear or side yards only in compliance with the same setbacks allowed in subsections 20-115(b) and (c), if applicable.  The vehicles must maintain a minimum of a 6’ setback from the rear and side lot lines, but are not restricted to a minimum setback to the principal structure.  For the purpose of this section, recreational vehicles shall include boats and trailers, snowmobiles and their trailers, minibikes or trail bikes and their trailers, unoccupied tent campers and travel trailers, all-terrain vehicles and personal watercraft and their trailers.



Reporting a Violation

Q:        How do I report a Zoning violation?

 A:        Contact Racine County Development Services at (262) 886-8440 if you suspect that there is a zoning violation in an unincorporated area of the County or in the Village of Yorkville.


Q:      How do I report a sanitation violation?

A:      For a POWTS violation, including a failing private sewage system, contact Racine County Development Services at (262) 886-8440.  If there is a storm water drainage concern, please contact your local municipality.



Shoreland / Floodplain Areas

Q:         Can I build in a shoreland setback area?

 A:         Section 20-1045 of the Zoning Ordinance states that “within the shore yard setback area in conformance with the regulations of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, no structures are permitted. “Structures” includes fences, ice fishing shanties, accessory buildings other than boathouses, minor structures, and any retaining wall not approved by a site plan review/conditional use approval or approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.” Typically the minimum shoreland setback is 75´ back from the ordinary high water mark of a navigable body of water; however, averaging issues also come into play.


Q:          How can I find out if there is 100-year floodplain on my property?

 A:          The County has topographic maps that contain general 100-year floodplain delineation by elevation. A land surveyor should delineate the exact floodplain location on a property. There are also Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) that are part of the National Flood Insurance Program. These are sometimes referred to as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps, and show designated floodplain zones.


Q:          Do I need a permit for a pier or boatlift?

 A:          Racine County does not issue permits for a riparian landowner’s private pier or boatlift. However the local Municipality and/or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources may regulate these structures in navigable waters. The County does regulate water-oriented commercial or multiple use piers for facilities such as marinas, resorts, planned residential developments and subdivisions.

Temporary Structures


Q:          Do I need a zoning permit for temporary or movable structures?

 A:          Except for minor structures, which is defined as “any small, movable accessory erection or construction such as birdhouses, tool houses, pet houses, play equipment and arbors,” a zoning permit would be required for a structure. Small detached accessory structures that are less than 36 square feet, as well as small movable lawn furniture, picnic tables, portable grills, and bird feeders normally do not require a permit. Also see, "Can I build in a shoreland setback area?



Tree Removal

Q:      Can I remove trees or shrubs or do earth moving activities on my property?

A:      The County regulates tree/shrub removal and earth moving activities in shoreland and floodplain areas.  In addition, there may be restrictions in Primary Environmental Corridors.  Contact Development Services (262) 886-8440 for details prior to conducting any of these activities in the referenced areas.  You should also contact the local municipality if you propose to change property grades, as they may wish to review storm water drainage concerns.



Variance / Zoning Appeal

Q:      How do I apply for a variance or appeal of the Zoning Ordinance?

 A:      Read Variance/Appeal Procedures for variance/appeal application information. Additional criteria can be found in Section 20-41 of the Zoning Ordinance. The Variance Appeal Application Form can be printed out and completed and the Zoning Board of Adjustment Public Hearing Schedule provides filing dates and meeting dates. If you live in the Village of Yorkville, utilize the Village of Yorkville Zoning Board of Appeals Public Hearing Schedule for filing dates and meeting dates. The appropriate fee can be found in either the Fee Schedule (except Village of Yorkville) or Village of Yorkville Fee Schedule.

Zoning Permits and Districts

Q:      What happens if I neglect to get a zoning permit?

A:      In most cases, enforcement action would take place to correct the violation, and a double to quadruple zoning permit fee would be imposed for any required permit.  In some cases a citation(s) may be issued.  Each day a violation exists or continues shall constitute a separate offense.  Other action could commence to seek forfeiture or penalty as outline in the Zoning Ordinance.


Q:        What is the cost for obtaining a permit?

 A:       The "Fee Schedule (except Village of Yorkville) and Village of Yorkville Fee Schedule the zoning and sanitation fees, including permit costs. Note that all fees must be paid by cash, check or credit card. Checks for zoning fees can be made payable to "Racine County Development Services” and sanitation fees should be payable to "Racine County Treasurer."


Q:          In general, what is the order for securing permits needed to build a new home or business within Racine County?

 A:          A sanitary permit is required before a zoning/building permit can be issued for an unsewered parcel. The Development Services office issues Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (POWTS) sanitary permits for the entire County. Procedures for obtaining a sanitary permit can be found by reading Sanitary Permit Procedures. The next permit to obtain (or first permit for sewered parcels) is a zoning permit. The Development Services office can issue this for structures that will be located in any unincorporated area (Township) in Racine County and for the Village of Caledonia. The Zoning Permit Procedures document provides permit application details. A Conditional Use approval may be needed prior to the issuance of a zoning permit. After zoning permit issuance, a building permit can be secured from the local Municipality. In some instances, you may need to contact the road right-of-way owner (Town, Village, County or State) to obtain a permit to install a culvert for a driveway entrance to a lot.


Q:          What types of structures or uses require a zoning permit?

 A:          Most new structures require a zoning permit. All residential, commercial, recreational, institutional and industrial principal buildings along with any additions, alterations or conversions to such require a permit. Additions could include a garage, carport, first or second-story enlargement, basement, crawl space, outside stairs, porch, deck, landing, etc. Detached accessory structures that are 36 square feet or more in size (along with any additions, alterations or conversions to such) also require a permit. This could include a shed, pole barn, garage, greenhouse, tree house, gazebo, deck, and an outdoor swimming pool, spa, hot tub, etc. Advertising signs, billboards, tower broadcast facilities, mobile home and campground developments, non-residential security fences, ponds, mineral extraction, non-metallic mining, sanitary landfills and home occupations also need permits. In addition, tree/shrub cutting, landscaping (cutting or filling), riprap projects, and/or retaining walls in a shoreland and/or floodplain area require County approvals. When in doubt, call the office at (262) 886-8440, as this is not a complete list of possible permits. All permits/approvals are to be secured before anything is constructed, erected or placed on a property and before earth moving or cutting of trees and shrubs takes place in a shoreland area.


Q:          How do I obtain a zoning permit?   

A:          The Zoning Permit Procedures document will provide detailed information.


Q:          What areas of the county are under the Racine County Development Services zoning jurisdiction?

A:          All of the unincorporated areas (Townships) in Racine County come under this office’s general zoning jurisdiction. Additional jurisdiction extends to shoreland and/or floodplain areas of the unincorporated areas in the County. Shoreland areas include lands within 1,000 feet of a navigable lake, pond or flowage and/or within 300 feet of a river or stream or to the landward side of its floodplain, whichever distance is greater. County zoning jurisdiction does not extend to cities or villages. However, Racine County has been contracted by the Village of Yorkville to issue general zoning and shoreland/floodland permits for the Village.


Q:          How long is a zoning permit valid?    

A:          A zoning permit shall expire within nine months of issuance unless substantial work has commenced and is continuing. Substantial work shall mean a considerable amount of work done towards completing the project that received approval, that may include obtaining necessary plot plans, surveys, engineering data, easements, deed restrictions, approvals, permits, and physically starting the project. For typical building construction projects, the site work must progress beyond grading and completion of structural foundations, and construction must be occurring above grade to be considered substantial work. For a minor fee and while the permit is still valid, it is possible to extend a zoning permit for a nine-month period of time. If a zoning permit expires without substantial work, it become null and void and a new zoning permit would be required.


Q:          What is the zoning district for my property?

A:          You can call the Development Services office at (262) 886-8440 to find out the zoning district for any unincorporated area in Racine County and the Village of Yorkville (but not other cities and villages). Or you can research the parcel in question on the County on-line mapping program. It is helpful if you can provide the tax identification number for the property in question, which is normally found on the property tax bill. For City of Racine zoning questions please call (262) 636-9464. For Village of Mt. Pleasant zoning questions please call (262) 554-8750.  For Village of Raymond zoning questions please call 262-835-4426.  For the Village of Caledonia zoning questions please call 262-835-4451.  


Q:          What activities are allowed in my zoning district?

A:          You can call the Development Services office at (262) 886-8440 or go to the Racine County Code of Ordinances web site and navigate to Chapter 20, Article VI to get the specific principal and conditional uses for each zoning district. Each district has a specified minimum lot width and area requirement as well as minimum lot line setbacks and maximum building heights.

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