Attorneys representing the Wood County town of Saratoga and the proposed Golden Sands Dairy argued the case Thursday in front of the Supreme Court justices. At the center of the argument is whether building permits filed by the Wysocki Family of Cos. in 2012 entitle the company to use about 6,000 acres for cropland.
Justices focused their questions to attorneys on whether permit applications filed with Saratoga were complete. The Golden Sands attorney said the company couldn’t have made its plans any clearer, while the town attorney said Wysocki failed to include specific legal descriptions of the land.
Saratoga residents almost immediately organized to fight the proposed farm after Wysocki filed applications with the town, county and state to build the so-called concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.
The dairy is expected to maintain 5,300 animals on 7,000 acres. Wysocki took the town to court and won when Saratoga officials refused to issue building permits for the proposed dairy’s buildings.
The Supreme Court now is considering whether permits for the buildings allow the company to plant crops across almost the entire property. Saratoga put zoning in place after the Wysocki company filed its permit applications. A Portage County judge hearing the Wood County case ruled the permits allowed for planting crops, but an appeals court reversed the decision.
A lawyer from the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office joined the Golden Sands attorney during the oral arguments Thursday.
The building permit filed by Golden Sands included 98 acres in the production site, not the 6,000 acres the dairy is claiming can be used for cropland, said Remzy Bitar, attorney for Saratoga, during the arguments. The issue in the case is the original building permit, Bitar said.
Wisconsin has a rule, known as the bright-line rule, that allows people who have gotten building permits to use the property associated with the permits for the purpose intended when the land was purchased. The rule allows this even when local municipalities change the zoning to prevent the use.
But Bitar argued that there has never been a court case in Wisconsin where someone has tried to use the bright-line rule for property that was outside the borders described for a building permit.
The building permit application has to be complete and well-defined, he said.
Bitar also claimed Wysocki knew the town was in the process of changing its zoning and rushed in to file for permits before that happened.
“Zoning does not happen overnight in our community,” he said.
Golden Sands made its intent clear, said Jordan Hemaiden, attorney for the dairy. Wysocki paid to complete voluminous permit applications and provided the town with maps of all the land the company intended to use for the dairy, he said.
“I don’t know how we could have identified it any more clearly,” Hemaiden said.
The town didn’t obtain the required zoning authority from its residents or put zoning in place until after Golden Sands filed its permit applications, he said.
Developers invest a lot of money in those projects but won’t do that if they fear the municipality can change the zoning to block them, Hemaiden said. The Wysocki Family of Cos. has spent millions in the development of the Golden Sands Dairy project, he said.
The state rule about property use is meant to allow landowners to use the site for its intended purpose when they apply for a building permit, regardless of the zoning that’s in place when the permit is actually issued, Hemaiden said.