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City Administrator Adam Sonntag, left, describes the changes to Ripon's zoning code, meant to promote affordable housing as Mayor Ted Grant, right, listens.

As part of a month’s-long initiative, the city of Ripon has updated municipal codes, aimed at promoting affordable housing.

That’s after the Ripon Common Council last week Tuesday approved changes to the city’s zoning code, and municipal ordinance changes related to planned unit developments (PUDs) and short-term rentals.

The city has been working to modify its zoning codes since March to help alleviate Ripon’s housing shortage, with the overall goal of making small zoning code changes to allow greater flexibility for property owners and developers to increase housing availability and promote housing affordability.

Ripon had the opportunity to work with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the Congress of New Urbanism to be a case study community in a guide to zoning code reform in Wisconsin to promote affordable housing.

“It set out guidelines on how to appropriately amend zoning codes to promote better housing, more flexibility with housing and housing affordability,” City Administrator Adam Sonntag said.

Since January, the city has received free technical assistance in rewriting portions of its zoning code to address zoning reform changes.

Under previous zoning conditions, Sonntag said Ripon faced issues with compliance within historic neighborhoods.

“When we’re applying modern codes to old areas, there are restrictions, [a] lack [of] flexibility and conflicts all over the place,” he said.

The city administrator noted many of those issues force residents to apply for a zoning variance from the city to perform renovations on their property.

“Those things … are obstacles for developing residential areas,” Sonntag said.

Residential zoning

Changes to R-1 (single-family) zoning districts include increasing the available lot coverage from 30% to 40%, as well as allowing accessory dwelling units within single-family districts.

In R-2 (two-family) districts, the changes make conversion duplexes an allowable use, as well as new construction of three- or four-unit dwellings under conditional use.

Meanwhile, R-3 (multi-family) districts now allow for dwellings of eight units or fewer, and for dwellings of more than eight units with conditional use.

“These are meant to address some affordability issues [and] some current code issues,” Sonntag said. “It’s been a long process.”

Ald. Doug Iverson was in favor of the changes, noting the changes may attract people to live in historic districts, who don’t need three bedrooms.

“It’s a good change,” he said. “I think it is very positive and will help our community.”

Planned Unit Developments

The Common Council also addressed Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), which are communities of single-family homes — sometimes condos or townhomes — where every homeowner belongs to a homeowners association.

The new ordinance drops the minimum size for a PUD from five acres to two.

Sonntag noted PUDs are a useful tool that provides flexible zoning options.

“It just sort of provides more flexibility by going from five [acres] to two,” he said. “It opens up more parcels of land in the community up to this option because getting five acres of land in the city to develop in this nature can be very difficult.”

Short-term rentals

The Common Council also approved an ordinance to regulate and license tourism rooming houses, also known as short-term rentals or Airbnbs and Vrbos.

The ordinance requires short-term rentals to be licensed by Fond du Lac County and for applicants to receive a tourism rooming house license from the city.

Sonntag noted the ordinance will help ensure the city receives room tax revenue from Airbnbs and Vrbos.

“If we have to go down that route, and somebody’s running an illegal unlicensed Airbnb, they would be penalized under the zoning code,” he said.

The council also approved a $10 annual fee for the city’s tourism rooming house license.

“The money we are making on this is through the room tax,” Sonntag said. “And we don’t want to deter anybody from doing this with a huge fee because we are getting money back when this happens. That money goes to cool things like fireworks.”

Under the ordinance, those operating a short-term rental will be required to maintain records of all persons staying there, which will be filed annually with the city when applying for a tourism rooming house license.

“That’s probably one of the most important [things] for, say, police, if there’s crime going on, at least they know who stayed at my Airbnb,” Ald. John Splitt said.

In other news

In other news from the Ripon Common Council meeting:

  • The council approved an alcohol license for Moonrise Entertainment (The Heist), 114 Watson St. It also approved enabling The Heist to put tables on Watson Street for a street cafe, but did request that a representative from The Heist come before the Common Council to discuss an application for an outdoor beer garden license behind The Heist.

  • The Common Council also approved a temporary extension of liquor license premises for July 16 and 23.

  • In addition, the council approved a payment to Harmony Construction for its work on the Senior Activity Center Murray Park for more than $258,000.

  • The council also approved a furniture purchase for the Senior Center, but directed Sonntag to contact local businesses to see if they can provide the furniture for the same cost. If local businesses cannot offer a cost at or below $62,169.76, Sonntag has authority to go with the offer from Excel Engineering to procure the furniture.

Written By

Joe Schulz served as the reporter of the Green Laker in 2019 and 2020, before being hired as a reporter for the Commonwealth in October 2020. He is from Oshkosh and graduated from UW-Oshkosh in December 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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