RIVER FALLS — It was a relatively short agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t momentous.

An ordinance on shoreland protection regulations passed with one amendment, but a local business owner’s comments revealed a problem with proposed zoning rules covering breweries, brewpubs, wineries and distilleries. Council members voted to delay a vote on the second ordinance until staff could revise it.

Here’s what happened:

Shoreland protection

The approved ordinance updates the city’s shoreland protection regulations, which were first passed in 2003. The rules are a big deal for “the city on the Kinni” because of the proximity of buildings and other development along the prized Kinnickinnic River.

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The original ordinance created buffer zones between the water and new development, with variable setbacks of up to 125 feet depending on the exact spot, according to a staff report. The buffer can be even larger in some spots due to floodplains, steep slopes or wetlands.

—Why update shoreland protection regulations?

The city contends its original ordinance struck a balance between protecting shoreland and allowing development, but legislative actions in 2013 and 2015 meant it was no longer in compliance with state law. That made the regulations difficult to enforce.

Staff worked for months on the update, which was presented to City Council for a first reading on Jan. 26.

—What does the ordinance do?

The goal was to make an ordinance that is restrictive enough to protect waterways but not too restrictive on property rights, according to a staff report. It reduces the number of nonconforming properties and increases the amount of developable land, while also protecting slopes.

—What did council members say?

A last-minute change was made to a proposed 120-foot shoreline setback in areas annexed by the city before 1982, which covers the core of the city and has land marked by steep slopes vulnerable to erosion. State law prevents land annexed after 1982 from having setbacks greater than 75 feet, but the city can have stricter rules for land annexed earlier.

Council member Scott Morrissette forwarded an amendment that passed 4-3 to bring the setback in the pre-1982 area down to 100 feet based on direction from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Council member Hal Watson spoke in favor of keeping the setback at 120 feet.

Small-scale alcohol production

The council voted to table a vote on a proposed zoning ordinance pertaining to breweries and other small-scale alcohol production after it was brought to the city’s attention that the changes could affect The Garage Bikes and Brews, a new brewery on Cedar Street.

City staff said the intent was to craft an ordinance that made sure existing businesses were in compliance; however, The Garage Bikes and Brews was meant to be characterized as a microbrewery, a classification erroneously absent from a table listing the zones where the various alcohol production establishments are allowed to operate.

Council members agreed they would be more comfortable with staff revising the ordinance and bringing it back for a vote at a future meeting.

—What does the ordinance do?

The ordinance would make River Falls one of the few cities of its size in the state to have a zoning ordinance with language specific to small-scale alcohol production. Brewpubs, micro distilleries and nano breweries are increasingly popular business ventures.

The ordinance lists the various types of alcohol production operations, spells out development standards and identifies zoning districts where they would be allowed within the city. It does not supersede statewide regulations or cover unlicensed, hobby brewing in private residences.

  • Find both ordinances in the City Council meeting agenda here (link is external).