A group purporting to represent Wisconsin homeowners has mailed thousands of fliers to Dane County residents, urging them to fight the county's proposed Waterbody Classification Project ("Proposed Waterfront Rules for Dane County Draw Fire," 7/2/09).
It seems designed to scare the pants off anyone who receives it.
"Dane county politicians," it warns, "have their sights set on passing regulations that could shoot down your home's property value." One side of the flier shows a lakefront home in the sights of a rifle scope; the other is riddled with what look like bullet holes.
Plenty of people have indeed been scared. "Our office got at least 300 calls," says County Board Chair Scott McDonell. "They're frightened seniors for the most part who are worried there's going to be some massive decrease in their property values."
The county's Lakes and Watershed Commission is developing the Waterbody Classification Project - a series of recommendations for protecting the county's lakes, rivers and streams. New laws could be proposed based on the recommendations, but this has not happened yet.
The proposed recommendations are lengthy, but include looking at zoning, stormwater runoff, construction standards and habitat requirements for properties within 300 feet of a stream or river and 1,000 feet of a lake. However, on urban waters such as those in Madison, local setbacks and zoning regulations would remain in force.
The flier, sent to about 30,000 homeowners near water bodies, is said to be from the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance. The group, founded in 2008, is described on its website as a "nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization devoted to representing homeowners and property owners."
But the alliance was formed by the Wisconsin Realtors Association. "Clearly it's a front group," McDonell says. "It's just the Realtors Association not wanting to be called the Realtors Association."
Smart Growth Madison, a pro-business advocacy group, also sent a flier on the Waterbody Classification Project. But its flier simply urged people to make their voice heard on the issue.
Carole Schaeffer, executive director of Smart Growth Madison, says her group reviewed the alliance flier before it was mailed. "I would not call it misinformation," she says. "I think they're taking the worst possible scenario and saying this could happen."
Phil Salkin, a former county supervisor who works for the Realtors Association, stands by its content. "Why is it our job to notify people about a county issue? Most people said, 'If it hadn't been for you we wouldn't have heard anything at all about this.'"
Attorney Mike Wittenwyler, who works for the Realtors Association, helped found the Homeowners Alliance and also serves as its counsel. "It was created as a means of organizing homeowners on property issues in Wisconsin," he says. "Anybody who owns a home could have created this organization. But the Realtors took a lead in it."
All nine of the homeowners who make up the Alliance's board also happen to be Realtors.
Would the Homeowners Alliance ever take a different stance on an issue than the Realtors Association? "I don't think it has happened yet," Wittenwyler says. "Can I say to you it would never happen, probably not. I think to date, they've been hand-in-hand."