Plain Language Reigns in a Waupaca County Shoreland Zoning Case Involving De Minimis Change to Nonconforming Structure

In Waupaca County v. Bax, the Court of Appeals reversed a decision of the Waukesha County Circuit Court which had held that the expansion of a utility shed in violation of the Waupaca County Shoreland Zoning Ordinance was “de minimis” and thus not a violation. Although the facts are a little less than certain, Bax had a nonconforming shed on his property. At some point, he expanded it, adding something more than three inches on two sides. The shoreland zoning ordinance did not allow expansions of utility sheds. The Court of Appeals, while not dismissing the doctrine of de minimis, stated that a 6.7% expansion was not a de minimis enlargement. The de minimis doctrine is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as “The law does not care for, or take notice of, very small or trifling matters.” While expanding a utility shed a few inches on two sides may seem trivial, the Appeals Court did not focus on the seemingly small enlargement but instead relied on the percentage of expansion, and pointed out that a 6.7% expansion into a setback area would not be considered de minimis.

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