JEFFERSON — In a county board vote that was as close as some recent Packers games — with some supervisors even reversing their stances on the issue — what has become known as "The Castle” south of Watertown moved closer Tuesday to becoming a public celebration and meeting venue.
Despite comments from many residents of the immediate rural area around the castle who are opposed to its rezoning from "A3 Agricultural and Rural Residential” to "A2 Agricultural and Rural Business," Jefferson County Board supervisors approved the classification change for the property.
The vote was 15-14, with Dwayne Morris of Watertown absent. The vote amending the county’s official zoning map paves the way for the castle home at N7040 Saucer Dr. in Farmington to become a small, rural business.
Jefferson County Corporation Counsel Blair Ward explained what remains in the process.
"The next step is for the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee to consider the landowner's petition for a conditional use permit to use the castle as a wedding and business event venue,” Ward said. "If the planning and zoning committee determines that the proposed use is 'agricultural tourism,' the committee will then grant the petition and impose conditions for the use of the property.”
Ward said this will likely be decided by the committee in the next month or two.
When asked at the board meeting what agricultural tourism is, Ward said the committee will determine its definition.
Ward said there is no need for the matter of the castle home’s zoning to return to the county board, unless there is a desire by the county to amend the zoning ordinance to more specifically address uses that may be appropriate in the various zoning districts.
Tuesday’s vote reflected considerable change in supervisor sentiment from a vote conducted at September’s regular board meeting. Last month, Michael Wineke of Watertown; Steve Nass of Lake Mills; Blane Poulson of Palmyra; and George Jaeckel and Matthew Foelker of Fort Atkinson were the only ones to vote against the castle’s owners, married couple Dianne Owens and Paul Elliot, being permitted to host social gatherings in their large home, which resembles a medieval castle.
The couple is proposing they be allowed a chance to embark on what they have called their "dream business venture" of converting their residence, that they purchased in July of 2020, into a public gathering place for small events.
At September’s meeting of the county board, there was considerable supervisor support for the couple’s plan to turn their home into an elegant gathering place to host weddings and business meetings.
The board, at that time, directed the planning and zoning committee to revisit the issue. The committee did so by amending the official zoning map to reflect the change from a zoning of A3 to A2.
Although they followed the board's directive to amend the zoning, most members of the planning and zoning committee were not in favor of it.
"The committee strongly suggests that the board not take this action," Nass, vice chairman of the planning and zoning committee, told his fellow supervisors before their vote Tuesday. "The rezone to A2 does not allow the petitioners to begin operating. They still require a conditional use permit to be granted by the committee and there is no conditional use available under the A2 zone for this type of operation. Thus, the board would be creating an A2 zone with no use."
Nass said the committee members felt the board was contemplating a rezoning action without following due process.
Nass said if the rezoning is appealed to district court, if the committee is called as witnesses, its members would be obliged to testify in opposition to their own county board.
"And in our opinion, the board would likely lose this case," Nass said. "The board could possibly be sending our corporation counsel into a gunfight with a wet noodle."
Nass said the committee suggested and supported an educational session in the future to, " ... give the board a better understanding and overview of the zoning process."
About a half-dozen immediate neighbors of the castle home used the first public input portion of Tuesday’s board meeting to express their concerns about the rezoning.
David Staude led off, saying he and his neighbors want to be able to hear birds singing and if the castle becomes a rural business venue, the sounds of people partying and cars driving to and from the facility will be an annoyance.
Owens and Elliot have said they plan to limit their visitors to 50, with most gatherings much smaller. According to Owens, the facility, on approximately two acres, would not be a bed and breakfast under their plan and would only serve to host quieter events, such as weddings and business meetings. It would not be open late at night. She said events would mostly take place inside and there would be no loud music.
Others opposed to the rezoning said they expressed their opposition to the county in the proper manner, used accepted channels and their wishes should be respected by the board.
Robert Casper also said the venue would destroy “the peace and quiet" of the area. His wife, Linda Casper, said she had fears that if the home is converted to a wedding venue, the change would lower adjacent property values.
“Neighbors should not give up their rights for the ‘dreams' of the owners of this home,” she said. “They came up with (the events venue concept) after they thought it would be possible.”
Jefferson County Zoning Director Matt Zangl has said Owens and Elliot purchased the property, then approached the county about their business idea. This led to the zoning issues the couple and the county are facing.
Patricia Strohbusch of Cambridge said she was in favor of the structure. She also spoke in support of the facility at the September meeting.
Farmington castle neighbor Tim Mueller urged the board not to be swayed by emotions of those in favor of the rezoning. He also said media coverage of the matter was favorable to Owens and Elliot. He said the board should make its decision based on “facts.”
In September, members of the area citizenry said the facility would be a benefit to other local businesses in places such as Watertown, Ixonia and Johnson Creek, because those who patronize the castle would need hotels, restaurants, bars and gas stations to serve their needs.
The 11,000-square-foot castle home was the brainchild of southeastern Wisconsin oral surgeon Dale Roznik, who also taught anatomy at Marquette University. Roznik began constructing the home with his wife Terri in 2008, but the project came to a halt in 2011 when Dale died at the age of 57.
The house, at one point, was assessed at $986,000 by the town of Farmington, but went into foreclosure. Owens and Elliott bought it for less than $500,000.