Return to Table of Contents

Vilas County is at a critical juncture in its history. The counties of Vilas and Oneida together hold the highest concentration of freshwater lakes in the world. The area is also located in the heart of Wisconsin’s beautiful north woods. Due to the blessed abundance of lakes and forests, residential growth trends over the last ten years lead many areas of the state. As land use pressures increase to both develop and maintain the county’s north woods atmosphere, county leaders chose the inherent responsibility of addressing very complex issues concerning the demands for residential development and economic opportunity while maintaining balance with features of the natural environment that stimulate such demands. The goals are to balance growth, economic opportunity, and individual property rights without negative impacts to water quality, the environment, and community character.

In early 1998, riding the successful conclusion of a county lakes classification and shoreland management program, the focus turned to land use planning as the next step in county-wide growth management. Coupled with significant county financing, Vilas County was fortunate to receive Lake Protection grant money from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to address land use issues county-wide. The county felt however, that planning and land use decisions should be administered at the local level. To that end, the county gave municipalities the option to develop their own land use plan. The premise included that local land use plans would ‘roll-up’ to develop the county plan. The Town of Presque Isle decided to participate and the following pages encapsulate that effort.

The Town of Presque Isle is located in the northwest corner of Vilas County, and is bound by the town of Land O'Lakes to the east, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the north, the town of Winchester to the west, and the town of Boulder Junction to the south. The town covers 49,139.3 acres and has an estimated year 2000 population of 513 permanent residents and an estimated peak summer seasonal population of 5,076. The town’s estimated permanent population grew by 8.9% during the 1990's (471 persons to 513 persons), which is line with state population projections. The town has averaged 19 new homes a year for the past 19 years. New home development averaged 24 new dwellings over the 1990's. Overall, 237 new single family residences were built between 1990 and 2000, which was lower than state growth projections. The town is expected to continue the growth trend as experienced over the last decade.

The Town of Presque Isle is a rural community with concentrated lakeshore development, especially on the larger lakes, with low density residential radiating from the lakeshore. Local business development is spread throughout the town, with a concentration in the unincorporated village of Presque Isle in the downtown area. The town also has many home-based businesses, which is a growing trend of new business development in Vilas County. County Highway B serves as the main travel corridor and acts the town's "main street", as several businesses and residences are located in near proximity. The 'downtown' is the main activity area with several businesses located along CTH B, along with the Presque Isle Community Center, library, and fire/EMS department, and the picturesque Presque Isle park, which adds significantly to the community character. Approximately 19.5% (9,586 acres) of the town is covered by lakes, including 65 named and 159 unnamed. Expansive wetland areas are spread throughout the town, comprising 17.8% or 8,767 acres of land. Seventy-four percent of the town is wooded, with a large portion (19.1%, 9,381 acres) being held in public ownership, primarily held by the state of Wisconsin in the Northern-Highland American Legion State Forest.

The Town of Presque Isle has seen much change over the past 100 years, as the historical testament in Appendix 1-1 can attest. Change has been a witness to a private real estate market, predicated on lakeshore development, that has shaped the town to its existing condition - with an effect even greater than local regulations. The Town of Presque Isle has never planned for the long term use of land within its jurisdiction, although the town has been active through administration of its own zoning code (see section 9.2) which regulates land use throughout the town. The Presque Isle Zoning Ordinance adopted the county zoning districts by name only and is more restrictive than the county ordinance, as displayed in Appendix 12-2. The shoreland zone comprises 26,896 acres in the town, which covers 54.7% of the town. Most of the development has and will occur within the shoreland zone.

From this point forward, the intent of the Town of Presque Isle Year 2020 Comprehensive Land Use Plan is to encourage the orderly use and development of lands within the town. At the same time, the planning effort is also intended to promote and stimulate public participation by identifying local issues and coordinating adopted town land use policy. As a result of meetings with Foth & Van Dyke and the Land Use Planning & Lakes Classification Committee, three public informational meetings, one public hearing, and the dedicated effort of the Presque Isle Land Use Planning & Lakes Classification Committee and Presque Isle taxpayers, the Town of Presque Isle Year 2020 Comprehensive Land Use Plan evolved.

Cooperation certainly must follow understanding. Administration will need to be championed by local officials. Indeed, there are tough choices ahead. Land owners should be free to develop their property, but the development should fit within the guidelines written and understood to be in the best interest of the larger community. The Town of Presque Isle should refer to this document, specifically Sections 12 and 13, to find guidance related to future development review, rezonings, and land division decisions. It is through the utilization of this plan that Presque Isle hopes to achieve its land use vision.

The following vision statement was developed by the Land Use Planning & Lakes Classification Committee as one of the initial tasks to guide the planning effort. The vision statement visualized "where we want to be," and helped define the course of action defined through plan goals and objectives (how we plan on getting there, as discussed in Section 3). The vision statement incorporated the ideas and issues identified through public input sessions such as the 1999 Presque Isle Community Planning Survey, the1999 Planning and Land Use Issues Identification Workshop (Section 2), ideas generated from the public, and direction from the Land Use Planning & Lakes Classification Committee how the Town of Presque Isle will grow and develop over the next 20 years or so. The following vision statement was to capture not only what makes the Town of Presque Isle a special place to live, work, and recreate, but also what needs to be done to allow Presque Isle to be "Wisconsin's Last Wilderness".

Vision Statement

A place of abundant natural beauty and rural character featuring:

This is the Town of Presque Isle in the 21st Century. As a result of the proactive cooperation of its residents, the unique northwoods character of Presque Isle will be well preserved with diverse forest areas, high water quality, a variety of wild life and the protection of environmentally sensitive areas...the last wilderness.

which will allow Presque Isle to continue to be Wisconsin’s last wilderness. Revised land use and land division policies will lead to a system of planned and orderly growth. Consequently, the town will establish itself as an area which takes pride in its natural beauty, aesthetic recreational experiences, and appealing residential and business uses.

By proactively guiding growth, the Town of Presque Isle will preserve its strongest asset, the integrity of its forest lands and waters, providing its residents and guests with the opportunity to enjoy the “northwoods” experience.

Return to Table of Contents