Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Meet Bloomfield’s first zoning administrator
Murphy: ‘I’ve had a lot of compliments’

by Steve Targo

May 19, 2011

Bloomfield — Zoning Administrator Jill Murphy said an interpreter needed to help her resolve her first enforcement issue.

She said earlier this year, she received complaints about an elderly couple living in two small sheds which were not equipped to have running water. It was on a property with no primary structure. The house which stood on the property had been razed. The couple was in the process of rebuilding it.

As a zoning administrator, part of Murphy's job is to investigate these type of complaints, which is just what she set out to do when she encountered another problem.

The couple only spoke Ukrainian.

"I've never had to work with an interpreter to try to get my point across to someone," Murphy said. "I just wanted to find out if they were living in a shed."

Turns out, they weren't. She said the couple was staying at a house nearby.

Nevertheless, Murphy said that was the most interesting thing she encountered since she became the town's first zoning administrator.

Since January, the town has been in control over most zoning issues, and she's been at the helm working with zoning applicants, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the town chairman.

But it's a job not far removed from what the 50-year-old owner of a commodities brokerage firm knows.

For 13 years, Murphy served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, and has served as its chairwoman since 2005. She said she believes her experience is why she got the job.

"I just felt I had the knowledge," Murphy said. "I have a lot of common sense, and you need that in planning and zoning."

She said it also takes a desire to carry out what the people want.

"I really feel like I'm helping direct the town to grow the way the people want it to grow," Murphy said.

Town takes control

Having lived in Bloomfield for 16 years, she first stepped into the planning and zoning field on a recommendation from someone else.

"I think I had lived here for a couple years when one of my neighbors stopped by and said they were looking for someone to be on the Planning and Zoning Commission," Murphy said.

During the last 13 years, the commission handled some serious matters, including the creation of a 2025 Smart Growth plan and the decision to opt out of Walworth County zoning.

In the county, towns don't have the final say in zoning and land use matters. That power resides with county officials.

However, a couple years ago, the county allowed towns the chance to take control over most of these issues, except for rezones and land actions within shoreland zoning districts.

Bloomfield took that chance. The commission recommended it to the Town Board, and the town residents approved it at a special meeting in November 2009.

Murphy said part of the problem was at the county level.

"We were starting to have problems with Walworth County," she said. "They kept cutting back on staff (and) people were complaining there were mistakes being made up there."

Murphy said it also had to do with growing desire among several town residents for Bloomfield to take control over its own destiny.

Talks of trying to incorporate the town as a village began making headlines in 2007, and today, the fate of the town's village request remains to be decided by the State Department of Administration's Incorporation Review Board.

"We were talking about becoming our own village anyway, and we thought maybe this would be the time to take control over our own zoning," Murphy said.

In May 2010, she began a job she said she applied for because she thought she'd be a "good fit." But at the onset, it wasn't all site walks and permit applications.

"We were working off of our own interim zoning ordinances, which were actually the same as Walworth County's, until we had our own finalized," Murphy said. "My first duty was to help create the town's zoning ordinances. We had to go through them and proofread them a zillion times, which was good because I became familiar with them."

No typical day

Bloomfield's zoning went "live" January. Since then, Murphy works by appointment only, except when she's presenting requests to the commission she once helmed.

On average, she said she works at least between 17 and 20 hours a week.

Murphy said she feels working by appointment is an advantage for people who wish to build in Bloomfield.

"I realize that people have jobs," Murphy said. "When we were working with county, they're only there from 9 to 5. When people take out a zoning permit there, they had to take off a day of work."

She said someone will call, make a request and she will set up a time to meet them as soon as possible. The administrator line goes directly to her home.

"I try to get back to people right away," Murphy said. "I feel that's important."

There's no such thing as a typical day for her. She deals with a variety of requests — mostly for rezones and conditional use permits.

One request she's working on involves vacating a road.

Murphy said on average, she issues at least 30 zoning permits a month, allowing everything from the construction of accessory structures and garages to remodeling projects.

Then there are what she calls the "enforcement" issues.

"When somebody's doing something wrong, I have to go out there and see what they're doing, if they are in fact doing something wrong," Murphy said.

She said she doesn't deal with many complaints, but her job still requires her to look at each request objectively. There's a person's right to do what they want on their own property, but there's also the chance that such a request could have an adverse impact on the people who live around that property.

"There needs to be a watchdog," Murphy said. "There are too many people who want to do whatever they want."

That said, she said she likes the chance to meet so many people who live and work in Bloomfield, and the chance to help make things faster and easier for zoning applicants.

"I've had a lot of compliments," Murphy said. "They think it's easier working with me than with the county. I like to be a face to the process. There's so many questions people have. It's nice to be able to help them, guide them through what they need to do."