Frequently Asked Questions

Questions listed here are typical questions on any given day. The answers provided are the "short version" in many cases. More complete explanations can be found elsewhere on the site or by contacting the zoning office.

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When is the zoning office open?

The office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Walk-in permit issuing hours are 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.  Other hours are available by appointment.

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Why doesn’t anyone answer the phone?

If your call is not answered it is because people are working with another customer, they are on the phone with someone, or they are not at their desk. Calling five or six times in a row without leaving a message will not help. Leave a brief message with your name, phone number, and subject, address or parcel number, and staff will return your message as soon as possible. During the construction season, it may take somewhat longer for calls to be returned.


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But I’m closing on the property tomorrow!

Staff also provides assistance to other customers and needs to properly complete that work as a courtesy to that customer. Information regarding property can be a complicated issue, and the amount of research required can vary quite a bit from one property to another. The sooner you contact our office for information, the better. We would suggest contacting us a minimum of thirty (30) days prior to a closing.

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What is allowed on my property?

Principal uses (houses, office buildings, etc.) and accessory uses (garages, boathouses, etc.) are allowed according to their zoning district. There are also conditional uses, sometimes referred to as special uses, that are allowed on a property through a public hearing process. Check the GIS link on our website to find the zoning of your property, and then connect with General Codes on the website, Chapter 17, and look down the list for your zoning district.

Any proposed use or structure will also be checked in the permit review process for compliance with the Town’s "Future Land Use Plan."

Also, check Chapter 17.02 (7) for "Use Restrictions," and Chapter 17.03, subparagraph (2) for residential conditional uses and (3) for accessory uses.

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Is my property buildable?

In order for a property to be allowed to be built on several factors must be considered. The proposed use must be consistent with both the Zoning and the Future Land Use for the property. Other site-specific factors that could restrict construction include, but are not limited, to the presence of wetlands, floodplain, and easements. Any construction required to either meet the setbacks of the underlying zoning district or have a variance granted. Please refer to other parts of this website for details regarding a specific property.

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How much land do I need to build on?

Newly created lots have minimum lot size requirements depending on whether or not the property is sewered. Generally speaking, residential minimum lot sizes range from 9,000 to 15,000 square feet in sewered areas and 20,000 to 43,000 square feet in unsewered areas. Existing lots of record not meeting the minimum area may be built on as long as all setbacks are met. Variances may be applied for where setbacks cannot be met on existing lots of record. However, there is no guarantee the variance will be granted.

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What is the property zoned?

We must know information about the property to answer that question. Information needed is parcel number, owner, address or certified survey map number. If the property is located in a town that has not adoptedCounty zoning, we do not have zoning information unless it is a shoreland area. All shoreland areas are regulated by County zoning.

The GIS maps on our website can also give you the zoning district information if you have the above information.

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Can I split my lot?

That depends on Winnebago County’s future land use map, the zoning district the property is in, and which municipal jurisdictions the property is in. Contact the zoning office first to find out which jurisdiction your property is located. The county zoning office reviews and approves all lot splits and new lot creations within the unincorporated areas of the county. Certified survey maps are required for lot splits within the county’s land division jurisdiction. All lots must have the proper frontage on public streets.

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Who enforces covenants?

Covenants are created by the developer to ensure certain standards that they want to see uniform throughout the new subdivision. These usually have to do with limiting outside parking of vehicles or boats, the number of outbuildings allowed, whether or not clothes can be hung out-side to dry, etc.

Covenants are not regulated by the Zoning Office. The developers or a homeowners association usually regulate issues connected with the covenants. In some of the older subdivisions, there may be no one to enforce the covenants. Owners may have to resort to hiring legal help to resolve covenant issues.

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Wells – where can I find information?

Wells are regulated by the Department of Natural Resources. Call the DNR office in Oshkosh at 920-424-3050. Well drillers may also be able to answer questions about wells. Search the yellow pages for well drillers.

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Can I just do a holding tank?

No. A holding tank is NOT a system of choice in Winnebago County. Site restrictions such as poor soils, floodplain, or small lot size must be present for the installation of a holding tank to be approved.

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What is required for septic system maintenance?

Maintenance and inspection is required for ALL septic systems in Winnebago County. The Zoning Office will send requests for pumping information three (3) years from the last maintenance date on file. It is the property owner’s responsibility to read the letter completely and comply with the requirements stated therein. Holding tanks are pumped and inspected when full. Pumping / inspection reports are then filed in the zoning office by the licensed pumper.

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How do I get a culvert permit?

You must contact the agency or municipality that owns the road right of way.

  • Named roads are generally controlled by the Town. You need to contact the town clerk or building inspector for culvert information on these roads.
  • Lettered roads, such as Highway GG, for example, are County roads and are regulated by the County Highway Department.
  • Numbered roads, such as Highway 76, for example, are normally State or Federally roads. These roads are generally maintained and controlled by the County Highway Department. Questions about culverts on these roads should be directed to either the County Highway Department or the State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation District 3 in Green Bay.
  • If an extra driveway is requested, it is again your responsibility to contact the regulating agency or municipality that owns the road. If a new driveway is allowed and it is longer 125 ft. you must contact the County zoning office or County land and water conservation department for a possible erosion control permit.

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Private roads – what requirements apply?

Private roads are shared roads and or driveways that serve two or more properties. As such, the same public road setback requirements apply. Private roads within a condominium development have pre-approved setbacks that may differ from public road setbacks. Generally speaking, no new lots can be created on private roads.

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Do I need a permit?

If you’re going to do any type of construction, it is a good idea to check with the County Zoning Office and the Town Building Inspector. 

Any external additions or alterations to a structure will usually require a zoning permit. This includes decks, dormers or roof alterations, lean-tos, replacement porches, etc.  Fences also require a zoning permit. 

Interior remodeling does not require a zoning permit, nor is a zoning permit required for replacement windows, siding, roofing shingles, etc.

Building permits from the Town building inspector are generally required for all of the above. 

In shoreland areas, zoning permits may also be required for fill, for patios (concrete, brick, or paver blocks) or for sidewalks/driveways within 75 ft. of the Ordinary High Water Mark.

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What do I need to pull a permit?

Each permit has different requirements for approval. Please refer to the Permit Information link on the Zoning Office Homepage for specific information on each of the permits our office issues.  

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What happens if I don’t get a permit?

Not getting a permit can create some serious problems for a property owner:

  • Upon notification of the violation, a "Notice of Violation" is sent to the property owner.
  • If everything with the project meets requirements, a double fee is charged for an after-the-fact permit.
  • If there are problems, a minimal amount of time will be granted for the violation to be corrected. This may include removing what has just been built.
  • If cooperation is not forthcoming, a Municipal Citation will be issued which starts the legal procedure in gaining compliance.
  • If an owner pleads "guilty" or "no contest", the decision is in favor of the County and a forfeiture is paid by the property owner.
  • After paying the fine, the owner still has to bring the property into compliance. It’s not a matter of "just paying the fine" and keeping what you have built or done.
  • If an owner pleads, "not guilty", the case is assigned to a judge and a date for the court trial is set. If a jury trial is requested, the owner has to pay a cost for the jury.
  • In a trial, if found guilty, a substantial fine is usually imposed. The fine can be assessed for a certain dollar amount for every day the violation has existed or continues to exist.
  • Ultimately, if there is no cooperation, an owner could find himself in jail, and fines will be put on the property taxes as a special assessment. And the property will still have to be brought into compliance.

          It’s just not worth it.

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Why do I need a County and Town permit?

The County and the Town are looking for different information in their permit approval process. The County is reviewing setbacks, sizes, zoning, and future land use. The Town’s approval relates to how a structure is constructed and may also involve other local ordinances.

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Can I leave one wall standing?

There is no such rule. Leaving one wall standing will not grandfather a non-conforming structure. Once the cost of rebuilding exceeds 50% of the equalized assessed value of the existing structure, it is considered a new structure that must meet all current ordinance requirements. Questionable estimates of building cost will be calculated by the zoning office using nationally recognized standards.  

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Can I add on to the house or garage?

There are a number of things that affect this answer. If the house has a private sanitary system you should contact the County zoning office to see if there are limitations to house additions. Whether a house is conforming or not for any reason may affect house addition allowances.

Setback requirements and measurements should be checked to see if there is room to add onto a garage or house. Most properties have limitations regarding garage or accessory building square footage based on the size of the property and the zoning district. For those towns that have not adopted County zoning, contact the town for that information.

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Can I build a garage?

Generally, garages are allowed on a lot only if the principal structure(house) is present or under construction.

Garages are limited in size by both the zoning district and lot size. Both attached garages and detached garages combined are considered when determining the square footage allowed for the lot.

In a few instances, a garage lot may be across the road from residential lake lot where there is not enough room on the lake lot for a garage and a house. See "Garage Lots" on our website.

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Can I build a fence?

Most properties are allowed fences of one kind or another based on the type of zoning and setback requirements from road rights-of-way and navigable waters. No fences are allowed within 75 ft. of the ordinary high water mark of navigable waters.

There will be height limitations and if located in County zoning jurisdiction a permit is generally required. A permit is generally not required for two eight foot long sections. If you live in a subdivision there may be covenants which restrict fences. County zoning does not regulate covenants.

Also refer to the fence handout in the forms section of this site.  

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Do I need a permit for a pool?

Above ground pools require a zoning permit to be issued prior to their construction. Any decks or fences associated with the pool also require permit approval prior to construction.

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How high can I build?

The maximum height of a structure is determined by the type of structure and the zoning district. Most principal structures (home, business, etc,) have a maximum height limitation of 35 feet. Accessory buildings (garage, sheds, etc) generally have a maximum height limitation of 18 feet. Boathouses however, have a maximum height limitation of 15 feet. See height measurement diagram at end of zoning ordinance to determine how height is measured.

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Can I build a boathouse?

Every water-front lot is allowed one boathouse as an accessory use. The principal use (house) must be present or under construction on the same lot as the boathouse.

Boathouses are not allowed to be built waterward of the Ordinary High Water Mark.

Please see our link at "Building Information – Boathouses" for detailed information about building setbacks, size, and uses.

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Can I have a dock?

Docks are generally structures located over navigable bodies of water and are regulated by the DNR. Please contact the Oshkosh DNR office at (920) 424-3050.

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Minor structures – what are they?

Minor structures are small garden or utility sheds which do not exceed 100 square feet in area and six feet ten inches in height and movable. There is no permit required for minor structures but they do have to meet setback requirements.

The setback requirements for a minor structure are: three feet from the side and rear lot lines, 30 feet from the road right-of-way, ten feet from any other structure and 75 feet from the ordinary high water mark of any navigable lake, channel, river or stream.

Only one minor structure is allowed without a zoning permit on the lot with the residence on it. All additional minor structures require a zoning permit. Minor structures are not allowed in the floodway.  

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Do decks count?

Decks count toward setbacks and must gain approval through the issuance of a zoning permit prior to their construction.

  • Decks attached to the home must meet the setbacks required for the principal structure including a 75’ setback from the Ordinary High Water Mark for their approval.
  • Decks not attached to the house must meet a 10’ setback from the house.
  • Decks attached to a pool, not attached to the house, must meet all setbacks of accessory structures including a 10’ setback from any structure they are not attached to.
  • Once the pool and deck are connected to the house, they become part of the house and must meet the same setback requirements as the house.

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Can I put a patio or sidewalk between the house and the water?

Patios and sidewalks are considered structures and must meet a 75’ setback from the Ordinary High Water Mark. Please refer to the General Information Link on the Zoning Homepage for more information on patios and sidewalks.  

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Am I grandfathered?

"Grandfathered" is another term for existing non-conforming structures or uses. Please see the following answer for non-conforming issues.

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Nonconforming – what is it?

There are both non-conforming uses and non-conforming structures that are regulated by County zoning. These are often referred to as "grand-fathered."

Non-conforming Uses involve the existing use of a property that is in conflict with current zoning. It may be a house located in a commercial zoning district, a duplex in a single-family zoning district, or a house in a residential district that has had an insurance office in it for the last thirty years.

The lawful non-conforming use of a structure may continue even though it does not conform with the provisions of the zoning ordinance until the use is discontinued or terminated for a period of twelve (12) months. After 12 months, the new use of the property must be in compliance with current allowed zoning uses.

Lawful non-conforming structures begin at the time they were made non-conforming by the terms of the current or previous zoning ordinance. These structures may be located too close to a lot line or another structure; they may be located in a floodplain without meeting elevation requirements; or they may be located too close to navigable waters.

Total lifetime structural additions or alterations shall not exceed fifty (50) percent of either the current equalized value or square footage unless the structure is permanently changed to conform to the ordinance. In the shoreland jurisdiction, only the value method may be used.

Please connect to our link on nonconforming structures for detailed information on how these restrictions are applied.

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Setbacks – what are they?

Setbacks are the minimum required distances between a structure and property lines, the ordinary high water mark of navigable waters, road rights-of-ways and between structures. Different setback requirements are established for different types of buildings and different zoning districts. Contact the County zoning with specific setback questions.

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Where are setbacks measured from?

Setbacks for structures are measured from the foundation wall or exterior building wall. Roof overhangs can only extend two feet into the allowed building setback. Most structures are measured to lot lines. Front lot lines are the same as the road right of way line. Measurements are never taken from the centerline of the road. Shoreline measurements are taken from the ordinary high water mark, never from the water’s edge.

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How do I find my lot lines?

First try to locate your property pipes. Knowing the dimensions of your lot and measuring from the existing property pipes is a relatively accurate way of establishing your lot lines. If your neighbor has a property pipe, you could also use that pipe to assist in locating your lot boundaries. Be sure you have permission from your neighbor to do this. You may have to hire a surveyor to re-establish your lot lines if there are not enough property pipes present or if you cannot find the pipes.

The property line along the street usually coincides with the road right-of-way. The zoning office does not have a county surveyor so if you are not sure where your lot lines are, you will have to hire a surveyor.

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What is the road right-of-way?

The road right-of-way is the officially dedicated area of the road which includes the pavement, shoulder and ditch. Utilities are generally located along the right-of-way lines. Measuring from the centerline half of the right-of-way width does not necessarily establish the right-of-way line since paved areas are not always centered in the right-of-way. It is always best to locate your property pipes which usually coincide with the right-of-way line. Hire a surveyor if you are not sure.

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How close to the water can I build?

The waters edge is not used to measure the setback. The standard setback from any navigable body of water for new construction is 75 feet and is measured from the ordinary high water mark as established by either the zoning office or DNR. This setback is used for all new construction, additions and such things as fences, decks, and patios.

There are some mechanisms in place that may allow a structure to be built closer than 75 feet to the water, such as setback averaging or a variance where appropriate. Setback averaging of like structures on the two immediate adjacent lots may be used in some instances, but is limited to a minimum setback of 50 feet from the ordinary high water mark. Variances require a public hearing and can only be approved if the property and structure meet certain statutory requirements. In these cases, what is being built must be designed to have the least encroachment into the shore yard setback as possible.

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How close can I build to a well or septic system?

A 5’ setback is required from any structure to the exterior surface of a holding or treatment tank. A 15’ setback is required from the drainfield of a septic system. Winnebago County does not regulate wells. Please contact the DNR or a licensed well driller for information regarding wells.

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Setback averaging – what is it?

Setback averaging allows reduced setbacks from the Ordinary High Water Mark (shore yard) or from the road right-of-way by measuring the like structures on the two immediate adjacent lots.

Please go to our link on Setback Averaging under "Building Information" for detailed information on this option.

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How do I measure from the water?

First of all, setbacks are never measured from the water. They are measured from the Ordinary High Water Mark as determined by Zoning Office staff or the DNR.

The measurements are taken from the closest point of the structure to the closest point of the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM)—even if that point is on a neighbor’s property. The OHWM is also measured from boatslips (even water inside a boathouse) or from indentations along the shoreline.

You cannot draw a straight line from the houses on either side of your lot and use that to establish the reduced setback.

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Am I in a floodplain?

This question is often asked for insurance or mortgage purposes in addition to making building plans. If you’ve been removed from the flood-plain for insurance purposes, it does not remove the lot or structure from the floodplain for construction purposes.

Building in a floodplain is allowed with restrictions. Building in a floodway is generally not allowed.

To determine if you are in a floodplain, connect with the County’s GIS/ Maps link on our website, zoom to the property by one of the several search options available, and query the floodplain layer on the map.

The mapping program will identify the 100-year flood zone, the 500-year flood zone, the floodway zone, or indicate if there is no floodplain.

Information on the GIS link will also include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain map information for insurance and mortgage requirements. This will include the Community Number, Panel Number, and Effective Date.

Please see our link on "Building Information – Floodplain" and the general "Floodplain" link for more detailed information on floodplain restriction.

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Are there wetlands on the property?

Winnebago County has officially adopted wetland maps for the entire county. These maps can be viewed on the GIS website. Wetlands smaller than two acres are not mapped. The property owner may have to hire a private wetland delineator to map these wetlands on the property if there is a proposed activity or lot split which may encroach toward a wetland boundary. Wetlands cannot be filled regardless of size.

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What is the shoreland area?

The shoreland area is the portion of land within 1,000 feet of a lake, pond or flowage or 300 feet of a navigable river or stream. The shoreland area can be extended to the landward side of the floodplain where applicable. To see if your property is located in the shoreland refer to the Winnebago County GIS website.

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Can I put rocks on the shoreline?

This activity generally pertains to rip rap (not riff raff) which is done primarily to protect the land from soil erosion. Rip rap activities are regulated by the DNR. Please call the Oshkosh DNR office at (920) 424-3050.

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What do I have to do to construct a pond?

A determination must first be made whether the pond location is in a shoreland or wetland area. If you wish to construct a pond in a wetland or shoreland area permits will generally be required from the DNR, County zoning and possibly Corps of Engineers.

If an individual wants to construct a pond in agriculturally zoned land with five or more acres, generally a County erosion control permit is required. A conditional use permit is required to construct a pond in residentially zoned property within the jurisdiction of County zoning. A residential pond less than 100 sq. ft. is generally allowed without a permit. Most ponds will therefore require a permit, so contact these agencies to inquire about the procedure for a pond at your location.

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Can I fill my property?

Generally, an individual can fill his land to some degree.

  • Outside the shoreland or wetland areas:
    • Filling is allowed without a permit if the fill doesn’t exceed 4,000 sq. ft. or 400 cu. yds.
    • Exceeding the limits of the fill listed will require an erosion control permit.
  • Shoreland and wetland areas:
    • A permit is required.
    • Proper drainage methods must be practiced to protect adjacent properties.
    • Generally, wetland and floodway areas cannot be filled.

Contact the County zoning office before doing any filling. Any after-the-fact filling, which required a permit, will have to pay a double fee.

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How long does it take for a zoning change, conditional use permit, variance, land use plan amendment, or an appeal?

These public hearing items take approximately ten weeks from application deadline to final decision. Public hearing items that are delayed due to lack of information or absence of applicant at the public hearing will add at least an additional four weeks to the process.

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How do I find out about a decision for a zoning change, variance, or conditional use permit?

You may contact the zoning office after the deliberation session during normal working hours and staff will be able to give you the decision of the Planning and Zoning Committee and the Board of Adjustment. The date of the deliberation session is included in all public hearing packets. You will also be notified in writing of the decision. Final approval of zoning changes is made by the County Board and you will be notified in writing within 20-30 days of the County Board’s decision.

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Why is the City involved?

Cities have extraterritorial subdivision authority which extends three miles beyond their incorporated area. All subdivisions of land in this area must be approved by the appropriate city. Cities also have a future land use map that extends beyond their incorporated area. The county must adopt the city’s future land use map as part of the county’s land use map by statute. All land use decisions (zoning changes, zoning permits, lot spits, etc.) must concur with the county’s land use plan.

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Can I have horses or other animals?

In order to house horses or other animals your property must be greater than five (5) acres and zoned agricultural. On certain residential properties greater than two and a half (2.5) acres animals can be raised if a Conditional Use has been approved.

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Can I raise dogs?

No more than two dogs shall be housed on residentially zoned properties. A kennel or doggy daycare requires Conditional Use approval. Contact the Zoning Office for information regarding this process.  

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Can I have a camper?

If a home is present on a property, then a camper is allowed to be parked on the same parcel as an accessory use to the property.

This means that if you own a camper and enjoy taking it on vacations, you are allowed to keep the camper on your property while it is not being used. It is not a vacation place for others to come and stay with you for the summer. It cannot be rented out while it sits on your property—unless a Temporary Use permit is granted for a special occasion.

Campers may not be placed on vacant parcels except for occasional use by the owner. "Occasional use" is defined as being on weekends, or a week for vacation purposes. At all other times, the unit shall be removed from the property.

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Oshkosh:(920) 232-3344
Neenah:(920) 727-2880
Fax:(920) 232-3347


8:00am - 4:30pm, M - F

Permit Issuing Hours

Walk in hours
8:00am - 10:00am

Other hours are available by appointment.

Mailing Address

County Zoning Office
Attn (list staff name)
112 Otter Ave
Oshkosh WI 54901