The following material covers the basic requirements for permits in Pierce County.  For precise details, it is recommended that the office of “Land Management” be contacted which is located in the Pierce County Court House at 414 West Main Street, Ellsworth WI 54011.
  Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. M-F.  Telephone 715- 273-6747.

Where to Start 

Is it an existing lot?  A deed description, tax statement, and contract, subdivision plat or some other description that shows the lot or parcel.  If the lot has not been recorded, or has not yet been divided from a larger parcel, a survey may be required. 

Are there deed restrictions or covenants recorded on the deed?  There may be easements, which restrict development of the property.  Talk to the owner or examine the deed at the
Pierce County Register of Deeds Office. 

Is the lot properly zoned for the intended use?  Zoning classifications have been established at the county level to ensure proper land use.  Some towns have additional requirements.  You should check in both places.  Zoning will not only tell you the uses allowed on the parcel you are interested in, it will also tell you the potential uses of neighboring parcels – an important consideration when making a big investment. 

Pierce County’s main zoning districts are: 

Agricultural:  This district allows for single family houses, but prospective residents should be aware that agricultural practices, including manure spreading and feed lots are also allowed.  The minimum lot size in this district is one acre. 

Residential:  This district allows only residential uses, which gives a homeowner the greatest degree of land use protection. 

Business:  This district provides for operations such as retail business, equipment repair, gas stations, and so on.  If you are looking to construct a business, this is the district to locate in. 

Industrial:  This district allows for a wide array of industrial uses, such as the fabrication of products and concrete and asphalt operations. 

Floodplain:  Areas of the county which may be covered during the 100-year flood are restricted from building.  Certain recreational uses are allowed.

Next Step – Site Design

If you are putting up a new building or adding on to an existing one, give careful thought to placement of the structure on the lot. 


Setbacks determine the buildable portion of the lot.  You should plot out all of the required setbacks to find out where construction can take place.  This is particularly important if you have a small lot.  Note:  You may wish to locate your building back a greater distance than is required to leave room for possible future additions. 

County roadway setback requirements

Distance* from

Building to:







Centerline of road

110 feet

100 feet

75 feet

Right of Way

77 feet

67 feet

42 feet

*Structures are required to meet whichever distance is greater. 

Setback requirements from a building are:

From Building to:

Distance required

Adsorption field

25 feet

Septic Tank

5 feet

Vent to Air Intake

10 feet


2 feet

*Setbacks to property lines vary.  Check with Zoning Office 

Vision Clearance Triangles (For corner lots)

You are required to keep the intersection corner clear of buildings, dense vegetation, or other obstruction to maintain clear sight lines for motorists.  The clear area is a triangle measured back along road centerlines from where the centerlines of the roads intersect.  The distance to measure depends upon the class of road: for township roads, 150’, for county roads 200’, and for state roads, 300’. 


Pierce County tries to keep its permit procedures and costs to a minimum while still safeguarding homeowner and public interest in land development.  The county requires a sanitary (septic system) permit and a land use (building) permit.  Other permits may be necessary from state and local governments.  Building without a permit can be costly if it is necessary to correct improper building conditions after the fact. Residential building in Pierce County is governed by the: 

                State Uniform Dwelling Code (Building Code) is available on line at:

Sanitary Permit

This is the first permit required for any building, which will be used for human occupancy.  It is obtained from the county.  This permit will determine the type, size, and location of the septic system.  You must contact a licensed plumber to obtain the permit, which will require a soil evaluation by a Certified Soil Tester and a design by the plumber.  As mentioned previously in this pamphlet, we STRONGLY recommend that you determine the most suitable area for the septic system before proceeding with the location of the building or any site preparation. 

The location of the septic system can be the most important factor in locating the building site, especially on a small lot, or a lot with limited soil conditions.   Soils on the site should be tested to determine the best location for the septic system and its replacement field before any site grading or preparation is done. 

Land Use Permit

This county permit allows you to begin construction on your property.  To obtain a land use permit you must have a sanitary permit (if required), proof of ownership through a tax record or deed, and plot plan showing where the building is to be located on the site.  The plot plan will show distances to property lines, buildings, septic system, well, easements, driveways, bluff edges, streams or lakes, and other features on the property.  The cost of a land use permit for a house is currently $50.00.  The cost for other structures is less.  Some townships in Pierce County also require building permits.  Check with the town chairman or town clerk to determine if a local permit is necessary. 

Address Number

Pierce County has a uniform address numbering system (sometimes called a fire number).  You may obtain the address number at the time you get the sanitary or land use permits.

Driveway Permit

A driveway permit is required if you will be creating a new access to a property.  Permits for driveways onto state and county roads are obtained from the County Highway Department; permits for driveways onto town roads are obtained from the town. 


Driveway entrances require permits to assure that they are placed in safe locations with regard to sight lines for oncoming traffic.  Driveway grades from the road to the building site should not exceed 12% to ensure safe access for residents, visitors, and emergency vehicles. 


Pierce County does not perform building code inspections, although some towns do.  The county only performs sanitary system inspections.  Private inspectors may be hired if you question whether construction standards are being followed.

Well Permits

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sets standards for well construction.  Your licensed well driller will comply with them.  No county permit is required. 


Commercial Testing Lab., Inc.
14 Main Street
PO Box 526
Colfax  WI  54730


Wisconsin law requires anyone who engages in or plans any type of excavation to provide advance notice of at least three business days to underground facility owners who may be affected by the excavation. 

Call Diggers Hotline, 1-800-242-8511, between 6am and 6pm weekdays for information on how to notify those affected.  The hotline will also provide you with information on safe working clearances
from overhead power lines.

In addition to County Permits, some of the Townships require new construction permits.  For complete details, contact the Town Chairperson.  Names and phone numbers are located on the
Township pages in the front of this directory. 

The township of Oak Grove has special covenants regarding developments and driveways. 
These covenants are on file at the Ellsworth Library for your review.


Much of the material in this section was taken from the Pierce County Land Management brochure.