2015 AB 371/SB 266 seeks to undue Wisconsin’s 1999 comprehensive planning law.
How did the 1999 comprehensive law originate?
It has been 16 years since Governor Tommy Thompson signed the comprehensive planning and “smart growth” law. The law was the work of a unique coalition of groups including the Wisconsin Realtors Association; 1000 Friends of Wisconsin; the Wisconsin Builders Association; the Wisconsin Counties Association; the Wisconsin League of Municipalities; the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities; the Wisconsin Towns Association; the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Planning Association; the Wisconsin Council of Regional Planning Organizations; and the Wisconsin Department of Administration, Office of Land Information Services. Facilitated by faculty from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the groups developed the definition of the comprehensive plan that Governor Thompson included in the state budget bill along with money for a grant program to support local planning efforts. As the bill made it through the legislative process, legislators added local comprehensive planning goals, a “smart growth dividend,” and requirements for traditional neighborhood development ordinances. The “smart growth dividend program, part of the reason some people refer to the law as “smart growth,” was never implemented. Nonetheless, it is a law that was developed to address the unique needs of Wisconsin.
How will AB 371/SB 266 impact local planning in Wisconsin?
AB 371/SB 266 will allow local governments to return to the framework for planning that existed before the 1999 comprehensive planning law. This means:
- If local governments plan, they do not need to think about how their plans relate to economic development, housing, transportation systems, agricultural resources, natural resources, historic resources, utilities and community facilities. [The 1999 comprehensive planning law requires that plans include these issues.]
- Local governments can make changes to their zoning ordinances without considering how those changes relate to economic development, housing, transportation systems, agricultural resources, natural resources, historic resources, utilities and community facilities. [The 1999 comprehensive planning law requires that changes to zoning ordinances, subdivison ordinances, and official maps follow the guidance in the plan related to these issues.]
- Local governments are encouraged to act in an arbitrary and capricious manner. [The 1999 comprehensive planning law encourages local decision-making based on reasons justified through a community planning process.]
- Local governments will not need to share their plans with adjacent local governments. [The 1999 comprehensive planning law requires that local governments share their plans with adjacent units of government.]
- Local governments are not encouraged to try to work out intergovernmental disagreements. [The 1999 comprehensive planning law requires that local governments share their plans with adjacent units of government in an effort to see if they can resolve difference.]
- For cities, villages, and towns, the elected body does not have to approve the plan. The unelected plan commission is allowed to adopt the plan by itself. [The 1999 comprehensive planning law requires that the elected body must adopt the plan.]
- Plans can be adopted without any public participation. In fact, for cities, villages, and towns, plans can be adopted without even a public hearing. [The 1999 comprehensive planning law requires public participation throughout the planning process with specific requirements for notice and the opportunity for the public to be heard.]
- The bill would undermine economic development efforts. Section 13 of the bill would prohibit the state and local governments from considering whether or not a local government has a comprehensive plan for determining whether the local government can participate in an economic development program. Local comprehensive plans are required to include an economic development element. Local governments and the state should be able to consider local economic development issues identified in local plans.
Prepared by Brian W. Ohm, J.D.
Department of Urban & Regional Planning
University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension