Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / Landmark Legislation

Landmark Legislation

October 27, 1999 |

This article is reprinted with permission from Wisconsin Landscapes, the newsletter of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin Land Use Institute.

The state budget was almost four months late when it was signed into law on October 27th. For those of us who care about protecting the Wisconsin landscape, it was well worth the wait. This budget contained what are easily the most positive and sweeping land use policy reforms in a generation.

Smart Growth For Wisconsin
Less than one of three Wisconsin communities has any land use plan at all. Those plans that do exist are often inadequate, outdated or ignored. Smart Growth For Wisconsin will change all that in the course of the next decade.

Under the new Smart Growth law, by 2010 every community will have to be under a comprehensive plan as a condition of taking any action related to land use. But the law contains significant incentives to get communities to plan earlier and to follow their plans over time. Starting next year, communities will be eligible for a planning grant from the state. Beginning in 2005, they will be eligible for a “Smart Growth Dividend,” intended to reward communities for planning and for growing compactly.

The Stewardship Fund
Since 1990, almost 200,000 acres have been protected from development and made available for public outdoor recreation and habitat protection by the state Stewardship Fund. The fund had been frozen at $23 million per year for the last nine years and it would have expired altogether without reauthorization by the legislature.

Under the reauthorized Stewardship Fund 2000, $46 million will be available each year for the program. This is double the current amount. In addition, the department of Natural Resources is directed to make funding available for wild lakes protection, the Kettle Moraine, bluff lands and purchase of conservation easements programs.

Wisconsin Ideas
This package of land use reforms includes some ideas that are unique to Wisconsin and moves our state to among the national leaders in the smart growth movement.

The Smart Growth Dividend, for example, is a Wisconsin first. Another is the traditional neighborhood development (TND) ordinance. Classic, walkable neighborhoods with corner stores, sidewalks and porches are usually illegal under local codes. Under Smart Growth, the University of Wisconsin is asked to draft a model TND code and communities above 12,500 in population will be required to adopt a similar code by 2002. Finally, the nine element definition of a comprehensive plan found in Smart Growth is the most complete in the nation.

1000 Friends Got It Done
This historic land use legislation could not have been enacted without a strong, grass roots movement. With almost 1,700 members in 250 communities around Wisconsin, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin was the catalyst behind this legislation in only its third year of operation. Our members wrote letters, sent electronic mail and made phone calls to their legislators and the governor at crucial moments. Our staff members researched and wrote the Smart Growth law, built a coalition behind the legislation and lobbied the legislature for Smart Growth and Stewardship.

But this is just the start. Smart Growth and Stewardship provide opportunities that must be played out at the local level and there is much more to do in the legislature. Still, the end of the year is a good time to reflect on a year of great progress in protecting the places we call home. If you are a member of 1000 Friends you have been a key part of this historic progress which we have made together.

A Smart Growth Primer

The Smart Growth legislation enacted as part of the 1999-2001 state budget bill is the strongest growth management legislation ever passed in Wisconsin and the most significant Wisconsin land use legislation of any kind in a generation or more. The main provisions are outlined below.

  • A new definition of a comprehensive plan is created. When writing a comprehensive plan, communities will need to address the following nine elements:
    • Issues & opportunities
    • Housing
    • Transportation
    • Utilities & community facilities
    • Agricultural, natural & cultural resources
    • Economic development
    • Intergovernmental cooperation
    • Land use
    • Implementation

  • Goals for the results of local comprehensive plans are created and state agencies are encouraged to follow them in their own programs. These goals include:
    • Promoting urban redevelopment.
    • Providing a range of transportation choices.
    • Protecting natural areas.
    • Protecting farmland and productive forests.
    • Development patterns that are less costly to serve with public services.
    • Preserving cultural, historic and archeological sites.
    • Cooperation between nearby units of government.
    • Building community identity.
    • Providing affordable housing for all income levels.
    • Providing an adequate supply of land to meet market demand.
    • Promoting expansion or stabilization of the local economy.
    • Balancing individual property rights with community interests.
    • Preserving varied and unique urban and rural communities.
    • Providing an integrated, efficient and economical transportation system.

  • Beginning now, a new state planning grant program is created to be administered by the Department of Administration and the Land Council. Three and a half million dollars is available for comprehensive planning grants for local governments over the next two years. In order to be eligible for grants communities must explain how they will:
    • Include all nine elements in their comprehensive plan.
    • Meet the local planning goals.
    • Designate Smart Growth Areas to which state and local infrastructure will be directed.
    • Complete their plan within 30 months.
    • Create implementing ordinances and other policies.
    • Provide for public participation.

  • Beginning in 2005, communities will be eligible for a Smart Growth Dividend state aid payment. The dividend will only be available for communities that have comprehensive plans. The amount of the dividend will be based on credits communities receive for each housing unit created on lots of one-quarter acre or less and for each new unit which is affordable. Affordability is defined as selling or renting at 80% or less of the county median sales or rental price.

  • Beginning in 2010, all local land use decisions and actions would have to be based on a comprehensive plan. This is significant because it puts teeth in plans. Currently, even good plans can be – and often are – ignored.

  • The UW Extension is provided with one position to educate the public and policy makers about opportunities under the new law.

  • The UW Extension is required to develop model ordinances for traditional neighborhoods (pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use developments) and conservation subdivisions (rural developments which preserve common open space) by 2001. Local governments above 12,500 are required to adopt the TND ordinance by 2002, but they are not required to approve development proposals. It is hoped that communities not required to adopt the TND or conservation subdivision ordinances will do so voluntarily once they see how they work in neighboring jurisdictions.

  • Comprehensive plans must be adopted by the governing body of the local government after public hearings and an extensive public involvement process. Current law allows plans to be adopted by appointed planning commissions rather than elected governing bodies. By requiring plans to be adopted by governing bodies it is hoped that plans will gain more political salience.
Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
e comments@mlui.org