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Why Plan?
Smart Growth Overview
Smart Growth Defined
Definition of the 14 Goals
State Planning Grants

Why Plan?

Everybody plans. People make financial plans, work plans, and even retirement plans to help them efficiently achieve their goals. Planning helps each of us work toward accomplishing our objectives in an orderly and timely fashion. Similarly, planning also helps communities avoid costly errors by allowing them to carefully consider future issues and needs. Other reasons that community’s plan include:

• Planning helps a community identify its assets and weaknesses and defines actions to address them.
• Uncontrolled, haphazard development that may damage or detract from a community’s assets is prevented through good planning.
• Planning requires community members to get involved in defining the characteristics they want in their communities. The planning process empowers individuals and the whole community by encouraging them to become involved and stay informed about planning and land use decisions.
• Planning helps a community estimate future needs for schools, roads, fire stations, housing, sewer and water extensions.
• Tax money is saved by purchasing land and other resources at today’s prices to meet those future needs.
• Planning gives potential developers, homebuilders, and businesses a predictable and consistent set of guidelines.
• Comprehensive planning is now mandated under the state’s Smart Growth legislation.

Smart Growth Overview

In October 1999, Governor Tommy Thompson signed into law Wisconsin’s new Comprehensive Planning and Smart Growth Legislation. The legislation ensures that by 2010, every city, village, county and town in the state that wishes to engage in any program or action that affects land use will be guided by a comprehensive plan as defined by state statute.

This legislation was crafted by many diverse interest groups, including:

• Wisconsin Builders Association
• Wisconsin Realtors Association
• 1000 Friends of Wisconsin
• Wisconsin Chapter of the American Planning Association
• Wisconsin Council of Regional Planning Organizations
• Wisconsin Counties Association
• Wisconsin League of Municipalities
• Wisconsin Alliance of Cities
• Wisconsin Town’s Association
• Wisconsin Department of Administration

The new law was passed to ensure responsible planning, create a framework such that the planning is implemented, rein in sprawl and enhance the health of our urban and rural communities.

Smart Growth Defined

Smart growth is defined by the Urban Land Institute as “growth that is economically sound, environmentally friendly, and supports community values and livability.”
Wisconsin’s Smart Growth legislation allows communities to plan for any type of future they desire, but the law does define what must be included in the plan.

• Smart Growth provides state planning grants [link to definition below]-- but only if communities promise to meet six criteria. Each plan must: include nine elements, meet local planning goals, designate Smart Growth Areas to which state and local infrastructure will be directed, be completed within 30 months, create implementing ordinances and provide for public participation.

• Plans must include nine elements [link to page describing the elements]: issues & opportunities; housing; transportation; utilities & community facilities; agricultural, natural & cultural resources; economic development; intergovernmental cooperation; land use and implementation.

• Smart Growth outlines fourteen goals [link to the 14 goals] that communities are encouraged to work toward in their plans. Additionally, any community that receives a state planning grant is required to include these goals in their plan.

• Smart Growth requires all cities and villages above 12,500 in population to adopt a model traditional neighborhood development ordinance (TND). It also requires the University of Wisconsin Extension to develop a model conservation subdivision ordinance that communities may adopt.

• Traditional neighborhood developments are compact, mixed-use neighborhoods where residential, commercial and civic buildings are within close proximity to each other.

• Conservation subdivisions are housing developments in rural areas that are characterized by compact lots and common open spaces. In this type of development, the natural features of the land are maintained to the greatest extent possible.

• The new law provides specific minimum public participation [link to public participation section] standards that all local planning efforts must follow, whether the planning effort receives state funding or not.

• An additional requirement of the new law is consistency. Beginning on January 1, 2010, local land use actions must be consistent with a comprehensive plan. This applies to zoning, annexations, official mapping, subdivision regulation, ordinances, plans, land regulations, etc. This means that unless a community intends to take no official actions regarding land use whatsoever, it should have a comprehensive plan in place by January 1, 2010. That date (a full ten years from passage of the legislation) was selected to give communities enough time to complete their plans.

Definition of the 14 Goals

The new law provides fourteen goals that state agencies are asked to consider when taking actions and which communities must consider when writing a comprehensive plan with state planning aids:

1. Promotion of the redevelopment of lands with existing infrastructure and public services and the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing residential, commercial and industrial structures.

. Encouragement of neighborhood designs that support a range of transportation choices.

3. Protection of natural areas, including wetlands, wildlife habitats, lakes, woodlands, open spaces and groundwater resources.

4. Protection of economically productive areas, including farmland and forests.

5. Encouragement of land uses, densities and regulations that promote efficient development patterns and relatively low municipal, state governmental and utility costs.

6. Preservation of cultural, historic and archaeological sites.

7. Encouragement of coordination and cooperation among nearby units of government.

8. Building of community identity by revitalizing main streets and enforcing design standards.

9. Providing an adequate supply of affordable housing for individuals of all income levels throughout each community.

10. Providing adequate infrastructure and public services and an adequate supply of developable land to meet existing and future market demand for residential, commercial and industrial uses.

11. Promoting the expansion or stabilization of the current economic base and the creation of a range of employment opportunities at the state, regional and local levels.

12. Balancing individual property rights with community interests and goals.

13. Planning and development of land uses that create or preserve varied and unique urban and rural communities.

14. Providing an integrated, efficient and economical transportation system that affords mobility, convenience and safety and that meets the needs of all citizens, including transit-dependent and disabled citizens.

State Planning Grants

In 2001, the state began providing funds to help communities write comprehensive plans. In order to obtain these funds, communities must apply to the state Land Council. An official body made up of state agency heads and citizens appointed by the Governor, the Land Council is staffed by the state’s Department of Administration [link to DOA/grant section]. The first requirement is that communities must commit to a plan that will address the nine elements required by the law. Grants will be awarded through a competitive process and communities will rank higher if they:

• Agree to write a plan that will address the interests of overlapping or neighboring jurisdictions. So, joint planning efforts among overlapping (counties and towns, for example) and neighboring jurisdictions (cities and towns, for example) will score higher than single unit planning proposals.

• Describe how they plan to meet the broad land use goals set out in the new law. Those goals are described later.

• Agree to designate smart growth areas to which state and local infrastructure will be directed. Smart growth areas are defined as areas that can be redeveloped (an old warehouse district, for example) or that have existing municipal services (like sewer, water and roads that have already been extended to an area that has not yet been built out) or which are contiguous to existing development and which can be developed at densities that have relatively low government and utility service costs.

• Commit to developing the necessary ordinances to actually execute the plan.

• Commit to finishing the planning process within two-and-one-half years.

• Commit to providing opportunities for public participation throughout the planning process.

Updated:   03/30/2004                                  

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