Governor Signs Amendments to “Smart Growth” Statute into Law

While not making any radical changes to Wisconsin’s current comprehensive planning law, generally known as the “Smart Growth” law), Wisconsin 2009 Act 372 provides some clarification of a few of the more problematic terms in the law. The amendments also give some municipalities additional time to comply with the law, and eliminates the requirement that towns must have exercised “village powers” in order to adopt a comprehensive plan.

Under the existing law, beginning on January 1, 2010 a local government’s land use actions had to be “consistent with” their comprehensive plan. However, there was confusion regarding what actions this applied to, and just what “consistent with” actually meant. The new amendments provide some clarity. To begin with, the amendments provide a definition of a “comprehensive plan” – “a guide to the physical, social and economic development of a local governmental unit.” The amendments also define “consistent with” as “furthers or does not contradict the objectives, goals, and policies contained in the comprehensive plan.”

The amendments also specify which government actions must be consistent with the comprehensive plan – ordinances related to official mapping, local subdivision regulation, and zoning, including zoning of shorelands or wetlands in shorelands. The new law also clarifies that “enactment of a comprehensive plan by ordinance does not make the comprehensive plan by itself a regulation.” This had been an area of much discussion and confusion, as to whether simply having a comprehensive plan had any actual regulatory effect on landowners – the answer now appears to be no.

Finally, the law provides for a limited delay in the consistency requirement deadline of January 1, 2010 under certain limited circumstances. If your municipality is having difficulty meeting the deadline, you should consult your municipal attorney to see if the delay might apply to your circumstances.

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