Comprehensive Planning Update;
Town-County Zoning Relations
Town Officials Workshops
James H. Schneider, J. D.
UW-Extension Local Government Center
Part I—Comprehensive Planning
Major 2003-04 Comprehensive
• AB 435 to repeal the comp planning
law died in committee.
• AB 551 to allow town board approval
of county plan was vetoed by the
• AB 750 to exempt from consistency
requirement town board exercise of
disapproval authority over county
general zoning not taken up in floor
session and died.
• Act 233 (AB 608) narrowed
Comprehensive Planning Law--
• Created in 1999 budget act
• Applies to ―local governmental units‖
– Cities, villages, towns
– Regional planning commissions
• ―Comprehensive plan‖ is the
– county ―development plan‖
– city, village, town ―master plan‖
– RPC regional ―master plan‖
• The cross-reference to existing terms
means comprehensive plan is developed by
planning body that develops & adopts the
• County ―planning and zoning agency‖
―direct(s) the preparation‖ of the
development plan/ comprehensive plan
under the law.
• County board may
– create a planning & zoning committee or
– designate an existing committee or commission
as the county planning & zoning agency.
Planning Body cont.
• City, village or town (with village powers)
plan commission is the comprehensive
• A city, village or town, unlike a county, has
no statutory authority to develop this plan
by a committee.
• An advisory committee may also be
Key Aspects of Law
• Public participation guidelines required
• 9 integrated elements required; must be updated at
least every 10 years
• Intergovernmental aspects (element and sharing of
• Grants provided
How Comprehensive Planning Law
Relates to Prior Law
• Until the consistency requirement applies
– county may develop and operate under a
development plan (or other planning authority).
– city, village, town may develop and operate
under master plan (or other planning authority).
• Consistency requirement is in effect a
– Starting in 2010
– a local unit must have a comprehensive plan in
place for its covered actions to be consistent
with, or else it is at risk of having those actions
challenged in court.
• Applies as of Jan. 1, 2010
• Former requirement:
– General language: ―any program or action of a local
governmental unit that affects land use‖ must be
consistent with that unit’s comprehensive plan.
– Nonexclusive listing of actions subject to consistency
includes zoning, subdivision regulation, official
mapping, incorporation, annexation, boundary
New Consistency Requirement
(2003 Act 233)
• 2010 consistency requirement applies only
to the following …
--local subdivision regulation under a
--official mapping under local
• Effect of Act 233 on local units
– Narrows actions that must be consistent with
plan and therefore reduces chances of lawsuits
after 2010 challenging actions.
– 9 elements still must be covered in
– Narrows the implied mandate to only those
units engaging in 1 or more of the 3 types of
covered activities (more below).
In other words…
• Towns are not required to have comprehensive
plans by 2010, if they don’t engage in any of the
actions covered by the consistency requirement:
– zoning ordinances,
– subdivision ordinances,
– official mapping under local ordinance/resolution.
• This likely means, though, that a town board in a
town without a comp plan would lose the authority
to disapprove a county general zoning ordinance
amendment (unless the law is changed).
• Available for county, city, village, town &
RPC comprehensive planning
• Competitive scoring of applications
• Funding incentives (points & $)
– for ―multi-jurisdictional plans‖
• a county and 2 local units
• an RPC and 2 local units
• 2 local units (city, village, town)
– 10% of base added for each city, village, town;
plus, for a county, 10% of county base if all
towns in county participate.
Comp Planning Grant Awards
• 2000--$1.0 (transportation planning grant)
Units Receiving Grants/# of Units
• Towns--466 (8)/1266
• Villages--151 (1)/401
• Cities--93 (6)/190
• Counties--28 (3)/72
• RPC’s--3 (1)/9
• Tribes—2/11 (reservations)
( ) Refers to units that received a 2000 transportation
planning grant and later received a comprehensive
• 64 awards
• 643 communities covered
• Is a comprehensive plan required?
• Is it necessary to have a plan commission to
engage in comprehensive planning?
• May an advisory committee be involved?
• May a town base its actions on the county
• Whose plan controls, if plans are in
• See ―Comprehensive Planning and Smart
• On Local Government Center website:
(scroll down to FAQs )
• Legislation has stimulated planning.
• Grant funding, the consistency requirement
and extraterritorial authority will be
• Counties & RPCs play an important role in
providing data & maps as a basis for plans.
• Counties working with local units,
especially towns, may provide planning
resources & help achieve consistent, cost-
Part II—Town-County Zoning
A. Background—Local Planning authority
A. Background--Local Planning Authority
– may prepare a development plan
(comprehensive plan) for town territory.
– may plan with towns and other local units.
– must incorporate city & village master
(comprehensive) plans into county plan.
– may prepare city & village plans if requested.
• Town planning authority…
– is under city/village authority for
– Which requires that the town have
• Town may plan with county or
neighboring units under
– the comprehensive planning law.
– general intergovernmental cooperation
– cooperative boundary agreement law
(with ―municipal‖ neighbors).
– extraterritorial zoning law (with city or
• Cities & villages may…
– develop a master plan (comprehensive plan)
• for their own territory
• for adjacent town territory
– plan cooperatively with towns and other units
under various statutes (see previous slide)
• Providers of planning services for town
territory may include
– town and county staff
– regional plan commission
– neighboring communities
Planning in Extraterritorial Area
• Under county law, the city and village
master/comprehensive plan ―controls‖ in
the ET area.
• When the consistency requirement takes
effect in 2010, this means that county
actions in the ET area must be consistent
with the city or village plan (if any) for that
area (unless the law is changed).
• In addition, the city or village may exercise
ET subdivision review and (less commonly)
• This arrangement especially points out the
importance of affected units working
together to reach agreement for planning for
the ET area.
• In general
– County authority is to zone towns, not cities &
– Certain minimum special zoning provisions (e.g.,
shoreland & floodplain zoning) survive annexation or
• If no county general zoning is in effect
– town may zone unilaterally under village powers; or
– town may petition county to adopt general zoning,
and then zone on own if county does not act within
one year (rare).
• If county general zoning is in effect…
– town board may by resolution accept county zoning
(sec. 59.69(5)(c); or
– town can zone under village powers under sec. 60.62
• town meeting (or referendum) must authorize town board to
exercise zoning under village powers,
• county must approve ordinance &
• county must approve amendments
• before they can take effect.
Evidence of Town Going under
County General Zoning
• See the town board minutes for the meeting at
which the resolution was adopted.
• The town clerk is required to send a certified copy
of the resolution to the county clerk, who must
record the filing and print it in the county board’s
proceedings. Sec. 59.69(5)(c).
County Zoning Amendments
• Town may petition for amendment and be
involved in reviewing proposed amendments
• Petition for amendment to county zoning may be
– town board
– affected property owners
– county zoning agency
– county board members
Town Role in County
• If county general zoning is in effect in a
– town board has to approve county
comprehensive revision within a year to be in
effect in town - or else town becomes unzoned.
– ―Comprehensive revision‖ is a complete
rewriting which changes numerous zoning
provisions and alters or adds zoning districts.
• The ability of a town to ―bail out‖ of a
comprehensive zoning revision has contributed to
outdated county zoning.
• However, due to the comprehensive planning law,
it is expected that county zoning will be updated.
• Towns that have been involved in county planning
and zoning revisions will more likely have a new
county zoning ordinance that they like.
Town Role in County Zoning
• A proposed amendment must have a public hearing held by the
county zoning agency. (Class 2 notice required.)
• Notice of the hearing must be mailed to the town clerk of
each affected town 10 days prior to the hearing.
• The town board may file a certified copy of the resolution
disapproving the proposed amendment with the county
– before the public hearing
– at the public hearing
– or within 10 days (*30 days) after the public hearing.
Extending Town Review Period
• *The town board may extend the review
period by 20 days so it has 30 days after the
hearing to disapprove by adopting a
resolution and filing a certified copy with
the county clerk. The extended review
period remains in effect until rescinded by
resolution and filed with the county clerk.
Town Board Disapproval
• A district boundary change may be disapproved
by the affected town.
• A text change may be disapproved by the majority
of affected towns.
• It is important for towns to review proposed
amendments and timely disapprove those they
object to (see next slide).
Three Disapproval Scenarios
• First, if the proposed amendment makes
only the change in the petition and it was
not disapproved by the affected town(s)
(i.e., the affected town for a district change,
a majority of affected towns for text
• The amendment takes effect upon passage
by the county board.
• Second, if the proposed amendment is changed
after referral to the towns and passed by the
county board, the effective date is delayed and
town boards may exercise disapproval authority as
– The ordinance must be submitted to affected town(s)
within 7 days of passage by county board.
– The town board has 40 days after enactment to approve
or disapprove. Disapproval, as above, is effective if a
majority disapproves a text amendment, or if the
affected town disapproves a district boundary change.
• Third, if (for some reason) the county board
passes an amendment that was disapproved
by a town (district boundary change) or a
majority of affected towns (text change), the
town board(s) may exercise disapproval
within the 40 day period as in the previous
• Town authority is limited under certain special
• County must enact shoreland & floodplain
zoning, even if it does not have general zoning.
• Shoreland & floodplain zoning ordinance
– effective in town without need of town approval,
– and town disapproval does not apply to amendments
to these ordinances.
• County exclusive agricultural zoning has certain
– Town board may reject coverage, but in counties with
density of at least 100 persons per square mile, it takes
a majority of towns to reject coverage.
– Town board may disapprove a text amendment, in
which case the previous language remains in effect.
– Town board, as under general county zoning, may veto
a map amendment.
• Recent act on livestock siting and expansion
limits local regulatory authority but does
not change underlying structural zoning
relationship between the county and town.
• E.g., the town still has the same disapproval
rights as before.
• Town with zoning under village powers
– shorelands & floodplains if ordinance is at least
as restrictive as county ordinance, resulting in
– exclusive agricultural zoning.
Towns may resent lack of greater zoning
– As stated above, towns in general may plan with the
county and their neighbors to try to achieve mutually
– Under cooperative boundary law, city/village &
neighboring town may reach agreement on general
zoning, but town remains under county shoreland,
floodplain & exclusive agricultural zoning.
– Under extraterritorial zoning, city/village & town
may displace general county general zoning.
Some Final Observations on Town-
County Zoning Relationships
• Towns can play an important part in county
• Get to know county officials, staff & processes.
• Develop a town comprehensive plan to serve as a
basis for your involvement in county decisions.
• Be involved in county planning and policy-
• Take part in county administrative decisions, such
as variances and conditional use permits (e.g.,
testify at a hearing; submit a letter, resolution or
motion), but …
– be clear on who’s being represented (e.g., yourself, the
– tailor your involvement to the forum (i.e., in quasi-
judicial matters, such as CUPs and variances, address
the legal standards and avoid outside contacts with
members of the decision-making body).