On August 14 and September 25, 2023, Judge Gruber issued an oral ruling that a recent rezone in Concord (for boat storage, on County B near County F) did *not* comply with the Farmland Preservation Law requirements. He declined to determine whether the rezone also violated Comprehensive Planning Law. More details:
Wisconsin Statutes 91.48(1): Farmland Preservation Law: The judge ruled that the county did not make the required findings.
This law requires the county to make certain findings before rezoning out of the farmland preservation district. In reviewing the record (transcripts, minutes, etc.), he did not find anything that amounted to making the required findings. (Our lawyer had predicted that "any reasonable judge" would agree with us on this aspect of the case, as the lack of findings was pretty clear-cut.) This means the rezone will be vacated (overturned), but the landowner could re-apply (but this time we think it would not be approved). The county is considering appealing this decision by the judge.
Wisconsin Statutes 66.1001(3)(j): Comprehensive Planning Law: The judge did not rule on this. The county had argued that the comprehensive plan was only a guide, not mandatory, and so the county did not explain how this rezone fit with the county plan. That may have influenced the judge's decision to not rule on this.
Support Local Residents Having a Say in Zoning Decisions!
Jefferson County is experiencing increasing development pressure as open land becomes scarcer in Dane and Waukesha Counties. It’s important to ensure that local residents’ voices are also heard as the county makes land-use decisions. Comprehensive plans are a key way to include citizens’ voices in long-range land-use plans, ensuring that we know ahead of time what kinds of development can happen near our own property and also helping to prevent incompatible uses from being placed next to each other.
The Town of Concord is on the front lines of development pressure in Jefferson County because we have an undeveloped I-94 interchange, but these pressures will also affect other towns.
In Concord, the county recently approved a rezoning that conflicted with the town plan and the county plan. The county initially justified this in several ways (sometimes their reasons seemed to change from meeting to meeting).
Citizens appealed that rezoning decision because of its impact on local residents and also because of its wider implications for comprehensive planning in our town and our county. Jefferson County (our zoning authority) has given us mixed messages, sometimes claiming that they do follow town and county plans (as the law requires) and at other times arguing that the plans are only a guideline or can be overridden by a town board vote. We are hoping the legal appeal will help clarify for the county and the state that the law requires that rezoning decisions be consistent with comprehensive plans, as indicated by the word "shall" in the statute. (Conditional issues do not need to comply with the comprehensive plan, but rezonings, such as changing from A-1 to A-2, do because rezonings involve amending the zoning ordinance.) We need to continue to keep an eye on the county given the ongoing pressures from developers.
We ask for your help:
Please support the legal appeal of the rezoning: it is important that the county follows proper procedure when rezoning land and ensures that rezones are consistent with town and county plans. Plans express the will of the people and provide criteria to ensure consistency across zoning decisions (fairness to different applicants).
Please encourage your county supervisor to support farmland preservation, and vote for candidates who support comprehensive planning.