Keeping Concord Rural
The outcome of this case with the county will heavily affect how much say Concord residents have about development in Concord.
The Concord comprehensive plan and the county comprehensive/farmland preservation plan reflect Concord’s voice. The question being decided by the court is whether the law requires the county to follow its own plan or whether it is just advisory. The state law says that the county “shall” follow the plan.
August 14 and September 25, 2023: The judge issued oral rulings that the rezone did *not* comply with the Farmland Preservation Law requirements (Wis. Stats. 91.48(1)).
The judge ruled in our favor on one statute!! But he did not issue a ruling on whether the rezone was consistent with the county's comprehensive plan (whether it also violated provisions in Wis. Stats. 66.1001). On September 25 the judge vacated (overturned) the rezone. The property owner could re-apply for rezoning, but it would likely not succeed. The county may appeal. Details:
The Town of Concord’s rural character has been maintained over the years largely by the Concord Town Plan. The Concord Town Plan is more restrictive than the county’s plan, but the county is the zoning authority for Concord and is legally supposed to follow the Concord plan when it comes to land use (rezoning in Farmland Preservation areas; number of lot splits or where businesses are allowed). Last March (2022) the county decided they would no longer follow the town plan and would allow commercial development at their discretion. This appears to be against the state Farmland Preservation law.
Town comprehensive plans are important. They provide a sense of place and stability. When you settle into community with a comprehensive plan you should be able to feel comfortable knowing the people in that community adopted their plan and it will be adhered to.
The Town of Concord in Jefferson County (Wisconsin) is one of those places people move to because of the town plan, which provides a nice rural community with low-density living among farm fields and with jobs, restaurants, hospitals, shopping, etc. just minutes away. The town plan has been followed for many years.
The Farmland Preservation and Comprehensive Planning laws that make all of this possible seem to be untested by the courts. Jefferson County as our zoning authority has decided to test that “gray area” in the law by allowing business in areas that are not allowed by the Concord Comprehensive Plan, with the goal of promoting business development in Concord. Concord has the only largely undeveloped I-94 interchange in the county.
Concord’s 10-year update of the town plan was adopted on November 23, 2022. Concord residents have shown a very strong desire to keep Concord rural, largely the way it is. We as a town have just spent over $27,000 to update our town plan.
Update November 11, 2022: In response to a claim filed in Circuit Court, the county has admitted they have a legal obligation to follow the town plan.
They now claim that since the town plan update process had not been completed and it had been more then ten years since the plan was adopted, they were free to approve development projects that didn't follow the plan till the plan update was completed.
The law doesn’t say the plan expires in 10 years; it just says the plan needs to be updated every 10 years. Concord purposely delayed updating its plan till after the 2020 census and the county finished updating their plan, so that our plan could take the latest data and the county's own revised plan into account. The reason for having a town plan is local input and consistency in zoning. It would be very strange if technical details (such as adjusting the timing of our plan update) left our community without any zoning criteria and took away citizens' input in planning. Given that many communities' plan are out-of-date, that would be a huge gap in comprehensive planning law and so would go against the intent of that law.