Assembly voting on changes to county zoning withdrawal for towns

A proposal to streamline town zoning is up for debate in the Assembly after changes were made retaining public vote.


Assembly Democrats used a procedural maneuver Tuesday to delay passage of a bill that would make it easier for Dane County towns to withdraw from county zoning.

Democrats objected the bill could pass before eight Dane County towns have a chance to vote on April 18 at their annual town meeting whether to withdraw from county zoning. An amendment to move back the start date to June 1 failed 36-61. That led Democrats to object to the bill’s final reading, which required 65 votes to override. The motion failed 63-34 with two members absent.

The Assembly plans to convene again Thursday to take up the bill, which drew fierce opposition from town residents when it was introduced last month because it would have eliminated a requirement that town residents vote on the withdrawal, either in a referendum or at a town’s annual meeting. The bill was amended in committee to retain the referendum requirement with some modifications.

Republicans passed a law last year allowing towns to withdraw from county zoning, but it contained several provisions the Dane County Towns Association objected to as overly burdensome.

Dane County has historically exerted strong influence over town zoning in an effort to preserve the county’s rural character and limit suburban sprawl.

Thirteen towns passed resolutions to begin the withdrawal process, but only eight of those are still interested, towns association lawyer Mark Hazelbaker said. He said some of the five that lost interest might pursue it if AB 109 is signed into law.

The eight towns voting to opt out at their April 18 annual town meeting are Berry, Black Earth, Blue Mounds, Bristol, Middleton, Springfield, Sun Prairie and Westport, according to Todd Violante, Dane County planning and development director.

Under current law, towns can withdraw only during a one-year window every three years (2017 is the first such year) and must notify the county six months before enacting an ordinance through either a referendum or at an annual town meeting. The new bill requires only that the town notify the county of the change by Sept. 1 and vote on it by Nov. 1 during the specified years.

The bill as amended also grants towns that withdraw from Dane County zoning the property taxing authority to pay for zoning services.

As originally drafted, the Republican proposal was backed by the Dane County Towns Association and the Madison Area Builders Association, but opposed by Dane County, environmental groups, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and the League of Women Voters of Dane County.

Many residents of the town of Middleton voiced opposition to the bill during a public hearing. Their main objection was the removal of the public vote requirement, though bill author Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, emphasized it would still require a town board vote and that those opposed to withdrawal could run for office.

Ripp said Tuesday he changed his mind on the referendum issue after hearing from the public.

“I think it makes sense to allow them to voice their opinion,” Ripp said.

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Matt Rothschild said his group still opposes the bill because it allows towns to hold a public vote during a special meeting, rather than at the annual town meeting, when more people are likely to attend.

The group also objects to the bill singling out Dane County for the changes by specifying it only applies to counties with populations of 485,000 or more.


Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.