Eight Dane County towns have formally opposed a state bill supported by Dane County Towns Association leadership that would allow towns to opt out of Dane County's zoning authority.
The proposed legislation was among a handful of bills that had public hearings Thursday before the Assembly's Committee on Housing and Real Estate.
Prior to its hearing, leaders from the towns of Dunn, Cross Plains, Montrose, Perry, Christiana, Oregon, Pleasant Springs and Springdale sent a letter to the committee's chairman, Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown, opposing the bill.
The letter, written by town of Dunn Chairman Edmond Minihan, argues the bill is "attempting to fix a problem that, we believe, is overstated and quite limited." It also expresses concern that most towns do not have the financial or staff resources to administer their own zoning code and contends that county officials have been responsive to addressing rifts with its rural zoning partner.
"In Dane County, towns have been successful at achieving farmland preservation that supports a robust agricultural economy, while also facilitating appropriate development in rural areas. This is due in large part to having a predictable, cooperative system across the county," Minihan wrote.
"If this bill is enacted, it will lead to a fragmented decision making system that varies widely from town to town," he added.
Under current Wisconsin law, cities and villages control decisions on rezoning farmland for residential or commercial construction, but most towns share the authority. Both the town and the county hold veto power over proposals.
The new legislation that would allow towns to opt out of that system would apply only to counties with populations over 485,000.
Dane County’s official population in the 2010 Census was 488,075, and the only other county above that threshold, Milwaukee County, does not have any towns.
Supporters of the legislation did not respond to phone calls Wednesday, but have contended that turning zoning entirely over to towns would be more fair to land owners and would help towns grow tax bases to pay for services.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and officials representing the county's cities and villages blasted Republicans from outside the county for reviving the bill, saying it threatened the area's unique urban-rural mix and could unleash a flurry of irresponsible development.
The latest bill is the third time lawmakers have considered an opt-out for towns.
A similar bill that would have provided towns an opt-out window every few years, but would have applied statewide, failed in committee during the 2013-14 legislative session.
Opponents of an opt-out were surprised when a widely-rumored provision that would have targeted only Dane County was omitted from the state budget earlier this year.