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Smart growth deadline prompts extension bill (UPDATE)

By Paul Snyder

A bill that would extend the Jan. 1 deadline for local smart growth plans defeats the purpose of setting deadlines, according to those who want the state to stick to its original schedule.

“It’s a little frustrating,” said state Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah. “I’ve seen it happen too many times. We put in a deadline, but it’s only a deadline until that date.”

Counties, municipalities and towns have had 10 years to establish and approve smart growth plans. The plans are development strategies for which towns, municipalities and counties collaborate to determine the course of growth in their regions.

But with the deadline now little more than a month away, only about 80 percent of Wisconsin communities are finished with or nearing completion of their plans, said Rick Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association.

“The problem is the state’s competitive grant program was oversold,” he said. “There were years when there was only $2 million available, but there were $4 million worth of requests from municipalities.

“This is the first year there’s actually been extra money available, and some areas are going to need more time to finish.”

The state, when enacting the smart growth law, established a grant program to give local governments money to cover such planning expenses as hiring consultants. The program offered $3 million annually in 2000 and 2001 and $2 million annually each year since.

The WTA and state Rep. Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake, developed a bill that would extend the Jan. 1 deadline by two years for governments that applied for but did not receive grant money for planning. The extension also applies to those governments that chose to complete a plan without grant money.

Governments that received the money for plans but did not yet approve them — Stadelman said Washburn and Clark counties are two examples — would not be eligible for the deadline extension.

The state’s penalty for failure to have an approved smart growth plan by Jan. 1, 2010, is a suspension of that government’s authority to change mapping, subdivision regulations or various zoning ordinances until the plan is complete.

But since smart growth planning became law in the state’s 1999-2001 budget, Kaufert said, many towns and counties have resisted the idea and lobbied for repeal or a deadline extension. Allowing that extension after more than nine years, he said, is like rewarding bad behavior.

“What the Legislature does is accept goals and then just move the bar,” he said. “If a tax-incremental financing district isn’t paying the bills, we extend the deadline. If someone’s district is in peril because of some deadline, it’s usually remedied.

“It’s become more and more prevalent over the last couple years. And if you keep doing it, why won’t some communities just assume we’ll give them an extension?”

It took Dane County nearly seven years to put its smart growth plan together, and Todd Violante, the county’s director of planning and development, said the 2010 deadline loomed large during the process. The county approved its plan in 2007.

But Dane County was an early recipient of state grant money for planning. So far, the state has allotted roughly $22 million in planning grants for counties, municipalities and towns.

Yet other governments, Stadelman said, did their planning without state money. Richmond, for example, chose not to apply for grants to hire a planning consultant, opting instead to use local planners and volunteers for the smart growth plan.

“I don’t know that they even spent $5,000,” Stadelman said.

If some governments needed the state money for planning and did not get it in time to finish a plan by 2010, they deserve the extension, said the bill’s co-sponsor, state Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc.

“The people who finished it in time, well, what would you like us to do?” he said. “Throw you a parade? Punish the people who didn’t?

“Some people will have reason to complain if they’re inclined to complain, but this was an arbitrary 10-year deadline.”

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