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Protecting Waukesha County's Natural Resourses since 1978



Open Space

Land Use Planning

The need for land use planning has reached a crisis level in rapidly developing Waukesha County. WEAL agrees with Dr. Kurt Bauer, past director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), that, "Land use affects the levels of noise, air, and water pollution: determines the nature of drainage, flood control, and water supply problems: affects the levels of traffic congestion, the times and distances involved in commuting between home and work, and the need for, and cost of, goods movement; determines the convenience of shopping and the accessibility of educational and recreational opportunities; affects the cost of providing essential public facilities and services and determines whether or not some services, such as mass transit and sanitary sewerage, can be provided at all; determines the cost and feasibility of production of food and fiber; and establishes the degree of protection that can be afforded to the underlying and sustaining natural resource base."

The following statements reflect our position on land use and open space issues:

  • We support that land assessments be based on current use; on agricultural value not on potential developed value. The resulting lower assessments should apply only to actively farmed land.
  • We support the development of a county-wide ordinance stating that before agricultural zoning can be changed, that parcel of farmland must adjoin existing developed property.
  • We believe that developers should pay development impact fees to help cover the cost of additional municipal infrastructure and additional classrooms. We support the requirement that developers submit an Economic Impact Study for all new developments. This will allow communities to assess the value of the increased tax base the development will bring against the real costs of the development to the community in schools, roads, police and fire protection, parks, utilities, etc.
  • We encourage the development and use of a Purchase and Transfer of Development Rights program for preserving farmlands and/or open space preservation. A coalition of public and private funds should be used to purchase development rights from the farmers and land owners, thus providing the farmer or landowner with the financial guarantee to be able to continue to own their land and in the farmers case, farm the land.
  • We support that Environmental Corridors be left in a natural state. These corridors are necessary for the habitat and migration of wildlife, for protection of species, for maintenance of water quality, for human recreational needs, and for relief from a continuously urban atmosphere.
  • We believe that we must control urban sprawl. It is more costly to provide services (roads, fire and police protection, school busing, sewers, garbage pick-up) to a scattered population. Sprawl affects the taxes of everyone and stresses the environment. Five-acre and three-acre lots are sprawl development. Development not contiguous to urban areas is sprawl.
  • We support the coordination of transportation needs, now and for the future. To preserve air quality and non-renewable energy, development must be planned in such a way as to be served by mass transit. This type of development would also make it possible to plan for road usage and improvements.
  • We believe that development should be restricted to areas where sewers can be made available. We encourage the municipalities in Waukesha County with excess sewer capacity to allow some of this capacity to be used beyond their political boundaries. These plants should be utilized before any further development is allowed in un-sewered areas.
  • We support that the housing needs of all people should be considered. All land use plans should include areas of smaller lots and smaller setback requirements. This should accommodate affordable housing.
  • We support the elimination of incompatible zoning categories adjacent to one another along municipal borders.
  • We encourage the use of Planned Unit Developments (PUD) and other innovative zoning techniques to help preserve environmentally sensitive lands and open space. We support the concept of cluster development, as long as a portion of the development is dedicated as open space.
  • We support the development of pedestrian friendly development as supported by the 1000 Friends organization. Other regional needs, such as the location of centralized shopping areas and major industrial parks adjacent to transit corridors should be considered.

A master list of available lots, acres of land zoned, and acres planned for development in each community should be maintained. A maximum level of each of these categories should be established, monitored, and enforced by the County or regional planning authority.

At the State level we support;

That the State of Wisconsin refuse highway funds to any community that refuses to restrict development to areas where urban services are available (sewers, adequate schools, mass transit, etc.)

That the State of Wisconsin write land use guidelines for communities to follow in writing their own land use plans. If the community does not meet these guidelines and follow their own plans then highway funds should be removed.

That the State of Wisconsin change its statutes to grant land use oversight with enforcement power to a county, regional or state-wide authority.

Open Space Preservation

Open Space Lands that should be preserved include the following:

  • Lands that are within established and mapped Environmental Corridors.
  • Prairie remnants, wetlands, and woodlands that provide examples of presettlement plant communitites.
  • Lands that provide habitat for threatened, rare, or endangered species.
  • Wetlands
  • Open space for park land to be used for recreation, such as hiking, bird watching, picnicking, biking, fishing, and for relief from urbanization.

We support the following initiatives to preserve open space:


We believe that it is through local government's land use actions working with County, and private organizations that the preservation of the county's remaining natural areas and open spaces will be accomplished.


We recommend that the county hire a real estate expert who will actively identify these lands and negotiate with the local governments for zoning, or owners for preservation through purchase, easements, trusts and the purchase and/or the transfer of development rights.


We believe that rising land values in Waukesha County will increasingly make purchase of open space lands more difficult.


We supports this initiative because this Countywide Land Use Plan would help prevent inappropriate use of the land and urban sprawl, both of which threaten the natural resource base. We also support that all appropriate ordinances be approved to support the Land use Plan. This includes Stormwater Management Ordinance, Non-Point Source Pollution Abatement Ordinance, Land Division and Development Ordinance, etc.


We recommend that each local government research the costs of losing open space and assess fees based on these costs. A study of the effects of green belts on property values in Boulder, Colorado, suggests that the existence of green belts may have a significant positive impact on adjacent property values. This study also suggests that, in the long run, increased property values from the developed land could compensate for the cost of land acquisition and the loss of property tax revenues from the preserved open space.


We recommend that those Environmental Corridors not targeted for governmental acquisition, should be protected from development through the use of Planned Unit Developments (PUDs). PUDs have the housing units clustered outside of environmentally sensitive lands. The Environmental Corridor lands can then be preserved as commonly held open space by all the residents of the PUD or by other conservation means.

The citizens of Waukesha County place a high value on the qualities of open spaces that include natural scenery, vistas, recreational opportunities, educational and spiritual enrichment, historic and cultural resource protection, and property value enhancement. Open spaces also offer valuable natural functions: ground water systems maintenance, natural ecosystem preservation, surface water quality protection, and flood control. The preservation of these open spaces is one of the most important actions that can be taken to preserve the environmental quality of the county.

It is our position that the future health and quality of life of Waukesha County's residents is irrevocably tied to responsible land use planning.


Kathy Moore, Waukesha County Park and Planning Department speech November 1992, Waukesha Public Library

Dr. Kurt Bauer, Director of Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, presentation.

Dr. Kurt Bauer, Talk to Waukesha County Environmental Action League, Retzer Nature Center, October 22, 1989

Correll, Mark R, and Lillydahl, Jane H., Singell, Larry D., 'The Effects Of Green belts On Residential Property Values: Some Findings On the Political Economy Of Open Space.", Land Economics, Vol. 54, No. 2, May 1978. Barrows, Richard and Rosner, Monroe, Public and Property Taxes, Research Division College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Madison, No. R2794, June, 1976.

Town of Dunn Open Space Preservation Handbook, 1979

revised 5/98 ADS