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Green schemes make activists see red (July 15, 2012)

Mary Williams has been against Wisconsin’s Smart Growth law for many years. The Republican state representative from Medford has been trying to repeal the law since 2003. Now her battle has been joined — by opponents of an obscure United Nations plan.

Assembly Bill 303, introduced last fall by Williams and other Republicans, would have allowed communities to opt out of Smart Growth, the state’s law setting the rules for developing local land-use plans, and make it easier for these plans to be repealed.

State Rep. Mary Williams said her bill was about choice, but some supporters saw it as being about Agenda 21.

“I’m not against planning, but this is about choice,” Williams said at an Oct. 11 hearing on the bill. “We’re just giving them the option.”

Other lawmakers backing the bill made similar points. State Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, who is running for a northern Wisconsin state Senate seat this fall, declared himself an “ardent supporter” of the bill. He called the Smart Growth law, enacted in 1999, an “unfunded mandate” on local governments and a threat to private property rights.

This sentiment was echoed by 10 citizens who testified in support of the bill, many of whom alleged that Smart Growth is part of Agenda 21, a non-binding United Nations agreement approved in 1992.

“It is a major step into socialism,” said one speaker, warning that in the new world order brought by Agenda 21, “even gardening will be strictly regulated.” Other speakers peppered their remarks with references to ObamaCare, “communitarianism,” Karl Marx and government plans to “turn off your appliances” when it decides.

State Rep. Tom Tiffany argued that the Smart Growth planning bill is a threat to private property rights.

Democrats and others argued that Smart Growth planning makes sense and saves tax dollars, by promoting efficient development. The bill was opposed by state environmental groups as well as the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Towns Association.

Richard Stadelman of the Towns Association, who testified against the bill, said in an interview that his group has always supported the state’s comprehensive land-use planning law. He believes AB 303, as drafted, would have created a disincentive for communities to have land-use plans, “and a plan is a good land-use practice.”

Despite such concerns, the bill passed the Assembly on a 56-38 mostly party line vote. But the Senate never brought it up for a vote.

Tom DeWeese, a national leader of the anti-Agenda 21 movement, said in an interview that, as he understands it, “there was concern with the bill that it wasn’t strong enough.” He said he’s been told that the bill’s backers have promised to introduce it next year with stronger language.

Williams and Tiffany did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Stadelman said he has no doubt “this bill will come back.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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Bill Lueders was reporter, editor and Money and Politics Project director for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from 2011 to 2015.

4 replies on “Sidebar: Lawmakers want to turn back clock on Smart Growth”

  1. At the assembly hearing on AB-303, Tom Tiffany stated that Smart growth was so bad that voters in the State of Oregon Repealed it. Well, it turns out Tiffany only heard half the story: Oregon voters reinstated it shortly after seeing the results of the repeal. I testified at that hearing to this effect, and further pointed out that Oregon’s Smart growth law was much, much more aggressive that Wisconsin’s law. Oregon’s law creates elected bodies with zoning and taxing authority that go way beyond simply requiring municipalities to have a plan (whether or not it happens to align with what people think is Smart Growth does not matter).

  2. Matt, A correction is in order. Oregon voters have NEVER voted to repeal the state’s 1973 Land Use Planning Program; in fact, they have upheld it at the ballot box 3 times. The program was altered in 2004, when Oregon voters passed Measure 37, which generally required local jurisdictions to compensate private property owners when subsequent local land use restrictions reduced a property’s value. The impact of this law had so many unintended consequences that in 2007 Oregon voters replaced it with Measure 49, which honors some Measure 37 claims, but narrows the eligibility of other claims for compensation. However, the basics of Oregon’s Land Use Planning Program – the requirement that local jurisdictions adopt comprehensive plans that conform to state goals — remain after almost 30 years. See for additional information.

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