Walker Weakens Local Control Over Property Use, Development Decisions

April 29, 2016

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a GOP bill this week that prohibits or restricts community authority in numerous instances involving private land use and development, and prohibits courts from giving deference to the state in cases involving private property disputes.

The measure, Assembly Bill 582:

  • Prohibits local governments from regulating the repair, remodeling or replacement of buildings in setback areas near shorelines;
  • Prohibits local governments from charging a fee on, or prohibiting or unreasonably restricting the sale of, private property;
  • Requires that local governments send property owners a written notice about proposed zoning rules that affect their property;
  • Requires a court to resolve any ambiguity in the meaning of a word or phrase in a zoning ordinance or a shoreland zoning ordinance in favor of the property owner;
  • Prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances that reduce development or the permitted uses of private property unless the ordinance is approved by at least two-thirds of the members of its governing body or approved of by the landowner;
  • Provides that a setback line from the ordinary high-water mark established by a professional land surveyor may be legally relied upon for the purposes of development near a water body;
  • Requires an economic impact analysis of a proposed administrative rule to include an analysis of the ways, and the extent to which, the proposed rule would limit the use of private property.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters called the bill a “developer grab bag” that steals local control and damages lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

The bill was backed by the Koch brothers’ group, Americans for Prosperity, as well as big business and manufacturers, agriculture, construction, energy, and real estate interests, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group.

The wealthy special interests represented by WMC and the other lobbying groups contributed about $32.2 million to Walker between January 2011 and December 2015 to help him win his 2012 recall and 2014 reelection contests.

Walker’s top contributors include Diane Hendricks, of Afton, Wis., the billionaire owner of ABC Supply, $529,100; the late Houston, Tex. homebuilder, Bob Perry, $500,000; and Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, of Lake Forest, Ill., owners of Uline, a shipping supply distributor, $284,500.

In addition to direct contributions from the special interests that backed the bill, WMC has spent an estimated $25.9 million to support Republican and conservative candidates for statewide office and the legislature since 2006, including an estimated $9.5 million to help elect Walker. 

Americans for Prosperity has spent more than $5.6 million since January 2010 on electioneering activities to support Republican and conservative candidates in Wisconsin legislative and statewide elections, including an estimated $3.7 million to help Walker win his 2012 recall.