Mequon, Wisconsin

The City of Mequon, population 23,793 (2004), lies in Ozaukee, County, just north of Milwaukee County. Lake Michigan forms the eastern boundary of the City and the Milwaukee River twists its way south through the entire length of the City passing several parks and preserves along the way. The Interstate-43 freeway makes commuting to central Milwaukee relatively easy. Yet, roughly half of the City is undeveloped and actively farmed.

Mequon’s TDR program has preserved sending parcels bordering the Mequon Nature Preserve shown here.

In April of 2005, the City adopted a transfer of development rights – planned unit development (TDR-PUD) overlay district designed generally to preserve farmland, rural open space/character, scenic vistas, natural features and environmental resources. Although not mentioned in the ordinance, newspaper accounts report that the City is particularly interested in using TDR to preserve roughly 2,000 acres of land in the northwest and northern parts of the City, outside the sewer service area. On the receiving side of the transfer, Mequon’s TDR program is designed to encourage the voluntary redirection of growth toward areas that have adequate urban services without any net increase in the projected build-out population.

Neither the sending or receiving areas are mapped. Rather they are approved on a case-by-case basis by the city council following recommendations from the preservation commission and the planning commission. The sending areas are evaluated for nine elements including unique environmental features, scenic vistas, buffers, trail segments, greenbelts, proximity to preserved lands, agriculture, historic significance and public access. Sending areas must be at least 20 acres in size unless contiguous to land already preserved by a conservation easement. A yield plan is required to determine the number of units that can actually be built on a proposed sending site given the underlying zoning.

The receiving areas are evaluated for potential impact to traffic, groundwater, sensitive environmental areas and neighborhood character.

Via the PUD application, the City can consider modifications to the proposed receiving area’s zoning requirements including dimensional requirements, and density. For each dwelling unit precluded in the sending area, one additional single-family residential unit or 1.8 duplex residential units can be allowed in the receiving area.

Even though the sending and receiving areas are designated by PUD overlay, the sending site landowner may sell TDR certificates to any person subject to approval by the City’s TDR administrator subject to seven conditions. Whenever a TDR certificate changes hands, the City must issue a new TDR certificate.

The TDR ordinance authorizes the City to establish a TDR bank to buy and sell TDRs subject to common council approval. The bank can also accept donations of TDRs.

The City has a Nature Preserve that is planned to total to 640 acres when completed. The Preserve plan calls for returning the area to its pre-settlement condition by the restoration of wetlands as well as beech and maple forests. The City began acquiring this land in 2002 and, as of 2005, it had secured 408 acres and controlled roughly another 100 acres. In 2005, the City approved an agreement to preserve two TDR sending sites east of the Preserve with a total of 112 acres. The sending sites are located on the west side of Wauwatosa Road  south of Donges Bay Road. These parcels consist of a 36-acre parcel and a 76-acre parcel owned by the Wayside Nursery which would be allowed to continue growing trees and other plants on the property under the terms of the conservation easement.  The receiving area is a 69-acre parcel north of the Preserve on the west side of Wauwatosa Road approximately one-eighth of a mile north of Donges Bay Road. Here the developer, Paul Apfelbach, plans to build 64 condominium units in 32 buildings.


Mike Johnson, “Blending progress with saving the land,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, April 30, 2005.

Lawrence Sussman, “Mequon protects more land,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, October 12, 2005.

“Editorial: Preserving the preserve,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, October 16, 2005.