Waukesha County, Wisconsin*

Waukesha County, population 360,767 (2000), lies immediately west of the City of Milwaukee in southeast Wisconsin. Of the sixteen towns in Waukesha County, twelve have their own zoning codes. (One of these towns, Summit, offers TDR in its own zoning code.) The remaining four towns use the Waukesha County zoning code. However, only two of these four towns have the zoning districts in which the County Code allows TDR: Vernon and Ottawa.

Farmland owners in two towns, including the Town of Ottawa shown here, can use the TDR provisions in the Waukesha County Zoning Code.

In the towns of Vernon and Ottawa, transfers can only occur between the Rural Residential Density-5 (RRD-5), the Agricultural Density-10 (AD-10), the Conservancy/Wetland (C-1) and the Exclusive Agricultural Conservancy (A-E) districts. Land in these four zoning districts can serve as sending or receiving sites as long as various requirements are met to avoid the development of prime farmland and environmentally sensitive areas.

In the AD-10 zone, the minimum lot size is one acre and the maximum density is one dwelling per 10 acres. In the RRD-5 district, the minimum lot size is one acre and the maximum density is one unit per five acres. If a parcel zoned either AD-10 or RRD-5 also contains land zoned C-1 or A-E, up to 50 percent of that land can be used to calculate additional development rights at the rate of one development right per 50 acres. These development rights calculated from land in any of these four zones can be used on site if the owner can comply with various restrictions. For example, in the AD-10 zone, residential development is only allowed on non-prime or non-tillable land or on tillable prime soils that are less than 20 contiguous acres. Alternatively, landowners can use agricultural easements to create “agricultural preserved land” and transfer the development rights. In order to encourage development in areas designated for residential growth, development rights may be transferred from the AD-10 district to the RRD-5 district at a rate of 1.2 dwelling units per 10 acres.

The Town Planning Commission and the County Zoning Agency must approve all applications for transfers. In making this decision, the Commission and the Agency must determine that each proposal meets numerous standards designed to accomplish the goal of preserving rural environmental character and prime agricultural soils.

As with most TDR programs, easements are recorded preventing the future development of the sending parcels. However, in the Waukesha County TDR program, these easements allow the development of these lands in the event that sewer becomes available and the zoning of the land is changed in accordance with an adopted land use plan.

To date, the Town of Ottawa has not experienced a transfer. However, Kathy Moore, Senior Planner in the Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use, reports that the Town of Vernon has used TDR three or four times so far.

* This profile is unchanged from Beyond Takings and Givings