Comprehensive Planning


A comprehensive plan is a local government's guide to community physical, social, and economic development. Comprehensive plans are not meant to serve as land use regulations in themselves; instead, they provide a rational basis for local land use decisions with a twenty-year vision for future planning and community decisions.

The Wisconsin Comprehensive Planning Law does not mandate how a local community should grow, but it requires public participation at the local level in deciding a vision for the community's future. The uniqueness of individual comprehensive plans reflects community-specific and locally driven plannin​g processes.

While a local government may choose to include additional elements, a comprehensive plan must include AT LEAST all of the nine elements below as defined by the Comprehensive Planning Law (s. 66.1001).

  • Issues and Opportunities
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities and Community Facilities
  • Agricultural, Natural and Cultural Resources
  • Economic Development
  • Intergovernmental Cooperation
  • Land Use
  • Implementation

    Wisconsin Comprehensive Planning Legislation

    The Comprehensive Planning Law provides flexibility to local governments in addressing statutory requirements. Many communities choose to connect specific objectives, policies, and programs from throughout their comprehensive plan to responsible parties and timeframes in the implementation element, so that their hard work does not collect dust on a shelf. A central aspect of implementation is exercising land use regulation authorities.

    According to s. 66.1001, beginning on January 1, 2010, if a town, village, city, or county enacts or amends an official mapping, subdivision, or zoning ordinance, the enactment or amendment ordinance must be consistent with that community's comprehensive plan. State statutes also call for consistency with the local comprehensive plan in several other areas, as described in the Consistency Revisited article.

    Comprehensive Plan Update Requirement

    According to s. 66.1001(2)(i), comprehensive plans must be updated no less than once every 10 years.  However, the law does not define "update."

    Optimally, the local government would update all of the background information, such as demographic data and the current land use map.  It would also go through a public participatory process to evaluate all of the goals, objectives, policies, and programs put forth by the original plan and update them as needed, as well as the future land use map. Yet, a local government may also do much less to update its plan.  At a minimum, the local government must go through the process outlined in s. 66.10​01(4) to adopt the updated plan or readopt a version of the​ original plan if it still meets the community's needs. 

    Comprehensive Planning and DOA

    The former Wisconsin Comprehensive Planning Grant Program financially assisted local governments in the development and adoption of comprehensive plans in the past. From 2000 through 2010, comprehensive planning grants were awarded to municipalities, counties, tribes, and regional planning commissions. 

    No comprehensive planning grants have been awarded since 2010. No grants are planned for the future.

    The Wisconsin Land Information Program grant administrator assumes the following responsibilities related to local government comprehensive planning, but is only able to dedicate a small portion of his time toward them:

    • Maintaining a record of plans adopted
    • Answering common questions about comprehensive planning from land owners, local officials, and planning agencies