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The Who, What and How of Plan Commissions in Southeast Wisconsin

Plan commissions play an important role in municipal government proceedings throughout Wisconsin; nearly every municipality has one and many local officials view them as a critical component of local land use decision-making. But what exactly do local plan commissions do? What is their distinct role in and contribution to the development process, particularly in the Greater Milwaukee area? Who are the volunteer members that contribute hours of their time to understand and review land use decisions in communities throughout our region?

Utilizing survey and interview data, this report defines the roles and characteristics of local plan commissions in southeast Wisconsin. It also explores possibilities for enhancing plan commission performance and ensuring that citizens are cognizant of ways in which they can have input into local planning decisions.

Key findings from the report include the following:

  • The impact of each plan commission often hinges on how its respective municipality defines its role and capacity.
  • The timing of plan commission involvement in the decision-making process makes a difference.
  • Effective communications between plan commissions and governing bodies often are lacking.
  • Individual plan commissions tend to operate in a vacuum.