Forest receives notice of lawsuit by ‘Preserving Rural Values, Inc.’

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF FOREST — Preserving Rural Values, Inc. has filed a notice of claim with the Town of Forest alleging that the town board violated state law in amending Forest’s comprehensive plan and is seeking damages that could total more than $100,000.

The notice of claim is dated December 19 and was delivered to Jaime Junker, town chair, and Marilyn Benson, town clerk.

Preserving Rural Values is represented by Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Attorneys at Law, out of Madison.

Preserving Rural Values Inc. is described in the notice of claim as a legal entity organized by dozens of Town of Forest residents opposed to the recent changes to the township’s Smart Growth comprehensive land use plan and the draft zoning ordinance approved by the town board.

The Forest Town Board adopted an ordinance November 21 for the amended comprehensive plan that completely replaces the original comprehensive plan dated December 8, 2009.

The amended comprehensive plan removes all references to supporting the right to farm and has removed references to supporting renewable forms of energy. The amended plan includes language that supports the development of residential subdivisions.

The original comprehensive plan adopted in 2009 was developed after a series of public meetings, after holding public visioning sessions and after compiling surveys sent out to township residents.

At issue is that members of Preserving Rural Values Inc. believe the Forest Town Board violated state law by failing to follow the public participation procedures for amending a comprehensive plan found under Wisconsin Statute 66.1001(4)(a).

According to state law, “the governing body of a local governmental unit shall adopt written procedures that are designed to foster public participation, including open discussion, communication programs, information services, and public meetings for which advance notice has been provided, in every stage of the preparation of a comprehensive plan. The written procedures shall provide for wide distribution of proposed, alternative, or amended elements of a comprehensive plan and shall provide an opportunity for written comments on the plan to be submitted by members of the public to the governing body and for the governing body to respond to such written comments. The written procedures shall describe the methods the governing body of a local governmental unit will use to distribute proposed, alternative, or amended elements of a comprehensive plan to owners of property, or to persons who have a leasehold interest in property pursuant to which the persons may extract nonmetallic mineral resources in or on property, in which the allowable use or intensity of use of the property is changed by the comprehensive plan.”

Written procedures for the original comprehensive plan are included with the plan adopted in 2009.

Forest’s written procedures for the original comprehensive plan included an “issues and opportunities identification” workshop; a statistically valid community opinion survey; a community vision and design workshop; an open house and information or education meeting; and notice to governmental districts adjacent to the Town of Forest.

According to the notice of claim, “none of these mandatory procedures were followed in the course of adopting the Amended Plan” that was adopted by the town board November 21, 2013.

The notice of claim goes on to say that the amended comprehensive plan will have a direct and negative impact on property owned by the members of Preserving Rural Values Inc.

Preserving Rural Values is seeking a court order to stop the enforcement of the amended comprehensive plan and any zoning ordinances enacted to support the amended comprehensive plan.

According to state law, zoning ordinances must be consistent with the comprehensive plan.

Preserving Rural Values Inc. also is seeking to recover any damages suffered as a result of the invalidity of the amended plan, which could total more than $100,000.

A copy of the notice of claim also was sent to Catherine Munkittrick, an attorney representing the Forest Town Board.