Community Assistance


Model Ordinances and Guides

Planning Guides and Model Ordinances

SEWRPC educational efforts include the preparation and publication of SEWRPC planning guides. Planning guides are intended to constitute manuals of local planning practice. The goal is to improve the overall quality of public planning within the Region and thereby promote sound community development, properly coordinated on a Region-wide basis. The guides discuss basic planning and plan implementation practice, contain examples of good planning practice, and provide local government with model ordinances and forms to assist them in their everyday planning efforts.

These guides deal with:

The following model ordinances are available:

Examples of recent ordinances are also available on request. 


Zoning Guide Update


SEWRPC has begun work on an update to its Zoning Guide.  Materials prepared as part of the update will be posted here as they are completed:


Landscaping Guides and Invasive Species Eradication


Plant Selection Guide for Landscaping

Plant selection guides can help the public and site developers select plants for development and redevelopment sites.  These guides can also assist local Plan Commissions and staff when reviewing site plans and landscape plans submitted by developers.  SEWRPC, in consultation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin Extension, has developed lists of plants that are suitable for, and available in, the Southeastern Wisconsin Region.

Plants should be selected to achieve their intended purpose or function, such as contributing to sustainability through drought-tolerant landscaping or increasing groundwater recharge, and/or establishing a desired design theme or visual character. Prior to selecting plants for a specific location, site characteristics should be considered, including soil type, drainage conditions, hardiness zone, growing space, sunlight and water availability, wind exposure, salt exposure/plant tolerance, utility lines, traffic visibility, snow coverage and storage, expected foot traffic and compaction, among other site conditions that could affect the growth of plants. A variety of plants should be used to establish species diversity which helps prevent the wide-spread loss of plants from disease and pest infestations.

The plant selection guide is divided into seven parts, consisting of deciduous trees, evergreen trees, deciduous shrubs, evergreen shrubs, ornamental grasses, groundcovers, and vines. Trees, shrubs, and ornamental grasses are further grouped by height.  Both detailed and abbreviated versions are provided:

In addition to the plant selection guide, SEWRPC has developed lists of potential street trees and drought-tolerant plants suitable for the Region:

Considerations for Local Governments and Developers

Plants for a development site or area should be selected based on their intended purpose (for example, providing screening or providing areas for infiltration/groundwater recharge and other green infrastructure), to help establish a design theme for a development project, and/or achieve a desired neighborhood or community character.  Interesting or creative landscape architectural details that use a diversity of plants in planting patterns integrated with other landscape features should be encouraged to avoid uncreative and monotonous landscape designs. To be avoided are plants spaced too far apart with excessively large gaps or the monotonous view of a long straight hedge consisting of only one or two types of shrubs that are not properly integrated as a part of a design theme.

As a general guide, trees and shrubs used for buffering or screening purposes should consist of the following minimum sizes:

  • Deciduous shade trees and ornamental trees should contain a caliper size of at least two inches and 1.5 inches in diameter, respectively, which are measured at least six inches above the root system or ground level.
  • Evergreen trees should be at least five to six feet in height.
  • Deciduous and evergreen shrubs used to screen parking areas from public streets should be at least 18 to 24 inches in height and grow to obtain an overall screening height of at least three feet above the parking surface after three years. A minimum plant size of five to six feet in height is suggested for buffering between incompatible land uses. Smaller plants could be used if combined with other landscape measures, such as planters or berms, provided the desired degree of buffering or screening is achieved.

Deciduous trees selected for installation along streets should contain a caliper size of at least two inches in diameter, measured 4.5 feet (about chest height) above ground level. The over-use of one type of tree should be avoided. For more information on street trees, refer to the sources listed at the end of the tables of “Potential Street Trees for Southeastern Wisconsin.”

Invasive Plants

Existing invasive plants should be properly removed and the use of such plants for landscaping should be avoided.  Section 23.22, “Invasive Species,” of the Wisconsin Statutes assigns the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources responsibility for establishing a Statewide program to control invasive plant and animal species in the State.  Chapter NR 40 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, “Invasive Species Identification, Classification and Control,” lists plant and animal species that are considered invasive and methods for their control.  Section 66.0407, “Nuisance Weeds,” of the Statutes provides further direction for the control of invasive species/noxious weeds, and also authorizes towns, villages, and cities to provide public notice regarding the control of noxious weeds in the community.  Links to the Wisconsin Statutes and Administrative Code are provided on the Wisconsin Legislature’s website:

The following manuals provide information on invasive plants and proper eradication methods for four areas of concern (recreation, forestry, urban forestry, and transportation and utility rights-of-way):


Open Space Subdivision Design


Open space subdivision design, sometimes referred to as cluster development design, involves the grouping of dwellings on a portion of a development parcel in order to preserve the remainder of the parcel in open space. Management options for the open space areas include, among others, preservation of existing natural features, restoration of natural conditions, and agricultural use. The open space may be owned by a homeowners association, a county or local government, the State, a land trust or other nonprofit conservation organization, or the original landowner. Conservation easements and deed restrictions should be used to protect the common open space from future conversion to more intensive uses, and the local or county government with primary responsibility for approving the subdivision should require submittal of a Stewardship Plan for restoration and maintenance of common open space areas.

In comparison to conventional subdivision designs, open space subdivisions afford greater opportunity for preserving open space and maintaining the natural resources of the parcel being developed. When properly designed, the visual impact of new residential development from surrounding streets and adjoining parcels can be minimized and significant natural features and/or agricultural lands can be protected from development. Public infrastructure maintenance costs may be reduced due to shortened street and utility lengths.

An "open space subdivision," also referred to as a “cluster development,” is defined by SEWRPC as a housing development characterized by compact lots and permanently preserved open space, where the natural features of the site are retained to the greatest extent possible.  SEWRPC recommends that a minimum of 60 percent of the net site area be set aside as open space in open space subdivisions in unsewered (rural) areas and a minimum of, desirably, 40 percent of the net site area be set aside as open space in sewered (urban) areas.  The net site area is defined as the gross tract area minus all street and utility rights-of-way existing prior to development.

Although the term “conservation subdivision” is also used to refer to housing development characterized by compact lots and preserved open space, Randall Arendt, one of the leading proponents of conservation design and author of several books on the subject, has recommended that the term “conservation subdivisions” be used only to describe subdivisions in rural (unsewered) areas at relatively low housing densities that set aside a significant amount of open space (60 to 75 percent open space, including a portion of “unconstrained” land that would otherwise be developable due to the absence of wetlands, floodplains, or other constraints).  Section 66.1027(1)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes defines a conservation subdivision as “a housing development in a rural setting that is characterized by compact lots and common open space, and where the natural features of land are maintained to the greatest extent possible.”  Although the Statutory definition does not specify a minimum percentage of open space, it does describe conservation subdivisions in terms of rural development. SEWRPC therefore uses the more general term “open space subdivision” to refer to housing development that clusters housing units to help preserve open space on a development site, which can include development in both urban and rural areas.  Initial SEWRPC publications on the subject use the term “rural cluster development” because they focused on open space subdivisions in rural areas.

SEWRPC has produced the following publications about rural cluster development/open space subdivisions:

Several county and local (city, village, and town) governments in the Region have adopted regulations that would accommodate open space subdivisions.  A summary of these regulations is provided on the following table.  Note that not all of the county and local government regulations comply with SEWRPC recommendations for open space subdivisions, including recommendations for the minimum percentage of open space to be set aside and the requirement for Stewardship Plans for common open space. 

A summary of ordinance requirements for open space subdivisions adopted by county and local governments in Southeastern Wisconsin (May 2008).


Comprehensive Planning (“Smart Growth”)


In 1999, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted legislation that expanded the scope and significance of comprehensive plans within the State. The legislation, often referred to as the State’s "Smart Growth" law, provides a modified framework for the development, adoption, and implementation of comprehensive plans by regional planning commissions and by county, city, village, and town units of government. The law is set forth in Section 66.1001 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

See Comprehensive Planning page for more information.

Topics Found Here

Planning Guides and Model Ordinances

Landscaping Guides and Invasive Species Eradication

Open Space Subdivision Design

Comprehensive Planning ("Smart Growth")

Contact Us

Nancy M. Anderson, AICP
Chief Community Assistance Planner

Richard R. Kania, RLA, AICP
Principal Planner
Site Tools

Translate This Page
Contact Us

Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission


W239 N1812 Rockwood Drive
P.O. Box 1607
Waukesha, WI 53187-1607


Monday - Friday
8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.


Phone: (262) 547-6721
Fax: (262) 547-1103