What’s the plan?

Comprehensive plan is ready for review by village leaders

It is likely the most important document in local government, and it is nearly done. 

The Mount Horeb Planning Commission will begin its review of the draft Comprehensive Plan on Nov. 29, hammering out a charter that will guide development, land use and the allocation of local government resources for a full decade. 

The village’s consultant, Vandewalle & Associates, recently compiled the current draft, which spans from the use of Tax Increment Financing and housing needs to the future of extraterritorial zoning and greenspace. The leviathan document, which is capable of testing the resilience of printers and the attention spans of readers alike, lays out the community’s past successes and failures, tries to pinpoint its present position, and offers up a range of future opportunities and challenges. 

Once finalized and approved by the full village board, the plan will be used by government officials, developers, residents and others interested in the future of the village “to guide growth, development, redevelopment and preservation.” All zoning, subdivision and official map ordinances and decisions will have to be consistent with the new comprehensive plan once it is approved. 

The village has grown considerably in recent decades, and one theme in the new plan is how - and where - village leaders will be able to accommodate future growth. Mount Horeb experienced rapid growth between 1970-2010, from 20 percent to 40 percent per decade. Over the last decade the population continued to increase, but at a slower clip of five percent. The draft plan says this was a result of “the economic downturn and stagnant recovery following the housing market collapse and Great Recession in 2008.” 

“This trend is common throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest, outside of Madison and some of its neighboring communities which have continued to grow at accelerated rates compared to the rest of the state,” it states. “For example, the City of Verona, Village of Oregon, Village of Cross Plains, and Dane County as-a-whole all grew by at least 11 percent over the past decade, whereas Mount Horeb, many neighboring towns, and the state all grew at a much slower rate.”

According to Vandewalle, the village’s population, which was 7,486 at the start of this year, is projected to reach somewhere between 8,619 and 12,695 by the year 2040. Either way, that’s a lot of new people, and one of the key questions facing village leaders is where they will live. 

The village’s economic development director, Rowan Childs, is playing a central role in the Comprehensive Planning process. She said last week she’s excited about the level of public input that went into the draft document, and about the way it dovetails with other long-term planning efforts. 

“I have to admit, I’m kind of nerdy about the comprehensive plan,” she joked. 

“I think, definitely, the public input part is exciting,” she said. “Engaging with community members, explaining the process to them and getting their input.”

Childs said the public survey and outreach that went into the plan earlier this year gleaned input from a variety of people, from lifelong residents to those who just moved here, and from retirees to teens.

“It was overwhelming from every group that we heard from; everyone wants to maintain the character and the charm of Mount Horeb,” she added.

With that in mind, it’s clear, based on economic factors and the text of the draft, that the village does plan to grow. The only question is how. 

“I think definitely, Mount Horeb will grow,” Childs observed. She said it should occur “strategically.”

“Definitely, when you arrive in Mount Horeb, you know you are here,” she said. That, she hopes, remains true even as the community evolves and changes. 

In addition to the consultant and the public survey, the plan draws from the findings of a recent housing task force, as well as the community’s outdoor recreation planning work. 

Even if approved, the plan would be only a roadmap; in order for the vision and goals of the comprehensive plan to become reality, specific follow-up actions will be required. The final plan “should provide a roadmap for these implementation actions by identifying priority programs and actions, as well as describing how [the] plan is used, monitored, and updated to maintain its relevance to the village.”

It includes a compilation of programs and specific actions that should be completed as required under Wisconsin law.  



Village Will Look 

to Expand its Borders…

According to draft Comprehensive Planning documents, the village should “Continue to Exercise Extraterritorial Land Division Review and Approval/Denial Authority.”

Under law, cities and villages are granted the authority to plan for and influence development in unincorporated areas – in other words, towns, that are beyond their municipal limits but are “reasonably related to the village’s future growth.”

Under state law, Mount Horeb’s ETJ extends 1.5 miles from the village limits. This applies to areas within the village’s  or ETJ [extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction], including in the Town of Blue Mounds, where town and village leaders have not seen eye-to-eye in recent years. 

Mount Horeb has several neighboring towns that will factor into its future development. They are Blue Mounds, Springdale, Vermont and Cross Plains.

 “For lands within its ETJ, the village has the authority to prepare land use plans and to help enforce these plans as well as review, approve, or deny land division proposals for such areas,” says the draft Comprehensive Plan. “The majority of the lands outside ... Mount Horeb’s municipal limits that are not in environmental corridors have been indicated on the Village’s Future Land Use maps as appropriate for long-term agricultural use. It is recommended that Mount Horeb continue to exercise its extraterritorial land division review authority in areas where intergovernmental boundary agreements are not feasible.”

Also according to the document, the village should finalize formal boundary agreements with multiple neighboring towns. 

While development within existing village borders can be fairly straightforward in most cases, projects that are annexed into the village often require more work. The village administrator said the new comprehensive plan will need to serve as a guide for Mount Horeb as it looks to expand its borders and continue growing. 

“I think, overall, Mount Horeb has been able to grow, and for the most part it’s been slow and steady and within our borders,” said village administrator Nic Owen. “It’s getting to the point where that’s no longer possible. We’re going to need to look beyond our [current] borders if we want to continue to grow and expand our tax base.”

Owen said he’s cognizant of the fact that doing so will require diplomacy and tact. 

“It’s nothing personal,” he said. “It’s business, in a way. We respect our neighbors, and we understand that they want to preserve their open space and protect their tax bases.” 

The village’s current subdivision and land division regulations within undeveloped portions of its 1.5-mile radius extraterritorial jurisdiction compliment the county and state efforts to preserve farmland by restricting new residential density to one dwelling per 35 acres for areas not served by sanitary sewer or are willing to annex to the village. The plan says the village should support policies which protect farmland by focusing new development within established urban centers.

Based on the projected population increase, land demand for new development over the next two decades is projected to be approximately 575 acres. The supply of land available for development includes areas of the village that have been approved for development but are not yet built out, lands currently within the village limits but not yet developed, land available for redevelopment, and undeveloped land outside the village limits. Of the available acres in the village right now, there are an existing 58 building-ready residential lots available (as of October 2021). Development-ready areas include the vacant platted parcels at the intersection of Springdale Street and USH 151 and a few other “small pockets” along Springdale Street. 

In other words, it is anticipated that the village would need to annex land out of surrounding towns in order to accommodate its future growth over the next 20 years. 


Neighboring Communities:

Blue Mounds

The Town of Blue Mounds completed a full update to its Comprehensive Plan in 2017, with the most recent amendments occurring in 2020. Three years ago, the town left Dane County Zoning and created their own Zoning Ordinance. 

Within the town’s Comprehensive Plan, the Recommend Commercial and Industrial Development Areas Map shows the USH 151 and CTH ID corridor, west of the village’s existing municipal boundary, for future town growth. Much of this area is located within the village’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction area and some of these lands are shown on the Village’s Future Land Use Map for future village growth. 

In recent years, the Town of Blue Mounds’ priorities have shifted to growing non-residential tax base and this has led to approval of new commercial and industrial re-zonings in the areas around USH 151 and CTH ID. Both the town and village have concerns around land use decisions, but their perspectives and interests are different. The village is concerned with “potentially getting boxed in” by town development on the west and the town is concerned about the number of annexations into Mount Horeb that have occurred in recent years. 

In combination, this prompted Mount Horeb to enact Extraterritorial Zoning (ETZ) in the Town in 2020. That move, while legal, evoked the ire of town leaders, who replied with scathing statements about the village and its approach to land use. Attempts by the two sides to come together have not gone particularly well, to date, and the town threatened to sue the village earlier this year.  


The Town of Springdale adopted its Comprehensive Plan in 2002, with subsequent amendments occurring over the past 20 years. Most recently, the plan was amended in 2019. The Town’s Planned Land Use Map shows predominantly agricultural uses with some pockets of residential in the southeast and northern portions of the town. The Town of Springdale is also under Dane County Zoning, which limits land division splits to one per 35 acres for A-1 Exclusive Ag areas. However, the majority of the Town is shown as Mixed Agricultural/Low Density on the Planned Land Use Map, which is defined as a density of between one dwelling unit per 25 acres and one dwelling unit per 14 acres. There are a few conflicts between the Town’s Plan and the Village’s Plan, in particular future village growth shown around the eastern USH 151/Springdale Street interchange and north of CTH ID abutting the village’s existing municipal boundary. Owen said the village and the town plan to discuss land use further in the near future. 


The Town of Vermont lies on the western border of Dane County, north of the Village of Mount Horeb’s municipal boundary but within its ETJ planning area. The Town adopted its Comprehensive Plan in 2009, which shows three different Future Land Use categories: no building allowed, restrictions on homesite, and rural preservation area. One of the key objectives of the Town’s Plan is to protect and preserve the ridgetops of the rolling hills in the area. This is accomplished through the Ridgetop Protection Area that limits building heights on the shoulder of hills. The Town uses Dane County Zoning and the Exclusive Agricultural Zoning district. There are no conflicts between this Plan and the Town of Vermont’s Comprehensive Plan outlined in Mount Horeb’s draft. 

Cross Plains

Like Vermont, the Town of Cross Plains is located to the north of the village within its ETJ. The Town’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2009, with the most recent amendments taking place in 2020. The majority of the town is shown as Agricultural Preservation, outside of a small area surrounding the intersection of CTH S (Mineral Point Road) and CTH P. The town also uses Dane County Zoning. There are no conflicts between this plan and the Town of Cross Plain’s Comprehensive Plan, according to the proposal currently before the village. 


The Future of Housing 

in Mount Horeb

The Mount Horeb Housing Task Force was created in 2020. It includes village staff, elected officials, local business owners and employers, residents and other community stakeholders. In 2021, the task force partnered with UW-Extension to conduct a community-wide survey and develop a summary report. Nearly 1,500 people took part in the online survey, which was conducted immediately prior to the start of this Comprehensive Plan process. The recommendations from the summary report were reviewed and adopted by the village plan commission and village board in the summer of 2021, and were reported at length in the Mail

The housing recommendations are included in the draft comprehensive plan. They include: 

Construction of 155 housing units to targeted households making 60-100 percent of area median income in the next five years; 

Construction of 100 income-qualified workforce rental units within the next 5 years;

Conduct additional needs assessments for new senior housing;

Work with developers and lenders to pursue a variety of housing loans and assistance; 

Identify land for both small infill housing projects and larger-unit housing projects;

Work with developers to build small-scale real estate ownership projects; 

Require a range of housing types in new developments;

Amend the Zoning Ordinance to allow smaller residential lots and setbacks;

Rezone land that is currently industrial or agricultural to mixed-use;

Create priority development zones to incentivize developers;

Explore the potential for land banking;

Evaluate existing infrastructure and develop a plan to accommodate future development;

Hold periodic educational and outreach events for first time homebuyers;

Establish a long-term committee to analyze and evaluate progress; 

Boost “marketing efforts.”


Homes, Parks and More

The draft Comprehensive Plan indicates that residential development comprises about 40 percent of the land area within the village’s municipal boundary, consisting of 701 acres of single-family development, 71 acres of two-family development, and 57 acres of multi-family residential development. Single-family land uses are concentrated throughout the village in nearly every direction from CTH ID. Two-family and multi-family land uses are scattered throughout the village, adjacent to several main transportation corridors within many different residential neighborhoods. 

Non-residential development industrial uses comprise 1.5 percent of the total land area within the village. 

Parks and Open Space are also scattered throughout the village and include all village parks, the Military Ridge State Trail and Stewart County Park. In total, these combine to account for 25 percent of the village’s total land area. 

Vacant subdivided land makes up another five percent of the land area within the village. Much of this land is platted for future residential development, in addition to a large area near the Springdale Street/USH 151 interchange platted for future industrial development. Beyond the village’s existing municipal boundary, agricultural and environmental corridors are the primary land use type. 


‘Cultural Assets’

The draft plan identifies several ‘cultural assets’ that can help the village achieve its goals. They include the library, the chamber of commerce, the historical society, the senior center and the recreation department. 


Comp Plan Suggests 

Major Zoning Changes:

A key recommendation to assist in implementing the plan is to update  the village’s current Zoning Ordinance. The following strategic amendments are recommended: 

1. Develop a smaller minimum lot size single-family zoning district (5,000 square feet) to accommodate older areas of the community and future small lot single-family neighborhoods;

2. Separate the R-3 Zoning District into three different tiers of multi-family family development by density (i.e. 3-8 units, 9-20 units, 21 and greater units);

3. Establish a Heavy Industrial and Mineral Extraction Zoning District to give the Village greater control over these land uses through the rezoning process, rather than a Conditional Use Permit;

4. Promote mixed-use development by allowing residential above commercial by-right in all commercial districts;

5. Add Accessory Dwelling Units or In-Family Suites as permitted land uses in the R-1 District;

6. Incentivize new multi-family and commercial development to include electric vehicle charging stations or, at a minimum, infrastructure to support charging stations in the future;

7. Update the Village’s Historic Preservation Standards to improve application, administration, and user-friendliness;

8. Increase the maximum building height downtown to six stories to promote higher density development;

9. Address sustainability throughout the Zoning Ordinance either through additional requirements or providing incentives to incorporate them within new development;

10. Rewrite the Sign Ordinance to bring it into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court Reed v. Gilbert (2015) decision;

11. Rewrite the Conditional Use Permit procedures section to bring it into compliance with Wisconsin Act 67. Additionally, consider making more land uses permitted by-right instead of using Conditional Use Permits to reflect the changes made by Wisconsin Act 67. This could require additional Zoning Districts for high-intensity and unique development;

12. Include provisions that would require all natural resource features be depicted on site plans, preliminary plats, or certified survey maps in order to facilitate the preservation of natural resources;

13. Reevaluate the temporary land uses to reflect modern uses and provide regulations to address both residential and nonresidential temporary storage containers.





The draft Comprehensive Plan makes several key economic development recommendations, and says the village should  enforce high-quality design standards for commercial, industrial and mixed-use projects. “To ensure the development of non-residential projects that complement the character and enhance the image of Mount Horeb, the village intends to seek high-quality design for new future development,” states the plan. “Such standards should apply to all new development and redevelopment projects. Village enforcement of these standards will be particularly important along key corridors and at major entryways to the community. Mount Horeb will utilize the following standards for future commercial, mixed use, office, and industrial developments.”

The recommendations 


New driveways with adequate throat depths to allow for proper vehicle stacking;

Limited number of access drives along arterial and collector streets;

Common driveways serving more than one commercial use, wherever possible;

High quality landscaping treatment of buffer-yards, street frontages, paved areas and building foundations;

Street trees along all public street frontages;

Intensive activity areas such as building entrances, service and loading areas, parking lots, and trash receptacle storage areas oriented away from less intensive land uses; 

Parking lots heavily landscaped with perimeter landscaping and/or landscaped islands, along with screening to block views from streets and residential uses; 

Parking to the sides and rear of buildings, rather than all parking in front; 

Signage that is high quality and not excessive in height or total square footage;

Location of loading docks, dumpsters, mechanical equipment, and outdoor storage areas behind buildings and away from less intensive land uses; 

Complete screening of loading docks, dumpsters, mechanical equipment, and outdoor storage areas using landscaping, walls, and architectural features;

Safe, convenient, and separated pedestrian and bicycle access to the site from the parking areas to the buildings, and to adjacent commercial developments;

Site design features that allow pedestrians to walk parallel to moving cars;

Illumination from lighting kept on-site through use of cut-off luminaires; 

High-quality building materials, such as brick, wood, stone, and tinted masonry; 

Canopies, awnings, trellises, bays, and windows to add visual interest to facades;

Variations in building height and roof lines, including parapets, multi-planed, and pitched roofs and staggered building facades (variations in wall depth and/or direction);

All building façades containing architectural details and of similar quality as the front building façade;

Central features that add to community character, such as patios and benches;

Discourage franchise architecture;


Environmental Initiatives

“Businesses can play a key role in advancing sustainability in a community by assuming a position as a role model for the community,” states the draft plan. “For example, businesses may develop incentives programs for workers to engage in more sustainable personal practices.”

The following are a few ideas for businesses noted in the plan: 

Incorporating sustainable practices and operational policies in the company’s business model;

Conducting an energy audit of the facility to uncover new ways of saving both money and resources;

Establishing a green benefits program that provides incentives/awards to employees to reward sustainable behavior, for participating in sustainable activities, such as a live-near-your-work program, purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle, commuting by bicycle, carpooling, or riding transit;

Developing a company newsletter or social media posts about the company’s sustainable projects and initiatives; 

Promote the use of alternative fuel vehicles and renewable energy sources;

Partnering with the Village on future sustainability and climate resiliency efforts. 

Pursue Redevelopment of Underutilized Properties: It is recommended that redevelopment projects “maximize tax base and job opportunities and enhance community appearance.” Redevelopment should be considered where there is an opportunity to cooperatively redevelop lands to a “greater intensity and with a broader mix of quality uses that takes advantage of locational amenities and access.”

The plan mentions parcels along Front Street, Military Ridge Trail, Perimeter Road, Cox Drive,  CTH ID, Springdale Street and Main Street as sites for redevelopment. 

They plan says village government should be “aggressively pursuing” redevelopment using Tax Increment Financing (TIF), brownfield remediation, site acquisition, consolidation, demolition and “developer recruitment.”


Trolls and More: 

Mount Horeb’s ‘Themes’

In 2017, the Village of Mount Horeb adopted the Downtown Redevelopment Plan, establishing a “vision” for the area, identifying key opportunities, outlining recommendations and prioritizing future projects. A set of overarching “themes” were developed to illustrate the area’s advantages and assets when “marketing and branding” in the future. These themes included trolls, outdoor recreation, destination shopping, history/heritage, local food/agriculture, arts/artisans, indoor programming entertainment and residential/housing opportunities. 

Many of these same themes were brought up consistently during the public participation events of the Comprehensive Planning process, as alluded to by Childs.  

The draft Comprehensive Plan called the existing Downtown Redevelopment Plan “a success.”  It noted several recent projects, including the Duluth Trading Company corporate offices, the establishment of a façade grant program that has been utilized by several property owners, the village turning the former Fire Station into additional downtown parking, and private redevelopment of “underutilized” sites along both Front and Lincoln Street. 

Two key tools utilized by village government to implement the Downtown Redevelopment Plan were the creation of Tax Increment Financing District (TID) 5 and the creation of an Economic Development Director position, says the draft plan. 

The TIF district was established in 2016  and closes in 2042. It encompasses most of the downtown. It has provided financial assistance to property owners in the area. 

In 2020, the village created the Economic Development Director position and hired Childs to lead the implementation of the downtown plan. “This position has made a significant difference in acting as a leadership position for not only downtown, but also economic development efforts throughout the community,” states the draft Comprehensive Plan. “As of 2021, there are still redevelopment opportunities downtown and action items to be completed from the plan. It is recommended that the village continue with these efforts driving change in the area, but also reevaluate, reprioritize, and update the Downtown Redevelopment Plan within the next five years. 

“Business attraction is another key economic strategy, along with growing new businesses and retaining/expanding existing businesses,” states the draft. “Attraction of industries from outside of Mount Horeb and the region will help expand the breadth and depth of the village’s economy. Techniques for attracting new businesses are often similar to those used to retain existing businesses.”


Strategies specifically

geared toward 

attracting new 

business include: 

Build on the community’s strong support of existing local businesses and those that cater to local customers to attract new locally-oriented businesses. 

Implement the village’s economic strategy to attract technology, innovation, small retail/restaurants, and information businesses and entrepreneurs, in addition to educating and preparing the local workforce to fill the roles of the future. 

Develop an inventory of a broad range (e.g. size and location) of sites which are already improved with streets, sanitary sewer, and water services and are ready for construction. 

Continue to foster a streamlined approach to development approvals. 

Consider a pre-approved building plan where a prospective business seeking a quick opening could begin construction immediately, according to the approved plan.

Market existing and future business parks. 

Create a healthy mix of downtown businesses and residences (destination retail, food, beverage, service, entertainment, and single/multi-family housing) that will serve as a magnet for local residents and tourists/travelers. 

Identify and market specifically to target clusters that relate to the Village’s existing businesses or capitalize on the community’s place-based assets. 

Encourage the formation of groups organized around particular business/industry clusters to guide local educational institutions in providing appropriate training and help policy makers understand industry requirements for success. 

Define and identify the workforce skill sets available from community members, and market the Village’s quality labor force, highlighting skills, dedication, and availability as workforce assets. 

Grow the local entrepreneurial base through regional collaboration with educational institutions and other economic development-focused groups or organizations. 

Continue to increase tourism by leveraging the recreational assets of the area to attract new and support existing restaurant, entertainment, and lodging options. 

Further Utilize Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) to help implement the recommendations in this Plan, the appropriate and thoughtful use of TIF will place Mount Horeb in a much stronger position when working with developers and business owners. It will also allow the village to vie for types of projects that might not otherwise be possible without it, projects of a scale and quality that can change the local market and generate other quality projects. 


Tax Increment Financing 

According to the plan, Mount Horeb “has a solid track record of “using TIF responsibility to promote growth and development in the community. Although development in TID 3 and 4 has lagged the initial projections contained in their respective project plans, both were significantly impacted by the Great Recession, and TID 4 also has been negatively impacted by the ‘dark store’ assessment challenges for retail properties. Nevertheless, both are fiscally sound and have resulted in valuation growth far above the Village as a whole. TID 3 will likely need to remain open for its entire statutory life in order to pay off its outstanding obligations while TID 4 will close early. TID 5, on the other hand, has seen increases in value beyond those projected when the District was created and remains posed for additional growth in the near future.”

The village does not own much property in any of the districts but “has done a good job of staying in contact with owners to encourage appropriate development consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and TID project plans.” “Mount Horeb continues to be an attractive location for a variety of residential, commercial and industrial uses, so the village should remain diligent in ensuring that development is of the type and quality appropriate to the area whether or not TIF assistance is needed for the projects,” the plan states. 

State law limits the combined value increment in all open TIF districts to 12 percent of the total valuation of the village. Communities can grow over this limit, but once the limit is exceeded, no new districts can be created, and no property can be added to existing districts unless property is subtracted. Mount Horeb is well below that limit. 

“However, there has been increasing interest in creating a business park in the Village with an accompanying new TID. While there is more than enough ‘TIF capacity’ to create one or more new districts, rapid growth within them may approach the limit,” says the plan. 


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