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Citizen group will shape Winona County's future (08/28/2013)
By Sarah Squires
Public safety. Bluff protection. Agriculture. Sand mining. Tourism. Industry. The list goes on and on, but what it all boils down to is the future of Winona County. What will local leaders support and uphold through regulations, spending, and land use decisions; what will they let fall to the wayside?

These questions will be answered within the new Winona County Comprehensive Land Use Plan being drafted by a citizen committee charged with finding a vision for the future of the county. Touted as a grassroots, citizen-driven effort, the committee is currently finding its footing and attempting to define exactly how the public will be able to provide ideas and input, how the public will help shape the future spelled out within its pages.

Some committee members hoped to have some draft concepts on the table before hosting public meetings or attending township meetings to gather additional input, while others felt it necessary to solicit ideas from citizens before coming up with rough ideas to include in the plan.

At their August meeting, committee members also discussed the timing of public meetings as the fall harvest season approaches. Because so many rural landowners are busy with farming-related activities during the fall months, committee members discussed the possibility of having a large initial public meeting to "get the word out" about the process, then follow that up with gathering input through rural and township meetings and possible surveys in early winter months.

There is plenty of work to be done until then. Much of the committee's work over the next several months will simply be in gathering and digesting data trends and identifying information committee members would like to evaluate as the process moves ahead.

One thing that has been decided is the committee's mission statement: "To best utilize the natural resources, human resources and capital to help position Winona County to improve future lifestyle of citizens and visitors."

During the committee's July and August meetings, members discussed things they'd like to see changed in the new comprehensive plan and went over some basic information about demographic and economic changes in the region. From the projected future demand for silica sand to serve the hydraulic fracturing oil and gas industry, to the economic impact of tourism in the area, to the consolidation of farms and the trend of smaller hobby farms being established, committee members reviewed data that will help them create the new plan.

Some members said they felt the 2000 comprehensive plan did not do enough to address industrial development in the county. Committee member Don Evanson said that because the city of Winona has little vacant industrial land, the county needed to do more to facilitate that kind of development and prevent new industry from passing the region over in favor of other states.

Comprehensive plans are used as guiding documents for land use decisions and regulations, expressing the communities' broad interests that are expected to be carried out through the zoning ordinance and other local government actions. Some committee members said they wondered whether the relatively new zoning ordinance would be changed to reflect the goals that the new comprehensive plan would define, and wondered why the comprehensive plan wasn't rewritten before the county wrote the new zoning ordinance.

Committee Chair Mike Flynn said the situation was like the question of the chicken and the egg. "If you don't start here, then you're never going to get different planning and zoning," he said.

Committee member Andy Kronebusch, who was involved with the last process for revising the comprehensive plan, said the county should rework the zoning ordinance when the new comprehensive plan is completed to reflect the changes made. The 2000 comp plan, he said, calls for cluster housing developments, and yet it did not appear to spark that kind of rural housing. The new zoning ordinance, he said, is taking more agricultural land out of production because it now requires a person to own 40 acres to build a home without a conditional use permit. The previous zoning ordinance merely required that a new home be placed on a quarter-quarter section of land that didn't include another house, he said. "It's just the little things like that that make me feel like what we [wrote in the comp plan] 10 years ago, [they] didn't listen," added Kronebusch.  


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