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Committee seeks ideas for county plan for future (11/20/2013)
By Sarah Squires
Seeing the stars at night; woods, trout streams, wild berries and morels.

The quiet, slow-paced lifestyle; the clean look of the bluffs and woods; the fresh air.

My family; the land; the freedom.

What do you enjoy about life in Winona County? Above are a handful of responses to that question, offered by city and township officials in a survey to help guide a plan that will take Winona County into the future. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) is the document that serves as the framework for land use regulations, such as those contained within the zoning ordinance, as well as policy and land use permitting decisions made by elected officials.

A citizen group has been at work for months, gathering information and ideas from residents as it prepares to update the CLUP. On Monday, the committee held an informational workshop to inform the public about its work thus far.

The workshop drew about a dozen citizens, who spent the evening talking with committee members and county employees about the process and were able to review a presentation on information gathered by the committee over the last several months. From the anticipated continued demand for silica sand for the hydraulic fracturing industry, to rural development, economic trends and employment, attendees learned about what experts believe the future might hold for the county, and how the plan can help guide it.

The last time the CLUP was updated, the document was wholly rejected by township officials in a unanimous vote, but adopted by the County Board nonetheless. This time, the committee charged with drafting the new plan is composed of many township officials, and the group is working closely with the Township Association to ensure that the plan is one that is palatable to the residents.

"What we're trying to come up with is a vision for our Comprehensive Plan update," said committee chair Mike Flynn.

County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman said the document helps "drive policy decisions," and can help elected leaders make the best decisions for the whole community. Without such a plan, Gilman said policy and permitting decisions could be made without such complete scrutiny, perhaps representing only a vocal minority, or "whoever shows up to a meeting."

The committee is hoping that all citizen surveys will be submitted by the end of the year, when it expects to begin to shift from information gathering to writing the new draft plan. The survey, along with other related information, can be found at www.co.winona.mn.us.

Gilman said he has reviewed about 50 surveys submitted by township and city officials, and noted that many responses stressed the importance of protecting agricultural land and the environment, "but they also want small, efficient government." Silica sand mining, on the other hand, did not get as much attention among those who responded to the survey, he explained, adding that many responses indicated a desired focus on economic development and job creation.  


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