Citizens sounded off on Buffalo County's first-ever comprehensive plan on Monday night. The plan will guide many of the county's future decisions, including an overhaul of its 1965 zoning ordinance. The plan received the blessing of the Land Resources Committee after a brief meeting; during a public hearing, citizens questioned the plan's reflection of towns' desires.
County resident Karen Pronschinske referred to a section of the comprehensive plan that summarizes town concerns with frac sand as centering around truck traffic, a desire to promote rail and alternative transport, and a desire to streamline permitting for frac sand mines. "I don't think that paragraph accurately reflects the town use plans," she said. "I'd like to see that paragraph edited" to include the concerns that towns have with frac sand.
Kevin Cassidy also felt the plan misrepresented towns' sentiments. Sections of the plan that call for the county to promote development of a commercial harbor or rail terminal do not line up with town input, he said. "I'm not sure why that's even in there," said Cassidy.
Unlike other sections of the plan, one of the objectives in the agriculture portion is to "maintain current zoning regulations," pointed out Nettie Rosenow. The statement is not in harmony with the comprehensive plan's primary goal to aid in rewriting the zoning ordinance or the plan's call for changes to each of its zoning classifications to reduce conflicts, she said. Rosenow suggested that the plan's objectives for agricultural zoning include protections for prime farmland or prime soils.
In an interview, Rosenow explained that farmland being claimed for sand mining was part of her concern and said, "Almost every township said, 'We want to protect prime farmland,' so why don't we have an ordinance that protects prime soils from sand mines?"
For County Board member John Schlesselman, who spoke as a member of the audience, one of the plan's strengths was also its weakness. "I especially was impressed with the action items," he said of the plan's many specific objectives. Plans sometimes lack specific deliverables, but not this one, he said. However, he continued, perhaps there are considerably more goals than can be accomplished in the short term, referring to objectives to draft zoning ordinances, establish an economic development agency, and rework policies on town relations, among other objectives. "It almost looked like it was overwhelming," Schlesselman said, suggesting that the county give itself more time to achieve some of the objectives.
Interim Land Resources Director Julie Lindstrom agreed the goals might overwhelm the county and proposed assigning committees to execute the objectives of each section of the plan and allowing them to determine which objectives to take on first. Committee members indicated support for the proposal.
Expressing a desire to move the plan on to the County Board in a timely manner, the committee voted unanimously to incorporate the suggestions made during the hearing and recommend the revised plan to the board. Many of the comments to be incorporated were straightforward wording changes. However, it was unclear how the committee's vote would apply to Cassidy, Rosenow, or Schlesselman's more open-ended comments.
Rosenow praised Lindstrom's responsiveness to citizens, but said that she does not expect her proposal for prime farmland protections to appear in the revised plan. "That's something we are going to fight for when they redo the zoning ordinance," she said.
When asked about some of the broader recommendations brought forward in a subsequent interview, Lindstrom said, "There will be things that I will have to look at and say, 'How can I address this?'" She explained that zoning protections for prime farmland were unlikely to be recommended in the plan because towns have advocated for voluntary conservation, not more regulation, and that she would not alter the section on a harbor or rail loading facility, because of specific direction from the Highway Department to include it.