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A draft vision for the future (03/26/2014)
By Sarah Squires
The Winona County Comprehensive Land Use Plan Committee has been at work for months, amending the 2000 Comprehensive Plan and soliciting public input to help create a new vision for the future of Winona County. On Monday, the committee hosted a public meeting during which the group's progress was shared with residents. Gathered in small groups around the county board room, attendees learned more about the draft plan, from transportation concepts for the future, to how to site rural housing to avoid conflicts with agricultural operations.

"I feel comfortable that we've been very transparent and encouraged a lot of input," said chairman Mike Flynn of the work thus far. When the 2000 Comprehensive Plan was adopted, township officials voted unanimously against the plan. This time, township representatives have been very involved — with representation on the committee itself and multiple meetings with township officials.

Will the changes to the plan, which is considered the framework for county zoning regulations and permitting decisions, trigger any changes to the county zoning ordinance? "I think they'll trigger some thought," said Flynn, explaining that once the plan is complete and approved by the County Board, planning department staff will have to review the document to determine whether it might affect the regulations contained in the zoning ordinance.

Two issues that have gained much attention in recent years — bluff protection and frac sand mining — don't have a major presence in the draft revisions. Committee members said they hadn't spent much time on the topics, and Flynn said, as far as frac sand goes, it will be listed in the natural resources and economic development portions of the plan, but the document is not likely to take a position for or against either. "The comp plan is really just that — it's a plan," said committee member Craig Porter. "It's not regulation; it's not an ordinance."

Committee member Don Evanson said he was happy with some of the draft revisions made, including removing some unnecessary text. One change — switching the word "preserve" or "preservation" with "conserve" and "conservation" — helps add flexibility to the document, he explained. "Some of the old plan, in my opinion, was driven too much by people with more extreme environmental views than I have," he added.

"One of the reasons I'm involved is, if you read the current plan, my company shouldn't even exist," said Porter of the current Comprehensive Plan's focus on agriculture-related business development. The draft plan is now more inclusive, encouraging broader business development that does not conflict with agriculture, rather than focusing solely on promoting agriculture itself.

The draft document also includes a new look at how to regulate and plan rural housing and industrial development. A focus on "cluster-style" housing development is favored in the draft, as well as "nodal-style" industrial and commercial development near freeway interchanges. The draft also suggests that the county should consider developing interchange and city expansion zoning districts to plan for development and city expansion in those areas.

The committee is seeking public input on the draft concepts, which can be viewed on the county website at www.winona.co.mn.us. The group meets every third Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at the county government center on Main Street in Winona. This time, committee members hope that township officials and residents support the new Comprehensive Plan, and gathering public input is an important part of ensuring a palatable plan is written. So far, committee members said they are well on their way to a plan that all can embrace.

"The townships, I think, will fully support what the committee's doing," said Evanson. Flynn agreed. "This work has been from the ground up, and from the top down. We want to hear from everybody."



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