The document that will guide the use and development of rural lands across Winona County for the next decade or more is nearing completion. Public comments on a newly released preliminary draft are due on Friday. The draft plan has been over a year in the making, and now it is ready for vetting. From frac sand to feedlots, industry to annexation, the document’s stance on vital issues will guide upcoming revisions to the county zoning ordinance, rulings on permits and variances, and county policy.
One section of the plan has already drawn criticism: a proposal to require non-farm rural properties to formally acknowledge the odor, noise, and dust neighboring farmers may produce in the course of growing crops and raising livestock. The disclaimer concept is not new, and has been included in ordinances and permits in the past. The language would potentially limit neighbors’ ability to sue over the inconvenience of living next to a farm. In a discussion of the plan as a whole at their meeting last week, Soil and Water Conservation District board members were divided on whether they supported the “right to farm” language.
A single sentence in the comprehensive plan lays out the proposed county policy for frac sand mining: to have “orderly development and extraction of mineral resources which recognizes sound mining management practices, mitigates adverse environmental impacts, conserves natural resources, and encourages future land utilization.” The proposed language does not vary widely from the the tenor of the existing non-metallic mining ordinance, but falls short of the requests some citizens made during the planning process for a sand mining ban. As the plan observes, “opinions on frac sand mining are somewhat divided.”
The plan does propose enforcement of exploratory drilling “to minimize pollution problems and the impact on agricultural areas and environmentally sensitive areas.” The current zoning ordinance requires conditional use permits for exploratory drilling in agricultural zones, but that requirement has not been enforced.
While sections of the plan promote policies that limit urbanization, other sections seem to accept annexation. The plan proposes developing a special zoning district for Interstate-90 interchanges as well as a “transitional zoning district” outside of Winona and St. Charles to manage urban expansion. “These cities will be expanding outward in the future to accommodate projected growth,” the plan states. Winona County’s population is projected to decrease slightly over the next 30 years. The plan also calls for policies to discourage “leap frog” annexation and promote the redevelopment of existing urban areas over development on prime soils.
The full draft plan is available at www.co.winona.mn.us/page/3216 under “2014 Preliminary Draft Comp Plan (June 2014).” Hard copies are available for public viewing at the Winona County Government Center in Winona, at the St. Charles City Hall, and the Lewiston City Hall. The county is seeking public input prior to this Friday, July 18, for consideration at the Comprehensive Plan Committee’s July 28 meeting. Comments may be mailed to Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman at 177 Main Street, Winona, Minn., 55987, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Planning Commission will review the draft comprehensive plan and arrange future public hearings at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 17, upstairs at the Winona County Government Center.
Homer commercial rezone request
The Planning Commission will also consider a request from TJ’s Trucking and Excavating owner and Winona Deputy Police Chief Tom Williams that a property on Old Homer Road in Homer Township be rezoned from Agricultural/Natural Resource zoning to Community Development-2, the county’s commercial zoning. The property is partially within the urban expansion area and partially within a floodplain. According to a planning department report, Williams plans to buy the property from current owners Robert and Elaine Datta and eventually construct a commercial shop, garage, and office at the site.