By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — By June of next year, Colfax is expected to have an updated Smart Growth comprehensive land use plan to help direct residential and economic development in the village.
The Colfax Village Board approved at the March 11 meeting hiring Patrick Beilfuss, a senior planner with Cedar Corporation, to review and update the village’s Smart Growth plan.
The cost of updating the nine elements of the plan, along with creating and re-creating a variety of maps, is set not to exceed $15,800, with $7,900 designated for 2013 and $7,900 designated for 2014.
According to state law, all municipalities were required to have a Smart Growth comprehensive plan in place by January 1, 2010, in order to continue making land-use decisions.
Without a comp plan in place, Colfax, for example, may not have been able to annex land for the nursing home project.
The Smart Growth comprehensive plan for Colfax was adopted in 2002.
State law requires that the comprehensive plans be updated at least every ten years.
Beilfuss noted that many communities are asking for their comprehensive plans to be simplified and made more “user friendly.”
The comprehensive plans will be more usable if they include background, goals and objectives in separate chapters for each element, he said.
Elements of a Smart Growth comprehensive plan include Issues and Opportunities; Housing; Transportation; Utilities and Community Facilities; Land Use; Agricultural, Natural and Cultural Resources; Economic Development; Intergovernmental Cooperation; and Implementation.
Jackie Ponto, administrator-clerk-treasurer, said she had received a computer file for the text of the 2002 comprehensive plan but that she had not received any computer files of the maps contained in the document.
Without computer files of the maps, Cedar Corporation will have to recreate the maps that are part of the Smart Growth plan.
Chris Olson, village trustee, noted that the new FEMA floodplain map will have to be added to the comprehensive plan.
Beilfuss said he plans to meet with the Colfax Plan Commission once a month to work on reviewing and updating the village’s comprehensive plan.
A public hearing on the updated plan will be required before the village board can approve it.
A public hearing would be the minimum requirement for public participation.
Beilfuss said he expects that the comprehensive plan review and update will be finished by June of next year.
Plan commission members are public officials, and plan commissions operate under the state’s Open Meetings law. Meeting notices and agendas must be posted at least 24 hours in advance.
When Beilfuss asked about the Colfax Plan Commission’s meeting schedule, village board members did not have an answer for him.
Colfax does not have an active plan commission, and the Colfax Village Board has not been referring projects to a plan commission for review that are required by law.
Over the past two years, for example, about a half a dozen items should have been reviewed by the plan commission before the village board took action.
The Colfax Village Board approved hiring Cedar Corporation at a cost not exceed $15,800 over two years to update the comprehensive plan on a vote of six to one.
Voting in favor were Village President Gary Stene and Village Trustees Mark Halpin, Richard Johnson, Scott Gunnufson, Susan Olson and Chris Olson.
Village Trustee Beverly Schauer voted against the motion.
The intent for requiring municipalities to have comprehensive land use plans was so that residential and economic development could move forward according to a plan developed with public participation rather than occurring in a haphazard way at the whim of a governing body.
When the village’s comprehensive plan was developed more than ten years ago, a community survey was sent out and visioning sessions were held with community members.
Elk Mound’s survey and visioning sessions for the Smart Growth plan, for example, are the reason Elk Mound is working steadily toward a library and a community center for the village.
Beilfuss said a survey was not necessary in Colfax for updating the comprehensive plan.
The intent for having plan commissions review proposed projects and rezones is to have a thorough review by a group separate from the governing body that will be making a decision on the project
Plan commission meetings also give community members another opportunity to find out what is proposed in the community and to make comments for or against a project.
Plan commissions are either seven-member or five-member committees.
A seven-member commission is required to have at least three citizen members, and a five-member commission is required to have at least one citizen member.
Many communities opt for a seven-member plan commission and also include the building inspector and/or the public works director as part of the plan commission.
The mayor, village president or town chair appoints plan commission members for three-year terms beginning in April.
The plan commission is required by state law to review certain matters before a village board, town board or city council can take any action, including plans for public buildings; land for public purposes such as streets and parks; public utilities; community based residential facilities; public housing projects; subdivision ordinances; and zoning ordinances or amendments.
State law also requires that any zoning changes approved by a town board, county board, village board or city council must be consistent with the comprehensive plan.
Failure to refer a matter to a plan commission that is required by law could result in a court order voiding the action taken by a governing body to approve or deny a project.
In addition to what is required by law, governing bodies have the option of sending any project to a plan commission for review and a recommendation.
Town boards in Dunn County make regular use of their plan commissions to review projects and requests for zoning changes and to make recommendations to the town boards.