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Forest amends comp plan to match zoning ordinance; Township no longer supports renewable energy or the right to farm

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF FOREST — Usually it is the other way around.

State law requires zoning ordinances to be consistent with a municipality’s Smart Growth comprehensive land use plan and requires the comprehensive plan to be adopted before a zoning ordinance is approved.

The Town of Forest Plan commission amended the existing comprehensive plan at the October 9 meeting so that it is consistent with the proposed zoning ordinance.

The plan commission approved the amendments to the comprehensive plan after approving a motion to recommend that the Forest Town Board adopt the zoning ordinance and map.

Much of the effort at consistency for the Smart Growth plan revolved around removing references to supporting renewable energy, such as wind energy or solar energy.

Rick Steinberger, plan commission chair, said the Town of Forest had received a mandate through a recall election to eliminate renewable energy — especially wind energy — from the comprehensive plan.

The controversy over renewable energy focuses on Emerging Energies/Highland Wind Farm’s plans to build more than 40 wind turbines in the Town of Forest with the substation located in the Town of Cylon.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin gave final approval for the wind turbine project in September.

In February of 2011, the entire Forest Town Board was replaced following a recall election.

Jaime Junker, current town chair, received 194 votes to replace Roger Swanepoel with 123 votes.

Steinberger received 207 votes, and Pat Scepurek received 185 votes, compared to 123 votes for incumbent supervisor Carl Cress and 113 votes for incumbent Doug Karau.

The average vote total for Junker, Steinberger and Scepurek was 55 percent, meaning that the remaining 45 percent of registered voters either voted against Junker, Steinberger and Scepurek or did not vote at all.

State law requires a municipality to have a written plan for public participation in writing or amending the comprehensive plan.

Public participation includes surveys sent out to the public, discussion forums and visioning sessions and collecting written comments.

The idea behind the Smart Growth comprehensive plan is to direct development in a positive way and to involve the residents of the municipality in formulating the plan.

One amendment to Forest’s comprehensive plan included removing a statement about supporting the right to farm.

Lee Tellijohn, plan commission member, objected.

Steinberger, and Catherine Munkittrick, an attorney representing the Town of Forest, said a reference to a right to farm was not needed in the comprehensive plan because state law references a right to farm.

As Steinberger read through the amendments to the comprehensive plan, the word “scenic” in conjunction with rural beauty, rural landscapes or rural character was repeated many times.

Tellijohn wondered what the definition of scenic was and what constituted scenic.

By removing a reference to a right to farm and focusing on “scenic,” he said, it seems that people must want to look at the farm fields but they do not actually want anyone to farm the fields.

The amendments to the comprehensive plan also referenced the new bridge at Stillwater and how the bridge would improve travel to the Town of Forest.

The amendments mentioned potential sites for residential development as well.

The comprehensive plan itself is inconsistent, Tellijohn said, because it talks about preserving the rural character of Forest while at the same time encouraging residential development.

The Forest Plan Commission must hold a public hearing on the amendments to the comprehensive plan.

The public hearing is expected to be held in November.