Colfax Plan Commission recommends approval of updated Smart Growth Plan

Village resident questions wisdom of purchasing farmland

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  The Colfax Plan Commission has recommended that the Colfax Village Board approve the updated Smart Growth Comprehensive Plan for 2014-2034.

The plan commission held a public hearing on the updated comprehensive land use plan December 9.

State law required all municipalities to have a comprehensive plan in place by January 1, 2010, if the municipalities wanted to continue making land use decisions.

The Colfax Village Board went through the process of developing a comprehensive land use plan and then adopted the original plan in 2004.

State law also requires municipalities to update their comprehensive land use plans every ten years.

Colfax resident David Felland attended the public hearing and said he was concerned about the village board’s plan to purchase farmland from the Schindler family for residential development.

The Colfax Plan Commission began working on the updated comprehensive plan about a year ago, and during the process, one of the issues discussed by the plan commission was a lack of build-able lots in Colfax to attract new families.

Population growth in the village has been largely stagnant for the past 50 years. Colfax lost population following the 1958 tornado.

The household income data used in the comprehensive plan was based on census information from 2000, and the plan should have used more recent information, perhaps a projection from 2013, Felland said.

“I do not believe that figure is correct,” Felland said, adding that he had talked with the village administrator-clerk-treasurer to obtain the assessment ratio.

Village property is selling for less than the assessed value, and “there is no reason why there should be a turn-around” in housing prices now, he said.

Vacant lots

Felland also said he believes it is incorrect to say that there are no build-able lots in Colfax.

As a case in point, Felland said his property includes a vacant lot next to his home on Pine Street and that a house across the street also is a double lot.

Scott Gunnufson, village president and chair of the plan commission, asked if Felland’s vacant lot is for sale.

“Is that an offer?” Felland asked.

A review of building permits issued in Colfax indicates that two building permits for houses have been issued since 2008 — or in other words — one new house every three years, he said.

Projected out over 20 years, six new houses would be built in the village, Felland said.

On walks around town, Felland said he has observed a number of vacant lots where houses could be built, and in view of the low projection for new homes over the next 20 years, he said he did not believe it was wise for the village to purchase the Schindler property for residential development.

“I do not want to see you people working on what I think is a dead horse,” Felland said, adding that if the village board has already closed the deal, the board should sell the property and get on with the other business of the village.

Lot sizes

In view of the new ordinance for minimum lot sizes, Felland also said he wondered whether houses could actually be built on the smaller vacant lots available in the village.

The administrator-clerk-treasurer searched the village records but could not give him a definitive answer, Felland said.

The Colfax Village Board approved smaller minimum residential lot sizes of 12,000 square feet in October.

The previous minimum lot size was 18,000 square feet.

Felland said the vacant lot attached to his property is 8,000 square feet and that other vacant lots in older sections of the village also are probably around 8,000 square feet.

Felland also said he did not think that the Colfax Plan Commission or the Colfax Village Board conducted enough outreach to village residents for the comprehensive plan update.

Residential development 

Gunnufson noted that 80 to 90 percent of the people employed by the businesses in Colfax do not live in Colfax, and, therefore, the majority of those paychecks are not spent in Colfax.

So many people who work in the village do not live in the village, and this is a good time to acquire land for new development and to develop a strategic plan, he said.

The services for sewer and water already are on Dunn Street, and the village did not buy the entire 160 acres, Gunnufson said, noting that the village board did not want to raise the taxes of village residents by purchasing the entire property.

The village board agreed to purchase 17 acres for single family and rental units. The houses and rental units will not be low income, but instead, will be middle to higher level income, he said.

“We want to keep workers in the village, and we want to bring people who want to live in a small town to live in Colfax,” Gunnufson said.

Builders have already indicated interest in the lots and are waiting for the closing scheduled for December 17, he said.

Colfax is working with Cedar Corporation on a marketing plan to market the lots to builders, banks, and individuals, Gunnufson said.

The new ordinance sets the minimum lot size at 12,000 square feet for new development, but smaller existing lots are grandfathered in, he said.

“If you have land that is build-able, make sure you have a sign up,” Gunnufson said.

Current demographics indicate that college-educated people are willing to drive more than 15 minutes to work, and there is no reason people cannot live in Colfax and drive to Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire or Menomonie to get to their jobs, he said.

If the first phase or two of the Schindler development does not “pan out,” the village will consider getting out of the real estate business, Gunnufson said.

“How does that sound?” he asked.

“Better than I hoped for,” Felland said.

Outreach

Nancy Hainstock, plan commission member, pointed out that the Colfax Messenger has been covering the plan commission meetings for updating the comprehensive plan.

“Most (people) do not understand what we are doing unless it impacts them in some way,” said Gary Stene, plan commission member and a supervisor on the Dunn County Board.

“People are not paying attention to what a board is doing because they assume (the board) will take care of it. We are trying to expand the tax base. No municipality can say it will lower taxes. Not unless you strike oil. But we can try to limit increases,” he said.

On the other hand, municipalities are not rewarded by the state for keeping the taxes lower, he said.

If municipalities do not levy to the limit set by the state and cut budgets to reduce taxes, “you are cutting yourself for next year,” because the state will then set a lower tax levy limit, Stene said.

The Colfax Village Board has been put in the position of raising property taxes as much as the state allows “because you are not rewarded for being frugal,” he said.

Recommendation

After closing the public hearing, the Colfax Plan Commission approved a motion to have Patrick Beilfuss of Cedar Corporation update any numbers in the comprehensive plan that need to be updated and to recommend that the village board approve a resolution to adopt the updated Smart Growth comprehensive land use plan for 2014-2034.