Back in the late 1990s, county planning staff held community meetings around the county for interested residents to create land use plans for their area. This reflected recognition that residents in different areas wanted different levels of land use regulation, from lots to none.
Except for the southeast planning district, the plans include maps with land use designations. A plan and map have never been adopted for the southeast district.
The area plans were a focus at the Jan. 7 county planning commission meeting to begin updating the land use section of the comprehensive plan. The current land use section dates from 2001.
County Planning Director Damian Peduto said the goal is to "develop a foundation to build sound policy for the county to perform planning. We'll reorganize this element (chapter), update the data and analysis in the overview and background. We want to maintain the general policies in place."
He added, "We aren't necessarily going to update the district plans until we are done with this process. ... It would be backwards to work on a map before setting policies, so the land use districts can be tied to policies, what we're trying to achieve in the county."
But some planning commissioners were skeptical.
"So the maps will be re-drawn by you rather than the districts?" asked Lucy Baizel from the southwest district.
"No," Peduto said. "We want each district to be involved when we do that."
Planning commission chair Jim Tencza objected, "The district plan issue will be a year and a half down the road."
Planning commissioner Tom Gorton added, "The existing land use chapter clearly follows the district plans. To change the comp plan and then go back and make changes to the district plans is kind of a sticky wicket. ... We should tread very carefully if there are policy changes that will require big changes to a district plan."
Peduto responded, "There's no real way to do it backwards and still achieve what we want with this comp plan. When you look at the district plans (later), if you find you want to modify something in the land use element, you can." The idea, he said is "the overall umbrella of land use policies with different expressions in the districts."
Tencza noted that the residents who created the district plans in the late 1990s may or may not be around any more. "You may find certain areas have completely changed what they want."
Baizel asked, "Philosophically, are they still valid? That whole concept of district plans."
"I think they are very valid," Peduto said. "It has to include what's important to the public. It should be useful for the task. I think they are effective." The comp plan is "broad, county-wide, regardless of the district plans," he said.
Tencza said, "This (comp plan) is an advisory document, general in scope. The district plans are closer to regulatory. People have said, 'This is what we want.' I think we can keep things general enough" in the comp plan.
Peduto added, "We shouldn't be talking about 'We want clustering here' in a land use policy element." The 2001 wording is confusing "because it has been written with these details within a broad plan." He said it should identify land use tools such as clustering, but only very broadly. "We need to correct where it's too specific," he said.
Baizel asked what if someone has critical riparian habitat on their land.
Peduto said, "There could be a broad goal and an objective to encourage some benefit to the property owner to preserve that, such as more density. That's what this should do, not say you must retain 97 percent" of the habitat.
Gorton said of the 2001-vintage wording, "This chapter seems really awkward to me. Why is RV parks in there? ... A land use chapter should talk about the philosophical directions of growth and management of growth rather than park-and-ride lots and recreational vehicles."
Peduto said, "The document is very frustrating to work with because of its organization and flow. Our approach is to clean it up, not create the ideal document. We can go back and revise as necessary." Revisions are likely as more sections of the comp plan are updated, so that they work together, he said.
Gorton commented, "I want to make sure this chapter more than any other includes the goal of attaining this through land use code revisions."
Discussion also included land just outside the towns, when and how land will be annexed into the towns.
Peduto noted Bayfield's interest in an intergovernmental agreement with the county, especially for areas where the town might provide water and sewer service.
Gorton commented, "I think it would be to their benefit and our benefit if there was more certainty about annexation, that if you meet these criteria, you will be annexed."
Planning staffer Robert Bowie noted that land cannot be annexed without the owner's permission and an application to be annexed.
Tencza noted that some residents in a proposed annexation area may want to annex while others don't. "We shouldn't make it more difficult by saying it has to be a contiguous area," he said, meaning a solid annexation block. Land must be contiguous to town limits to be eligible for annexation.
Gorton didn't like the prospect of a checkerboard of annexed and unannexed land.
"The goal is to drive population into a higher level of service standard," Peduto said. "We encourage annexation. The more successful the municipalities are, the more successful the county is. It takes the service load off the county."
Planning staff did not have any actual draft revisions to the land use chapter for discussion. They will for the next meeting on Feb. 4.
Tencza urged a concerted person-to-person effort to get potentially interested residents involved.