Thursday, March 18, 2010

Comprehensive Planning already in peril

Letter to the editor
Published: Ashland Daily Press, Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I first became aware of the Wisconsin Comprehensive Planning process in August of 2008, when my town chairman asked me to become a Planning Committee member. Flattered and glad to be involved, I accepted. For the next 16 months, all Bayfield County towns met on a monthly basis, most often at the Great Lakes Visitor Center. Bayfield County Zoning & Planning, together with SEH Planning Consultants out of Minneapolis, helped us to learn about comprehensive planning, and guided us towns to the point of completion of our own individual comprehensive plans.

Throughout the entire process we were assured that each town would always have direct say in what goes into their comprehensive plan and, more important, the land use map which dictates, by category, what each individual parcel of land is approved for what type of use. This is even more sensitive in my own town, which loudly rejected a non-binding referendum to become zoned within the past two years. During those 16-24 months, each town held working meetings of their Plan Committee to develop their own individual comprehensive plan. This all works only if the intent and spirit of the comprehensive planning process is not thwarted by any outside forces, and only if each town understands that once completed, it is not a map and book you put on the shelf and ignore. It is a living process, a living intent for land use that was decided on, then presented to the public at informational meetings for each town. All was completed by Dec. 2009, and the Planning Committees became “Planning Commissions” upon approved resolution(s), appointments of members sworn in for three year terms until 2012, and the full adoption of the comprehensive plan presented. Mission accomplished, right?

The state has informed the county, who in turn has informed the towns involved, that those towns who opted and purchased “brochure” plans in lieu of “full plans” must “blend” their plans with the county plan. This is not the fault of the county, the towns, or SEH. This has taken a great deal of credibility away from the entire process. I’ve read a bit of the Shadow Wood Landing project in the Town of Russell. Now I don’t have a dog in that fight, but here’s the thing. My understanding is that the project is not consistent with their new comprehensive plan. I also understand that even though it has not received the go-ahead, that CFS LLC and their agents have already been charged with three DNR citations for work already started, including no stormwater permit, no erosion control plan and failure to monitor erosion control plan best management practices or have erosion control reports.

These are serious concerns that show that neither the landowner nor CFS LLC and their agents have any regard for anything at all let alone the legal comprehensive plan for the Town of Russell or its intent. It also shows what to expect from those who would use the area that belongs to the taxpayers for their own pleasure, affecting those directly adjacent to the project. Judge John Anderson intervening and doing the right thing regarding how this was/is being handled was spot-on. Once again the spirit and intent of comprehensive planning cannot be ignored.

One caveat given to us all was not to let town boards ignore the process. Sadly this is what has happened in my own town of Pilsen /Moquah, already vulnerable without zoning to undesirable development without regard. A living, working comprehensive plan is the next best thing to being zoned. Shelving it without zoning is reckless.

People always ask that aged-old question: Why don’t more people come to town meetings or otherwise get involved. The answer is that it’s very similar to banging one’s head against the wall. It doesn’t feel good and just pisses you off. I only get involved with processes that work and are taken seriously. I am starting to wonder if I’ve wasted my time. To Donna Kramolis, whose family has owned and operated farmland for over half a century, to Robert Sukala, whose family has been dairy farm operators for over half a century, and to Tom Fratt, an expert in soil analysis, all sworn members of the Planning Commission for the Town of Pilsen, I am sorry that our work has been shelved. The 39 items we listed as “ongoing” in our comprehensive plan, the 39 items we felt important to retain the character and land use in the Town of Pilsen will not be completed. I am proud of our work regardless.

To Karl, Travis, Lisa David and others at Bayfield County Planning and Zoning, and to Mike Darrow and crew at SEH, your work is commendable. I just wish everyone else appreciated the work done the past two years. Work that apparently is being ignored.

Jeff Palicki
Former Chairman Planning Commission
Town of Pilsen/Moquah

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