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'Chapter 168' causes stir among land owners in St. Joseph

At the Thursday night St. Joseph Town Board meeting, supervisors were greeted by a standing-room-only crowd of residents eager to discuss a possible change to Chapter 168 of the town code.

Chapter 168 deals with regulations regarding the subdivision of land in accordance with the St. Joseph future land use map, and was passed by the Town Board during its January meeting, with an effective date of Feb. 6, 2009.

The changes were made to bring the town of St. Joseph in compliance with new state regulations, and are required by the state to be completed by Jan. 1, 2010. All changes made would not affect any landowner currently living on a lot, but would come into effect if a landowner wished to subdivide his land.

Objections arose over the new land designations and regulations put forth by 168. Citizens and landowners worry that it puts too many specific regulations on how they may subdivide their land, should they wish, and that it may make it much harder to do so.

Resident Howard LaVenture began circulating a petition in January to protest the change, feeling that not enough had been done to inform the public and take their concerns into consideration.

"This was done by a Plan Commission of non-landowners telling landowners what to do with their property," said LaVenture.

He presented his case before the board and suggested that landowner participation of Chapter 168 be voluntary, a sentiment shared by Plan Commission member Kevin Adkins.

"I'm not saying that 168 is bad - there is a lot of good in it - but it should be optional," said Adkins. He added that people have been asked to come to the Plan Commission meetings, which are open to the public, yet he rarely sees anyone attend. "I agree we need to improve our communications, but I don't think any board member did anything wrong."

Plan Commission member Lloyd Dahlke, however, was not as complimentary.

"I've voted against 168 at every meeting," said Dahlke. "I'm the only landowner on the Plan Commission."

Dahlke believes that this is simply too much government and has felt that some have "kept me out of the loop," claiming it's hard to receive information about all the changes.

"There should be resignations," Dahlke said. "If this keeps up, this will be in court; you'll leave us no choice."

This was met by applause by some in the audience. Dahlke suggested that before the board makes any decision that they "sleep on it."

"I'm disappointed in everyone, including myself, for this 12th hour reactionary response," said Supervisor Dan Gavin. "We've put time into this for the last two years, and no one knows about any possible detrimental effect to the town. If things look bad we can always go back and change them. People should have been involved from the beginning; everyone had a chance to be a part of it."

Plan Commission Chair Ben Heuiser agreed, saying, "Why wasn't anything said two years ago when this started?"

Supervisor Gavin also worried that sending the item back to the Plan Commission could set an unwanted precedent for future items.

After a nearly two-hour-long discussion with the public, the board voted on the issue and decided that the best course of action would be to keep the effective date of Feb. 6, 2009, but send Chapter 168 back to the Plan Commission, with a special invitation to everyone who attended the Town Board meeting and/or signed the petition to attend the March meetings of the Plan Commission.

A full calendar of meetings can be found online at www.townofstjoseph.com, and a full copy of the new Chapter 168, The Subdivision of Land, can be obtained by contacting the Town Hall, 1337 County V; (715) 549-6235.

Wrap-up

The Town Board approved candidate Steph Sianko for the position of recording secretary for the St. Joseph Plan Commission with a tentative pay rate of $15 per hour, with a more permanent rate to be determined during the March Town Board meeting.

Private kennel licenses were approved Thursday night for Marjorie Gibson for her four miniature Dachshunds, and for Patricia Zeller for her seven Newfoundland and Skye terrier show dogs, as no complaints have been raised regarding either applicant.

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