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St. Joseph takes aim at new land-use plan’s scope

St. Joseph Township officially waded into the deep, changeable waters of updated comprehensive planning last week with the first public meeting devoted to a new plan’s scope.

The town’s last comprehensive plan was approved in 2006, before details of the pending $60 million River Crossing project began to gel. More details and big-picture items are yet to come from the bridge project and several other key areas, attendees noted at the June 16 scoping meeting.

The Plan Commission “working session” was intended to set the stage for fitting them all into St. Joseph’s new comprehensive plan.

“The meeting tonight is not about particular properties,” explained Stantec Consulting senior planner Phil Carlson, who also assisted with St. Joseph’s 2006 land-use blueprint.

“It’s about the process of determining the scope of the updated plan … and making sure that the updated comprehensive-planning process encompasses all of that.”

In advance of the working session, Stantec identified the following areas where more information is needed: St. Joseph’s population, housing types, income, age, etc.; market and economic factors; existing land use and zoning; natural resources; roadways and traffic; community facilities and infrastructure; and recreation, parks and trails.

It was clear by the meeting’s end that setting the new plan’s goals will involve moving targets, many of them interrelated.

It was also clear that more information and public input will be needed before the actual work of drafting the plan begins.

The group set a July 2 follow-up Plan Commission meeting to discuss three scope-development tasks:

--A review of the town’s goals, vision and policies to identify any significant policy changes that could impact the new plan;

--A Stantec technical review of the 2006 plan to identify areas that need updating due to outdated information and/or known policy changes;

--Coordination with neighboring communities and St. Croix County to find out whether there have been changes in their plans or policies that could affect the new St. Joseph plan or require updating.

The July 2 meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall. In an interview after last week’s meeting, Barrette urged interested residents to attend.

“It all will still be a little tenuous until we start getting a more specific plan together,” she said. “But we want the public to come to these meetings so they know what’s happening.”

Year-long process

A third meeting will be scheduled on Stantec’s findings on any other portions of the comprehensive plan that will need updating due to potential policy changes, and to discuss public outreach.

A final scoping report and proposed budget will be presented to the Plan Commission for approval at a fourth meeting. No timetable for that meeting was set last week.

After that, the Plan Commission will review the 2006 plan’s goals and add, delete or modify for the 2014 update. The commission will then prepare a preliminary 2014 comprehensive plan and, later, its final proposal.

Two other meetings are envisioned with up to three other town boards or commissions.

The working group also discussed scheduling a special public meeting “toward the end of August.”

The entire process is expected to take about a year to complete, after which the Plan Commission’s final proposal will be forwarded to the Town Board. The St. Croix County Board must also sign off on the new town plan.

Others attending last week’s meeting included: Plan Commission members Chris Matter, Thomas Johnson and Rick Kemper; Town Board members Joy Packard, Richard Thompson and Tom Spaniol; former town chair and current Public Works Committee member Theresa Johnson; Parks, Trails and Recreation Committee member Nina Boonacker; town River Crossing Project Coordinator Susan Hoyt; Town Engineer Lee Mann; former Clerk/Treasurer Marie Colbeth; and County Supervisor Agnes Ring.

Scoping, Carlson noted, could affect town decisions on how and when to request River Crossing mitigation funding to help pay for the new comprehensive plan.

The finished product, meanwhile, will guide Town Hall’s policies, decisions and regulations on local land use.

“It’s a vision for the community -- who we are and what we want to be,” Carlson explained. “It gives the legal foundation for town regulations and actions.”

He noted, for example, that court cases on local zoning often turn on a municipality’s documented rationale for zoning decisions.

Johnson added that once the new plan is finalized, specific zoning deviations, for example, will not be taken lightly.

“Your land’s zoning can’t change unless it’s in the plan,” she said. “People have to understand that once the plan’s in place, they can’t just pop in (different) zoning.”

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

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