Board discusses land use plan in light of denial

At different times in the history of Wright County, there has been reason to update the county’s land use plan. In 1988, the county did a comprehensive overhaul of its plan. In 2007, at the height of the housing bubble shortly before it unceremoniously burst and drove the national economy to one of its lowest points ever, the county began making changes as warranted in quadrants of the county.
The Aug. 1 meeting of the Wright County Commissioners put a focus on how land use is handled – is it a blanket policy or one that can be viewed more on a case-to-case basis as the layout of certain townships change with time?
The request in front of the board was a denial of a proposed change from an agricultural designation to AG/residential by a resident in Buffalo Township. The matter went through several hearings with the planning commission as well as a site inspection. The commission was divided 4-2 on whether or not to approve because literally across the road, the designation is AG/residential. The Buffalo Township Board was hesitant to endorse the proposal because it conflicts with the current county land use plan.
“There had been a pretty good debate about the land use plan in general and how it pertained to this area,” Planning & Zoning Administrator Sean Riley said. “We ended up in a situation where the majority of the planning commission directed (us) to do findings for a denial mainly based on not being consistent with the land use plan, protection of agricultural elements – whether it was tilled or not – and to support what the township had said. That’s what broke out in this case.”
Commissioner Charlie Borrell said that, while on the wrong side of the zone line, the property is largely unsuited for agricultural use. Riley stated that farming use is merely part of the land use plan, but that some parts of it are older than others and, in some cases, go back multiple decades when the lines were drawn. The current request was under a land use plan in that area last revised in 2007.
Riley responded that the land use plan can be updated at any time, but the one that is currently in place is the one that draws out the different uses that can be done on that parcel. If you make an exception and create a new zone, there will be a demarcation line, it will just be moved somewhere new. Updated and changing the land use plan is a big-picture project that can be done, but not without a lot of input.
“In theory, it’s possible to look at the actual plans in relation to the narrative, the goals and what we’re looking to preserve and allow for at the same time,” Riley said. “Remember, you’re always going to end up with a line and now somebody’s not happy that the line is there. If you move it out, now (the landowner along the new line) feels the line is right next to them and why that spot? You involve the townships. You involve the cities. You involve the property owners.”
In the end, it was the consensus of the board that enough discussion had taken place – the board packet inclusion of the documentation surrounding the minutes of the discussion and filings was 95 pages – and voted 4-1 to affirm the planning commission’s denial of the request.
Borrell cast the dissenting vote, saying, “I’m going to vote against, not to buck the planning commission, but to voice my opinion that we need to have this looked at and it needs to change. It will be a protest vote.”
In other items on the Aug. 1 agenda, the board:
• Approved the minutes from the July 24 committee of the whole meeting. The meeting discussed proposed increases in the size of the Information Technology department. Among the proposed goals of the IT department, resulting from a study commissioned by the county, is to increase the size of the department from the current total of 21 employees to 35 employees by the end of 2021. Commissioner Mark Daleiden said the county remains behind the needs in terms of technology – “they’re in firefighter mode” – adding that the county needs to make critical decisions to add and retain IT employees.
• Referred to the personnel committee discussion of the county’s Paid Time Off policy credit. Human Resources wants to discuss the process in which PTO credit is administered and applied which may necessitate changes to the policy language.
• Set a bid opening for 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 25, for the 2017 federal Highway Safety Improvement Program project. The project is the installation of four rural intersection conflict warning system signals at the intersections of CSAH 39/CSAH 11, CSAH 37/Co. Rd. 117, CSAH 35/Co. Rd. 117 and Co. Rd. 113/Co. Rd. 117. The cost of the project will be funded 90 percent from federal dollars and 10 percent from local levy funds.
• Approved a request to hire a deputy at a rate more than 12 percent above starting wage. The employee has six years of experience with a large metro police force and the starting wage ($28.91) would be less than what he is making now. The wage is similar to employees in the department with similar experience.
• Re-appointed Kathy Jonsrud to a four-year term on the Clearwater River Watershed Board of Managers.
• Conducted a public hearing to discuss proposed changes to the Health & Human Services department fee schedule. Nobody from the public spoke to the issue.
• Authorized a temporary hire after Sept. 1 for an employee at the compost facility. Temporary hires can be for no more than 67 working days. The purpose of the hire is that the fall season is a busy time at the compost facility and the current program through Central Minnesota Jobs and Training will be ending Sept. 1.
• As the local ditch authority, ordered that a complete redetermination of benefits be completed on the County Ditch 10 drainage system. It has been almost 100 years since the benefitted landowners were fully determined. It is expected to take roughly two years to complete the redetermination. All costs will be assessed to landowners.
• Instructed county ditch inspector Mike Young to obtain quotes to clean out County Ditch 36 on the northwest (outlet) side of a blockage along the ditch that requires trees to be removed. The ditch system was established in 1918 and the benefitted landowners have changed greatly, so there is likely to be a determination of benefits along the ditch.

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