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Commission works on revising comprehensive land use plan

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Planning Commission could complete work during the next 30 to 60 days on a proposed revision of the city's comprehensive land use plan.

The goals, objectives and policy guidelines in the comprehensive plan assist the Planning Commission and city planning officials in making land use decisions.

State law requires a city to have a comprehensive plan if it has a zoning ordinance. Those entities that want to control any type of land development need to have a comprehensive plan in place, said Matt Johnson, community development director with the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission of Willmar.

"It's a community-wide document that should be followed on day-to-day, land use decisions for the future of the city,'' said Johnson, who's assisting the Planning Commission with the revision process.

The courts have increasingly held that the goals and policies of a comprehensive plan are important in interpreting different provisions of the zoning ordinance, according to Johnson.

"The comprehensive plan is supposed to be the foundation for the zoning ordinance, so in practice as things have changed over the last 30 years, zoning has become increasingly important,'' he said.

"There are things in a comprehensive plan that need to be changed to reflect what a zoning ordinance actually states.''

Johnson recommends a city go through the revision process -- perhaps every five years or so.

For Willmar, the process began over two years ago after the City Council encouraged the Planning and Development Office to update the 1989 plan. The revisions include comments from the public and updated statistics on population, school enrollment, parks, retail sales, housing starts and other information.

Johnson joined the city staff about four months ago to assist in finishing revisions and updates, and he's met with the Planning Commission to discuss changes and suggestions from commission members. He thinks work will be completed during the next one to two months.

When the final draft is completed, it'll be presented to the public for comment and for action by the City Council.

Johnson said many different aspects are involved in a comprehensive plan.

"I like the positive aspects of good sense of community. It's nice to know where we're at, how we're growing in terms of population and housing, what our community assets are,'' he said.

"But it's also very useful in the sense that we're not just basing land use decisions on pulling things from the air and being inconsistent. This is a functional document to guide day-to-day land use decisions and it does provide a reassuring feeling that the community is following a document and making educated decisions.''