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Comments sought by city on revised comprehesive plan

WILLMAR -- When the Valleyside Townhomes project was proposed for northwest Willmar in the late 1990s, there was considerable debate about whether the multi-unit housing project was appropriate and whether a zoning change to allow the project cou...

WILLMAR -- When the Valleyside Townhomes project was proposed for northwest Willmar in the late 1990s, there was considerable debate about whether the multi-unit housing project was appropriate and whether a zoning change to allow the project could be justified.

The City Council found justification for the workforce housing project in the land-use and development goals and policies in the city's comprehensive plan. The plan's goals and policies guide land use and zoning decisions.

"Zoning by law must be based on a comprehensive plan,'' said Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development.

"A lot of communities don't do that. But if they're ever challenged, that can be an immediate reason for having a decision overturned if they don't have a comprehensive plan to back up their zoning ordinances.''

The Valleyside project raised concerns about traffic overload on Seventh Avenue Northwest and access to the property, Peterson said.

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"The plan showed that (the property) was not intended to remain agricultural, so it gave (the City Council) all the legal backing that was required to proceed with the rezoning (from agricultural to R-3 to allow town houses),'' said Peterson.

The goals and policies could change somewhat because the City Council has initiated the process of updating the plan.

The council encouraged the Planning and Development Office to update the 1989 plan.

To get a clear idea of how Willmar should be developing in the future, city officials will be asking citizens for their comments. Three meetings are being scheduled for citizens to share their thoughts and opinions:

- 2 p.m. Tuesday, Willmar Senior Citizens Community Center, 624 Business 71 N.E.

- 5 p.m. July 24, Municipal Utilities Council Chambers meeting room, 700 Litchfield Ave. S.W.

- 7 p.m. July 26, Fire Hall training room, 515 Second St. S.W. (use northeast door).

City Planner Megan Sauer said comments can range from land use issues, transportation and parks to economic development and the downtown.

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"It is time to get some fresh data, especially with the way the city's growing, some new ideas from the public of what Willmar should be in the future,'' said Sauer.

For example, citizens may comment about placing apartments or businesses in certain areas.

"The comprehensive plan itself won't be that specific. But with their guidance, we can know what the public is looking for and maybe consider some areas that may be needed,'' said Sauer.

Some parts of Willmar remain undeveloped, such as the area at Willmar Avenue Southeast and Lakeland Drive.

"So that's an area for opportunity with the new bypass interchange coming in,'' Sauer said.

Statistics being gathered by Sauer on population, school enrollment, parks, retail sales, tax collections, housing starts, major highways and other information will provide a profile of the city and how it's changed.

"You've got to know where you've been to know where you're going,'' said Sauer. "Now we're to the point where it's time for some public hearings and public input.''

Public comments will be combined with staff recommendations to formulate suggestions and goals that will eventually form policies for the City Council to adopt.

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Peterson said the opinions, statements and concerns of the public will be used to structure and formulate new goals and policies. Some goals and policies will remain the same, he said.

"We need public input,'' said Peterson. "Without public input, it's a staff and council plan, and we don't want it to be that. We want it to reflect the vision of the public.''

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