Vernon County Comprehensive Planning Committee meets for first time on path to countywide zoning

VIROQUA, Wis. – As some members on the newly formed Comprehensive Planning Committee pointed out, Vernon County has tried to pass a comprehensive plan before and that did not go so well. Back around 2010 when the state was trying to implement a statewide requirement that every unit of government have a comprehensive plan, Vernon County went through the process, hired outside help to develop a plan, but when the plan finally made it onto a county agenda in November of 2009 it was tabled. A Vernon County Broadcaster article from that meeting highlights some of the concerns about the plan.

You can also read about the history of comprehensive planning and zoning in Vernon County in our previous article here.

But Vernon County has decided to take another stab at a comprehensive plan because they are attempting to implement countywide zoning. County Zoning and Sanitation Administrator Matt Albright first brought the issue of countywide zoning to the Infrastructure Committee in May of last year. Albright got approval from the Infrastructure Committee in July to put out a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) to hire an outside agency to develop a countywide zoning plan.

Vernon County is one of only a few counties in the state that does not have countywide zoning. Vernon County does enforce state shore-land and sanitation law but does not have a countywide zoning land use ordinance.

Not so fast – you can’t do countywide zoning without a comprehensive plan

Albright discovered that Vernon County does not have a comprehensive plan on file for all the reasons stated above. That means if the county wants to implement countywide zoning they first need a comprehensive plan.

The county agreed to hire Mississippi Regional Planning Commission to help develop a comprehensive plan and the General Government Committee approved the creation of Comprehensive Planning Committee on December 15. The committee will consist of four county board members and three members from the public with the County Zoning Director Matt Albright, County Conservationist Ben Wojahn, and the County Land Information Officer Monique Hassman to serve as advisory staff. Each committee member will serve a two year term but the goal is develop a new comprehensive plan over the six months to a year.

Vernon County Board of Supervisors Chair Lorn Goede appointed the committee members which are County Board of Supervisor Representatives: Charlie Jacobson (Chair), Sandy Schweiger, Kay Stanek, Ole Yttri. Community Representatives: Pete Strachan, Mary Stanek and George Wilbur

The committee will develop a countywide zoning ordinance once the comprehensive plan is completed and passed by the county board. As required by state law, the development of a plan also requires a public input plan. That public input plan was approved by the General Government Committee.

Jack Zabrowski from the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission explained the process of developing a plan to the newly formed committee. In Wisconsin, there are nine elements to a comprehensive plan.

  • Issues and Opportunities
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities and Community Facilities
  • Agricultural, Natural and Cultural Resources
  • Economic Development
  • Intergovernmental Cooperation
  • Land Use
  • Implementation

County Supervisor Kay Stanek asked if the information recently gathered to develop a county economic development plan (also done in part by Mississippi River Regional Planning) could be utilized for the strategic plan. Zabrowski said that data would be included in the existing conditions part of the report.

Community representative George Wilbur asked if the plan the county developed in 2009 but never adopted would be a starting point for a new plan. Zabrowski said there is a lot of useful data in the plan, but parts of it were also outdated and the trend now is to try to have shorter plans (about 100 pages). The plan posted on the county website is 242 pages and that is not the even the full plan.

Zabrowski said the first step will be to do a county survey. He said he would distribute a standard survey to committee members and they will review it and can make suggestions for changes at the next committee meeting on Friday, Feb. 16.

There was some discussion about the public perception of a comprehensive plan and zoning. Wilbur pointed out to the committee and Zabrowski agreed that there is a requirement in state statue that ordinances follow elements of what is in the plan so there is potential impact to local ordinances. Wilbur also pointed out the townships can “opt out” if they do not want to follow the plan at the town level, but also emphasized the committees responsibility to make the plan fit the county and not be a cookie cutter plan that is not followed.

“My concern with comprehensive plans,” said Wilbur. “At least the ones that towns did, so many of them were just fluff. It could have fit any town in the world. And then they had maybe a little bit of stuff that was localized, and they’re showing you all the standard stuff that they’re stuffing into all these plans. In Whitestown (township) we didn’t hire anybody. We had a citizen committee. We spent two years writing, actually writing it, reviewing it, editing it, and improving it. And then went into adopting a land use plan which could be called zoning, but we don’t call it that, we call it a land use plan. And you know, there’s a tendency here to say, well we don’t have to, you know, that this is a citizen committee. We’re representing the county, and we should be on top of what’s going on, and approve what’s happening here in the process. Not only the process but of course the final result. So I if I’m a little bit assertive about, hey we gotta do these things, that’s because of my orientation about how I think we should approach this.”

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