STERLING – The draft of Whiteside County’s first comprehensive plan, available online for several weeks now, got its first public airing Tuesday.
Three members of the public showed up at the hearing, held at the CGH Medical Center.
The low turnout is likely a testament to the lack of controversy in the 5-year plan, which primarily calls for more collaboration and cooperation between local government entities when it comes to economic development.
A second hearing will be held Thursday in Morrison, then the board will hold a final public hearing at its June meeting; it is expected to adopt the final version in July.
Among the plan’s suggestions:
• Expand the use of the Whiteside County Airport, in part by using better and more aggressive marketing, and evaluate the potential for a contract “to meet the air transport needs” of the Thomson prison.
“You’ve got a great airport. It is underutilized,” said Jason Valerus of MSA Professional Services, the consulting firm helping create the plan.
• Protect and preserve wetlands, woodlands and other sensitive ecosystems by making sure they are mapped by the county’s GIS system and are identified on site plans and preliminary plats.
To this, Wahl Clipper Corp. CEO Greg Wahl suggested adding wording to also protect any specific endangered flora and fauna, along with any rare ecosystems.
“It’s sad to see them destroyed,” Wahl said. “I would like to think the county has some sympathy for something that’s almost gone.”
Wahl is himself a preservationist, with 22 acres of natural prairie habitat on his farm in Hahnaman Township.
Valerus agreed, calling the lack of such wording an oversight, and making a note to correct it in the final draft.
• Continue to use the LESA land evaluation system to give preference to agricultural land preservation, while maintaining enough flexibility to allow for rezoning for job creation – like the board did when approving the Wal-Mart Distribution Center.
• Revise the A-R Agricultural Residence Zoning district to explicitly acknowledge the county’s agricultural setting and the “right to farm,” including odors, noise, dust, etc., that are common to ag operations.
• Encourage residential builders and contractors to follow the Uniform Building Code, and encourage the builders of any new subdivisions to create buffer zones screening them from roads, and helping them blend in better with the natural surroundings.
The county does not have, and does not plan to adopt, its own set of building codes
• Support home-based entrepreneurship by revising the zoning ordinance that regulates and prevents negative impacts on neighbors, such as excessive traffic, light and noise, while still allowing people to build businesses in their homes.
• Create and convene a countywide Housing Task Force, to address the needs of elderly, special needs and low-income residents.
• Develop a countywide bike and pedestrian plan that establishes contiguous routes throughout the county, and pursue grants to meet this objective.
• Protect and preserve rural cemeteries by creating a study group to identify existing cemeteries, document their ownership and needs, and encourage private groups, such as Boy Scout troops, to “adopt” and maintain them.
• Periodically survey residents to find out what they know about, and how satisfied they are with, Whiteside County Public Transportation.
• Promote “heritage tourism,” focusing on key county historic sites such as the Hennepin Canal, Ronald Reagan’s birthplace and the Hopewell Indian Mounds, and work with regional tourism groups to support agri-tourism by identifying, encouraging, and promoting the farms that invite visitors for tours, training, self-pick sales, seasonal events, etc.
• Create a countywide hazard mitigation plan, to plan how to respond to, and recover from, major disasters.
To learn more
A second public hearing on the proposed plan will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Odell Public Library in Morrison.
The final public hearing on the plan will be held at the June 17 county board meeting; it is expected to be voted on at the July 17 board meeting.
Go to www.whitesideplan.com and click on documents to read the "Full Plan Public Review Draft" of the Whiteside County Comprehensive Plan.