Input received on comprehensive plan

Input received on comprehensive plan by David Lias A meeting held Monday by the Clay County Planning Commission to hear public input on the county's comprehensive plan drew a small number of people representing all walks of life.

The commission heard a variety of opinions during the meeting, which spanned nearly two hours.

It became clear that some citizens are primarily worried about insuring orderly growth and protecting the environment.

Others in the audience, including land owners and farmers, urged the commission to take steps to protect their way of life and promote further development of agriculturally based industries.

By the end of the meeting, nearly everyone in attendance noted that, despite differences in philosophies, they all are seeking a common goal � to make Clay County a positive place to live and work.

"We're here to listen to you and answer questions," said Leo Powell, planning commission chairman. "To date, we've met with the Clay County Commission and SECOG (South East Council of Governments) to establish a direction and set up dates for our new comprehensive plan. This plan will serve as guide or a base plan for the county's future growth and more.

"It's very important that we set goals and plans that are good for everyone," he added. "We met with some key community groups in an earlier meeting. We kept notes from that meeting, but to date have made no changes to the original draft plan. We want to hear what each of you has to say. We'll take your ideas, and the ideas from the other groups, under consideration and put together our finished plan and present it to the county commissioners."

The county commission, Powell said, likely will hold at least one public hearing to gather input on the completed plan.

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An item that inspired a great deal of discussion early in the meeting was a map prepared by SECOG showing ideas for future land use in the county.

The planning commission, noting that Clay County is primarily an agriculturally-based county, hopes to preserve the majority of the land for farming use.

It has identified Highway 50 and Highway 19 as future development areas in the county. It believes agri-businesses would best be located on intersections, or nodes, along those major highways rather than having them scattered throughout the county.

John Davidson, a rural Clay County resident, told the planning commission that attempting to promote industrial development along a corridor several miles long throughout the county may not be cost efficient.

"If you wanted to put some type of business in central Clay County," said Planning Commissioner Jay Bottolfson, "what that map is telling you is that, according to the comprehensive plan, we would like to see that business somewhere along that zone. That doesn't necessarily mean that area along those major highways are going to be zoned industrial or commercial throughout from one end of the county to the other. It's just a suggestion that the county would like to see those businesses located along a major (transportation) artery."

"It really is about taxes and the amount of taxes we pay," Davidson said, "because for every dollar of new investment, there is also additional costs of delivering municipal services."

On average, he said, for every dollar of new tax-accessible property, the cost of delivering municipal services is $1.15.

"The less controlled your growth, the greater the burden that is passed on to the existing taxpayer," Davidson said. "The lesson here is that it is not the rate of growth that is important, but the pattern of growth which insures that the existing taxpayers won't have to pick up a disproportionate share of the burden."

Others noted that encouraging economic development along the county's major transportation corridors could entice industries that may not be welcome in a municipality. A fertilizer plant, or an industry that creates dust or odor, may be better suited for rural Clay County than within the city limits of Vermillion or Wakonda.

It was also mentioned that changing the zoning of property from agriculture to commercial would, in the long run, give the county a tax boost.

One of the policies printed in the draft of the comprehensive plan "would require the operation of animal confinements to be consistent with state law and require that such confinements minimize odor for operation and manure application."

Nancy Carlsen, a rural Clay County resident, told the commission that she believes the county should adopt a policy to discourage the development of large animal confinement facilities.

"I think there is a potential for environmental contamination," she said.

A farmer in the audience told the meeting that modern farming practices make it possible for agricultural producers to raise livestock without harming the environment.T

The planning commission was encouraged to include wording in the comprehensive plan that would encourage Clay County to follow stricter county ordinances rather than state law to protect the environment.

Carlsen expressed concern that the county could find itself facing numerous spot zoning controversies if it stuck to the zoning commission's recommendation to develop commerce and industry along major highways.

"When we re-do the zoning ordinance, we're going to go under A-1 (agriculture zone), because our concern here is to preserve as much of the agricultural land as we can," said David Wherry, county zoning administrator. "We're going to create a list of things that are required under agriculture that will require a special use permit. The purpose of doing that is so we don't have to get into this controversy of spot zoning."

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