Comprehensive plan on agenda

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Saturday, February 21, 2009
— The city’s proposed 20-year comprehensive plan is coming before the city council Monday, but the city’s green committee thinks the plan doesn’t do enough to preserve rich farmland and is asking the council to postpone approval.

The state deadline to approve a comprehensive plan is January 2010.

In response to concerns, staff will recommend that an urban reserve area be removed from the plan. The reserve has been criticized as encroaching needlessly on farmland, City Manager Eric Levitt said.

Janesville’s comprehensive plan is about urban development, and farmland protection is not necessarily at its core, Levitt said.

That said, “There is some recognition of the desire to preserve farmland,” he said.

Brad Cantrell, community development director, acknowledged that Janesville’s creep onto some of the best farmland in the world is a big issue.

“We’ve addressed a lot of concerns the public raised and balanced those,” he said.

Tom McDonald, chairman of the new Sustainable Janesville Committee and a council member, believes the city can do more.

“It would be nice if this committee had a chance to weigh in and offer some input from a sustainable component of this plan,” he said. “We are an eco-municipality.”

The committee has forwarded six recommendations to the council, one of which asks that a second population estimate. Members believe the current estimate is too high.

The city also should consider including tools to preserve farmland, McDonald said. Now, the plan encourages growth in other areas of the city, such as the south and west sides, but it doesn’t really do anything to make growth go there. The city will continue to grow north and east unless the city says, “No,” he said.

McDonald is asking for a one-month delay. He prefers the vote come before the current council, whose members are familiar with the plan, rather than after April’s election.

That would also give council members time to digest any new information they hear at Monday’s public hearing, he said.

Julie Backenkeller, another committee member, said removing the urban reserve from the plan was a good start. But she, too, believes the city can do more, including pursuing boundary agreements with townships where the richest farmland is identified.

“I think we have to sooner or later draw a line in the sand,” she said. “Everybody keeps telling me we can always amend the plan. Well, then let’s take as little as we need (for development).”

But Cantrell said “drawing a line in the sand” often increases the cost of land and housing and drives development into townships that are more lenient about development.

He believes the plan’s population estimate is moderate. The plan will remain viable even if it is too high, he said.

“Eventually, Janesville will reach that population we’re projecting.”

Janesville is a good community in a growth area, he said.

“We’re going to experience growth here—no matter in the city or outside the city—and we view it as (being) most responsible in the city, where the city can develop 20 times more dense,” Cantrell said.

Last updated: 9:35 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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