BAXTER — Planning for the future in Baxter may take on a different appearance as the city looks to update its comprehensive plan.
At Tuesday’s work session, where the city council met in committee, members considered the future role of its long range planning committee and whether its duties for comprehensive planning and rezoning comments should be absorbed by the planning and zoning commission.
Staff members noted in other cities the process is more streamlined — with perhaps only a single committee to go through — while there are four groups in Baxter, although efforts have gone into running those concurrently.
Looming on the horizon is an update to the city’s comprehensive plan, which is used as a guide for city policy, ordinances and growth.
“I think the greatest shortcoming that I see in the existing comprehensive plan is the lack of a future land use map, where you really lay out what your desired land use patterns are for the future,” said City Administrator Gordon Heitke. “And where that really comes into play is if you are dealing with a rezoning request. ...
“We find ourselves more times than not in a reactive mode. I’ve watched long range (commission) struggle with that.”
Heitke said the comprehensive plan needs to be current and reflect the values of the city and there isn’t a magic recipe to accomplish the task. The city could spend a $100,000 and two years studying every aspect, Heitke said, but he didn’t think the city had the resources or the time. Development activity, dormant for the last couple of years, is now picking up its pace. Heitke advocated for an abbreviated update to get a document the city is comfortable with and able to use in six months.
The update is needed for a good solid base for ordinances, Heitke said.
Ideas to be discussed include preservation of future transportation corridors.
Council member Rob Moser agreed with Heitke. Council member Todd Holman said the current state of the comp plan is like a lake home that started as a cabin and then was added to over time with pieces here and there.
“I think we are on our way in a lot of different places,” Holman said, but added there is work to be done to clean it up and make it more readable.
“I agree with most of that,” said council member Mark Cross, who added he was in favor of a task force working on it. But Cross said he didn’t think the inclusion of a land use map should be construed as an automatic rezoning, which happened previously.
Holman said what’s missing now in the document is criteria and better guidance for land use changes and he’d rather see the city’s comp plan driving transportation or zoning rather than being development driven.
Council member Jim Klein said he envisioned a committee with members from commissions and the council going through the comp plan line by line with the help of a planning professional to help keep them on the path and to put the final product together.
“Things are starting to pick up now,” Mayor Darrel Olson said. “The tire kickers are back. So areas where you guys are seeing as problems, those are the first things we need to be addressing and the corridors and those types of things.”
Heitke said with that direction staff would put together the scope for a project to include a consultant. In his report to the city, Heitke also noted along with the update to the comp plan, the city needs to make a decision on division of labor with the long range planning commission and the planning and zoning commission.
Options include reactivating the long range planning commission with new members or having planning and zoning assume all functions. Keeping both commissions is a way to involve more residents and divide the work load when it’s busy. The report noted without constant, ongoing planning activities the long range planning commission becomes inactive. More staff time is involved in serving two commissions and keeping both means another step in an application approve process for comp plan amendments and rezonings.