Opinions needed — from everyone

February 9, 2013 — By DAVE SCHULTZ

If you’re a Wells County resident, it’s certain that the people charged with rewriting the county’s comprehensive plan would like to hear from you.
They’re asking please. They’re even asking pretty please.

Click here to read and download the survey: 

The 15-member committee — a combination of current elected officials and citizen representatives — is updating, simplifying, and streamlining the county’s comprehensive plan. The plan is a document that says how the community wants to, and should, grow and develop for the duration of the plan.
The plan that is due — overdue, actually — to expire this year is about 150 pages long and has been in effect for 20 years. The committee’s idea is for the new comprehensive plan to be shorter — between 50 and 75 pages — and span only 10 years.
“The comments were made early on in our steering committee sessions that it was too long to be effective,” said Michael Lautzenheiser Jr., executive director of the Wells County Area Plan Commission.
A comprehensive plan becomes less useful the longer it’s in place, and that’s certainly been true in Wells County.
“In the last five years, we’ve taken up CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and we’ve taken up wind turbines, and the comprehensive plan says nothing about either one of those things,” Lautzenheiser said. “So our guidance tool is mute on our biggest subjects, which doesn’t help.”
Members of the steering committee has been meeting since September, familiarizing themselves with the current plan, and they are now ready to hear what Wells County residents want. A questionnaire has been developed, and they’d like everyone to pick one up and express what they think the priorities ought to be.
“The steering committee’s job was to put together this questionnaire that went through the points that we wanted to discuss in the comprehensive plan and laid out questions that would start the thought process,” Lautzenheiser said in a recent interview. “Then, people would grab the questionnaire and answer questions that they were interested in or make their own questions up. That was just to get started. That questionnaire is what we’re promoting to get out.”
The questionnaire gives all of the current Wells County zoning classifications and asks several questions — including where rural residential development should be promoted, how many homes should be allowed per square mile in agriculture zoning districts, and where industrial zoning should be encouraged.
Copies of the questionnaire are now available at the Area Plan Commission office in the Wells Carnegie Government Annex, 223 W. Washington St., and will almost certainly be available soon in other locations. It’s available on the Wells County Area Plan Commission’s website (http://www.wellscounty.org/apc.htm) and also on the News-Banner’s website (http://www.news-banner.com).
Questionnaires will be accepted until the end of March, Lautzenheiser said, and then the steering committee will reconvene and review the comments. Then the writing and rewriting will begin and the new comprehensive plan will start to take shape.
“Right now we’re trying to gather as much information as possible from as many different interest groups as possible so that when we sit down, we don’t have to make anything up — we’re just grabbing and taking what we’ve already (received),” Lautzenheiser said.
In short, he said, the committee wants to have everything done on the front end, rather than the back end.
“We don’t want to write 75 pages of stuff we think is good, and then get comments on how we missed the mark on it,” Lautzenheiser said.
The goal is to have the writing done by August or September. The plan will then be presented to the members of the APC for their review. A public hearing on the plan will also be held at that time.
Assuming the APC members approve the plan, it will then be sent to the Wells County Commissioners and the municipal governments of Bluffton, Ossian, Vera Cruz, Poneto, Uniondale, and Zanesville. (Markle is excluded since the entire town — including the Wells County portion — is under the jurisdiction of the Huntington County Department of Community Development for zoning and planning purposes.)
The different authorities will have more time to review the plan if the steering committee finishes it by August or September, and the steering committee will have more time to consider any changes and include them in the plan.
The current 20-year plan is due to expire at the end of 2013.

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