After more than eight years of discussion, planning and public input, Rice County has a new comprehensive plan.
The plan, which outlines a vision for growth and land use in the county over the next decade or so, was approved unanimously Tuesday. But as with much of the plan’s meandering path, it very nearly took an unexpected detour.
Commissioner Galen Malecha, who represents much of Northfield, kicked off discussion by saying that he was voting vote no to the plan because it was lacking in areas important to his constituency.
“I would have liked to have seen more teeth in its sustainability chapter … and a more aggressive housing portion,” he said.
Commissioner Steve Underdahl, who along with Malecha, sits on the county’s Sustainability Committee, agreed that the comprehensive plan needs beefing up when it comes to sustainability. He also expressed concerns about a planned commercial and industrial zone along Interstate 35 in the northern portion of the county, but instead of further delaying the approval approval process, Underdahl suggested authorizing an Alternative Urban Areawide Review that would act as almost an addendum to the comp plan.
For a moment it appeared as if the board would approve the comp plan contingent on the development of a review, but after Environmental Services Director Julie Runkel recommended commissioners take time to craft a thorough request for proposals seeking companies interested in conducting the review, the board voted to approve the plan.
Malecha said he was satisfied with the verbal agreement to develop a request for proposals.
According to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, the AUAR process a type of environmental review “to understand how different development scenarios will affect the environment of their community before the development occurs. The process is designed to look at the cumulative impacts of anticipated development scenarios within a given geographic area. … Environmental analysis information from an AUAR can be used to inform local planning and zoning decisions.”
Tuesday’s vote came two weeks after the board wrapped up a required public hearing in which a number of residents criticized plans to rezone several hundred acres along the interstate for commercial and residential development. Much of the land was the site of a proposed 466-acre car club and track, withdrawn in late 2019 after the developer lost rights to several of the properties involved.
Many of the same residents also questioned that proposal, finding it would permanently alter the rural nature of the community, harm wildlife and deplete valuable resources.
“I don’t understand why you would rezone an area with no vision of what belongs there,” Kathleen Doran Norton, a former Bridgewater Township supervisor said Sept. 28.
Bagley Avenue resident Elizabeth Heigl, also at the public hearing, asked the board to consider existing residents and the nearby community when deciding how and whether to approve commercial develop in the area.
“I don’t want a factory next door to me,” she said. “I beg you, please, please, use your resources wisely. Consider the people of the county that you serve.”