Bridgewater Township is taking the next step in developing what could be a new industrial park.

Township leaders have indicated that if the township is to maintain the rural character residents have said they enjoy, it needs to increase its industrial tax base. But attracting the type of businesses and industries that blend with a township like Bridgewater, while ensuring regulations aren’t too stringent require a new zoning district.

The Rice County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 24 agreed to hold a public hearing needed before it can consider enacting a zoning change. The hearing is set for Oct. 7 at the Rice County Government Services Building in Faribault.

Bridgewater Supervisor Glen Castore explained to the board that the request follows a series of public meetings the township held four years ago. During those sessions, he said, residents agreed that allocating land in the southwest portion of the township for industrial and commercial uses makes the most sense.

Several gravel pits are locate in that area between County roads 8 and 9, and there’s access to the railroad. In the mid 200s, developers were interested in locating an ethanol plant in the area. But after the town board in 2007 voted to take control of its planning and zoning, a move which made construction of the ethanol plant as proposed impossible.

While there are current zoning designations which allow businesses to operate in rural areas, they’re really intended for businesses in incorporated areas, said Castore.

Julie Runkel, the county’s planning director, concurred, telling the board that the current code limits structures to 35 feet, and includes architectural requirements and materials more in keeping with a city’s aesthetic.

“Really, it’s pretty minimal the changes that would happen or could happen. There’s a lot of worry that this is going to change the landscape of every township out there, Commissioner Jeff Docken said of the proposed district, adding that the county has passed on several proposed businesses because they didn’t fit into existing zoning districts. “When you look at it from an agricultural standpoint there are things we shouldn’t let go.”

That district, Rural Industrial, has few differences from districts already included in county ordinances, but would consider the rural nature of the site. Approved uses are already permitted in the county.

While the Limited Industrial district fits Bridgewater Township’s needs, Runkel advised against expanding its use. That district allows adult book stores and clubs.

“Obviously, we didn’t want to open up their township to adult uses,” she said.

There were also concerns about approving the change when the county’s involved in updating its Comprehensive Plan. Work on the update began in 2015 and has been spotty ever since. Commissioners put the project on hold last year, reasoning that it needed the ability to gather in large groups that the pandemic doesn’t permit.

Docken said the timing didn’t concern him.

“To me it’s such a small tweak,” he said.

The public hearing will be held Thursday, Oct. 7.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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