By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — In the early development of the United States, private property rights left little control for municipalities to choose the direction of their growth. A need for development and expansion planning, along with a community’s need to protect the welfare of its citizens, led to the development of legal provisions by federal legislation.
While federal legislation sets the provisions, Wisconsin law provides the framework for comprehensive planning within regional communities so they may provide goals for development and outline specific policies in which they will operate.
“The laws have changed on it quite a bit,” said Marshfield City Planner Josh Miller. “The biggest push for this plan right now and the push for the one that was adopted 10 years ago was the 1999 Comprehensive Planning Law, which was basically the ‘Smart Growth’ law. That’s what it was always coined.
“The one that we still follow is (Section) 66.1001, which is the state statute that we follow, and within it we are required to follow all of the information in it consisting of nine elements.”
The nine elements currently mandated by state law include issues and opportunities; housing; transportation; utilities and community facilities; agricultural, natural, and cultural resources; economic development; intergovernmental cooperation; land use; and implementation.
“These are all things required by state law,” explained Miller. “If the city wants to do any kind of activity related to land divisions — like subdivisions — or related to zoning, they have to adopt it, and those decisions have to be consistent with this plan.
“That was the whole impetus behind the 1999 Comprehensive Planning Law. … If municipalities were to have their own planning or zoning, they were required to have this plan in place, and it had to be consistent. … You want a clear plan that allows us to make decisions with consistency and with some confidence, but we also want to have some flexibility. Therein lies the (struggle) with what makes a good plan and what gives us flexibility in predicting the future.”
State law requires that comprehensive plans continue to be updated to address changing economic and social situations.
“Ten years from now, what does Marshfield look like?” questioned Miller. “If you go back to 2007, when the current plan was written, things changed. In 2007 then to 2008, we had the market crash. We had the recession, and that really affected the amount of housing starts that we had. So if you look at the building permits, … there were like 30-40 houses in a year prior to that, and now we are averaging about 10 new houses per year. That is a pretty significant drop.
“If we would have continued on the trajectory of adding 30-40 houses per year, we would obviously have a different land use. You are taking up a lot more land for single-family housing.
“We also have millennials who tend to be more renter-based because they are more transient, and with the housing bubble that burst, people were a little more tentative to buy a house.”
The process for updating Marshfield’s Comprehensive Plan began in June 2015 when a resolution was brought to the common council to adopt procedures in gathering public information regarding the plan.
Once Marshfield put a steering committee in place, an existing conditions report was developed, and the next nine months were spent gathering background information and demographics to get a snapshot of the community.
A kickoff meeting was held January 2016 followed by a midterm report in September 2016 as Miller and his advisory committee worked through the nine elements of the plan.
Miller is currently in the eighth element of the plan, intergovernmental cooperation, and has the land use and implementation segments to address.
As part of the public participation, Miller has hosted public forums to inform and engage the community in the revision process, hosting discussions with the Marshfield Young Professionals as well as forums at the Marshfield Senior Center, Mid-State Technical College, and the UW-Marshfield/Wood County.
Miller intends to host a future forum at Marshfield High School and is hoping to speak with other groups and organizations prior to the finalization of the plan.
“I think forums like this are useful beyond comprehensive planning,” said Miller. “It doesn’t have to be every 10 years. We can do this any time, and we can still affect change in the government.
“If there is that dialogue and we are getting this feedback, you can change the direction. … Sometimes it is the loud minority that gets heard. You have an opportunity to be heard.”
In the updating process, Miller strives to streamline the information-intensive plan by summarizing its contents into an overarching vision.
“To reiterate all of that in the comprehensive plan doesn’t make sense, so really what I am trying to do is create a higher level overall plan that puts these policies and programs together but recommends to reference those studies,” Miller said.
Miller uses the city’s Downtown Master Plan to demonstrate his purpose, “We’ve already spent a lot of time on it. It took us almost 10 months to do that plan, where our focus was on a small segment of the community, a small area. We provided recommendation for that. It wouldn’t make sense to restate all of that in the Comprehensive Plan.”
Work on the Comprehensive Plan will conclude this summer.
“The communitywide open house is when we will have the draft of the plan done,” said Miller. “We will have figures and information available to the public, and that will really be where people are invited to come in and look at the different maps and different sections of the plan and talk to staff and steering committee members if they have questions.”
The open house is planned to occur in April or May.
For more information on the comprehensive plan, visit ci.marshfield.wi.us/departments/development_services/comprehensive_plan_update.php.