Dozens of people have filled the City of Fitchburg’s Council chambers a few times over the past year-and-a-half.
Almost always, it’s been because of proposed – or previously enacted – changes to a city document: its Comprehensive Plan.
It guides the city’s future development for a 20-year period, helping map out where the next houses, apartments and businesses will go. Now, it’s due for an update, as required by the state of Wisconsin every 10 years.
“We of course have a lot of land-use conflict and contention,” city planner Sonja Kruesel told alders at a May Committee of the Whole meeting. “It sets forth a predictable system for when, how and at what pace change may occur.”
The Common Council and Plan Commission still have to decide what sort of rewrite process they’re interested in. Kruesel, who started in that position last summer, laid out the options to the Council at the May COW meeting.
They’ll have to decide where on the spectrum of “Refresh-Reconsider-Rewrite” they want the process to fall this time around after a yearslong process last time.
Kruesel explained the closer the city gets to a full rewrite, the more time it will take and the more public input will be required. The closer to refresh, meanwhile, the quicker it can be completed, which she said would create a document “pretty similar to what we have now with some tweaks.”
It’s an important decision, because as Mayor Aaron Richardson pointed out to the Star, the effects of the plan last well beyond its 10 year lifespan before it’s reconsidered.
“Those buildings don’t go away in 10 years,” he said.
It will set out expectations for city residents on the periphery of current urban and suburban neighborhoods that will have growth next to them, as well as for landowners who would like to sell their property for development someday.
It can be amended after approval at one time each year, with the ability to make as many changes as are requested. But for many, as evidenced by the controversy over a 2017 change to allow high density in the North Stoner Prairie Neighborhood from what had originally been limited to medium density in the last comprehensive plan, it will be taken as the city’s word about what will go where.
Richardson said it’s an opportunity, and “probably the biggest reason” he ran for the one-year term as mayor.
“We have in some ways a blank slate,” he said. “We don’t want every neighborhood to look the same.”
While there will be input opportunities regardless of the level of change city officials choose, it could range from a survey sent to residents to simply offering public input time at regularly scheduled meetings. Richardson said they hope to hear from residents, businesses and developers.
Kruesel and Richardson said redevelopment will also be a key consideration this time around, something that hasn’t been a concern in the past given the city is less than 40 years old. North Fish Hatchery Road is an area undergoing “incremental improvements,” Kruesel said, and that strategy could apply elsewhere.
Beyond the development it outlines, Kruesel added, it will play a role in what freedom it gives future planners as they consider what already exists, whether that’s sewer service or public amenities, and what that makes feasible.
“We’re a relatively young community,” Kruesel said. “The decisions that we make today and where we decide to put our infrastructure or institutional sites for schools or how our neighborhoods develop, those decisions will impact us for the next 50 to 100 years, and more of course.”