Public hearing on Land Use Planning process erupts with angry and accusations PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 00:00
    At a Wednesday afternoon, August 19, public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Land Use Planning (CLUP) process underway in Washington County, opponents to the concept accused elected officials of attempting to usurp their individual property rights.  Some of the opponents even when as far as to say that the concept and those who supported it were “Communist.”
    Jill Saegesser of River Hills Economic Development facilitated the public hearing which is part of the mandated process the county must following in order to develop a county-wide land use plan.  Hoosier Hills is the agency charged with writing a federal grant with a maximum award of $50,000 for the purpose of contracting with a firm to conduct the necessary research and data gathering to develop a plan; the county will be expected to provide a 10% match to the federal grant, if received.  Saegesser emphasized repeatedly that the hearing was specifically to get public input on the grant submission phase of the process.  Several times during the one hour meeting, tangent questions and comments sent the discussion in a different direction, however.
    Saegesser stated several times that the grant application did not mean that zoning was the end goal of the process.  That statement seemed to have little impact on those opponents who were clearly concerned and angry.  Saegesser went on to explain that there is a clear difference between having a plan developed and implementing a plan.  Furthermore, she assured the forty-four attendees that a public hearing would be conducted at every stage of the process and public accessibility to information would always be available.
    During the heated exchanges, opponents of the concept kept repeating their claims that the majority of people in Washington County are opposed to it.  In response to that statement, Commissioner John Mishler said that he has made it a point to talk to people in the Pekin area before and since his election to the Board of Commissioners in November 2008. Mishler admitted that he has not kept records but he estimated that 90 per cent of the people he spoke with were in favor of zoning.  Mishler's comments were met with skepticism.  Of those in attendance at the public hearing, the number who spoke against CLUP and the number who spoke in favor of the concept were about the same. Several attendees chose not to comment.
    Commissioner David Brown stated that he and Mishler both ran on platforms supporting CLUP.      “We didn't try and hide it.  I think that is a major reason why we were both elected.”
    Both Brown and Mishler each won the general election by garnering 57 per cent of the votes cast.
    During the Commissioners' meeting that followed the public hearing, an ordinance to create a CLUP Commission was passed unanimously.  However, even that action does not mean that CLUP is a foregone outcome of the process.  The role of the CLUP Commission will be to receive the land use plan created and to work with the public to fine tune it prior to enacting or rejecting the concept.
    The next step in the process was taken at a special meeting on Monday, August 24, when the Commissioners unanimously selected Strategic Development Group (SDG) from Bloomington, Indiana as the firm to produce the land use plan for Washington County.  This selection was the culmination of several weeks of work in which the individual Commissioners evaluated the only two firms expressing interest in taking on the project.  After scoring each firm, all three Commissioners came to the same conclusion.  It should be noted that the selection of SDG is not the same as awarding a contract.  In order to apply for the aforementioned grant, a firm must be selected and the services that firm will provide included in the grant application.
    According to Commissioner Lana Sullivan who negotiated with SDG on behalf of the Commissioners, the $50,000 price is a real bargain.  At the beginning of this process early in 2009, estimates ran from $75,000 to well over $200,000 for a firm to create a land use plan in a county that does not have one.  
    According to Mishler, the reason that SDG's price is so low is because the firm is currently in the process of redoing Salem's land use plan and will incorporate much of that information into the plan for Washington County.

    For citizens interested in learning more about Comprehensive Land Use Planning in Indiana along with  the legal aspects and history of the concept, read Purdue University's Bulletin # ID-268 available at the Purdue Extension Office in the Government Building on Martinsburg Road or online at http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/ID/ID-268.pdf.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 August 2009 08:57