GREENWOOD TWP- In a reversal of previous statements by the township’s Planning Director Julia Maki, a series of at least two public hearings on the draft of the new comprehensive plan will be held …
GREENWOOD TWP- In a reversal of previous statements by the township’s Planning Director Julia Maki, a series of at least two public hearings on the draft of the new comprehensive plan will be held in Greenwood Township, including one by the township’s Planning Commission, which oversees zoning matters.
The township steering committee that worked with consultant John Klaers to develop the plan passed the plan on to the town board, not the Planning Commission, for final approval after their January meeting.
But questions were raised at the January Planning Commission meeting, as well as by Township Supervisor John Bassing, noting that the township zoning ordinance gave the Planning Commission the responsibility to hold a pubic hearing and then grant approval to the plan, before sending it to the town board for final approval.
At the Feb. 8 town board meeting, Maki asked the town board to hold the first public hearing, before sending it on to the Planning Commission.
She noted that the Planning Commission, which has had no direct input into the comprehensive plan, is busy right now with required changes to the township’s zoning ordinance, as well as at least one upcoming conditional use permit hearing.
“We are basically rewriting the entire ordinance,” she noted, saying she expected that process to be completed by late spring or early summer.
“That way,” she said, “depending on the results, either forward it to the Planning Commission for the official public hearing or send it back to the steering committee for more work.”
Bassing pressed to have the plan sent to the Planning Commission first, noting this was the procedure laid out both in the township’s own ordinance and in state law. He also noted that the natural progression of such-developed plans was to go from the committee that developed the plan, to the next higher-up committee, and then on to the town board.
Bassing, along with Planning Commission Vice-Chair Mark Drobac, had consulted with an attorney from the Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT) on the issue.
“After the hearing, the Planning Commission makes any necessary changes and then forwards it to the town board,” he said.
Maki said she had consulted the township attorney, who said it was appropriate for the town board to have a hearing first. She said she felt it was necessary to get an opinion from the township attorney, because the information from the MAT attorney didn’t “jive” with information on the MAT website.
“The Planning Commission hasn’t worked on this plan at all,” she said. “It would be a difficult process for them to do….I predict they couldn’t get to this until the middle or end of summer.”
“My fear is,” said Maki, “if the Planning Commisison was to have the public hearing in the near future, and they got major concerns, 100 comments, etcetera, it would put the Planning Commission in a real tough spot.”
“If the public is really upset with the comprehensive plan,” she said, “this is a true concern.”
“Worst case scenario,” Maki said, “what if it looks like the steering committee did a really bad job? Would the Planning Commission have to rewrite the whole plan? That is what I am trying to avoid.”
Chairman Kirsten Reichel noted that a town board public hearing would provide the opportunity for the public to comment on the plan.
The township attorney, Maki said, agreed that the first hearing could be held by the town board or by the Planning Commission.
Audience member Steve Lotz noted that if the town board holds the first hearing, that would most likely mean at least three public hearings, because a second public hearing by the Planning Commission would need to be followed by a third hearing by the town board, if any changes were made.
Retired Planning Director and long-time St. Louis County Board of Adjustment member Marilyn Mueller noted that the Planning Commission is much more familiar with the township’s zoning ordinance that the town board.
“Give it to the Planning Commission,” she said. “Let them look at it, make comments, and send it back to where it came from [steering committee]…then come to the board.”
Much of the nitty-gritty portion of the comprehensive plan is new zoning maps which designate types of development allowed in specific areas; wetland and watershed maps; and land use concept maps with designated areas for high, moderate and low-density development for example. The plan also includes a community asset inventory with analysis of housing, population, public services, recreation and culture, and more.
The board voted 3-2, with Bassing and Gene Baland voting against, to have the town board host a public hearing on the plan sometime in April, possibly prior to the regular April 12 meeting, though no firm date was set.
The plan, once approved, may require changes to the township’s zoning ordinance. It will also serve as a guideline/map for future development, and will be a useful tool for securing future grant funding.
A copy of the draft plan and associated documents can be found online at http://greenwoodtownshipmn.com/joom/index.php/comprehensive-plan.
In other business at the Feb. 9 meeting, the board:
• Appointed Don Doroff to the open position on the Planning Commission. There is still one open spot, which will be filled in the future.
• Appointed Marcia Viettunen as head election judge and Delores Clark as alternate head election judge for the upcoming township election on March 8. All township election judges are trained to take on head judge duties, said clerk Ellen Trancheff, who normally serves in this role but is on the ballot this year.
The board also noted the recent death of resident Jeanne Franson, a longtime election judge, and noted she will be missed.
• Reversed a decision from a previous meeting and will ask the township attorney to attend the annual meeting on March 8. John Milbridge brought the motion to the table, and the vote passed 4-1 with Bassing voting against. Resident Jeff Maus noted that in past years, it has cost the township over $1,000 to have their attorney attend the meeting.
“The township attorney has no authority over the annual meeting,” said Bassing.
“He would just be there as a spectator,” noted Joanne Bassing.
But Chair Reichl said that over the last 15 years they’d always had the attorney present to answer questions that arise.
“Sometimes he has clarified information for people,” she said. “it is more of a guide or answer-man if the moderator doesn’t know.”
• Set official town hall office hours, beginning March 1, from 8 a.m. – 12 noon Monday through Friday, though the office might be closed in case of poor weather or illness. Supervisor Baland noted he had been cleared of charges of violating the state’s open meeting law.
“I can be considered a good guy again,” he said.
• Approved the township’s annual Board of Audit.