Firm to update comp plan for $250K

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HANCOCK COUNTY — The county is taking on the bulk of a $250,000 fee for updating a plan guiding how it develops in the future.

The decision follows officials’ selection in April of Vandewalle & Associates, with offices in Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio, to help revise the county’s comprehensive plan. It will include visions for land use and thoroughfares along with an economic development strategy.

Selecting Vandewalle & Associates kicked off negotiations on a fee, which resulted in two proposals — one for $234,000 and one for $250,000. Hancock County Council members earlier this month unanimously approved the latter, with the county providing $234,000 and the Hancock County Community Foundation providing $16,000.

The comprehensive plan was adopted in 2005 and underwent an in-house update in 2012. Its upcoming update is expected to take up to 18 months and will include public workshops and steering committee meetings.

“I hope that in these new comprehensive plan planning sessions, this group can help us decide what we really want to be,” said Jeannine Gray, a county council member.

Council member Bill Bolander, who also serves on the county plan commission, voted against going with Vandewalle & Associates at plan commission meetings despite recently voting in favor of the firm’s fee. He told the Daily Reporter he was concerned over how much money the firm wants, but encouraged by the community foundation’s offer to help.

“I think they’ll (Vandewalle & Associates) do a good, quality job, I just kind of thought it might be a little on the high side,” he said.

Mary Gibble, president and CEO of the community foundation, offered the $16,000 grant at the plan commission’s meeting last month.

“The community foundation recognizes that a quality and sense of place — this place — is a critical component of community development, economic development, attracting new investment to our community, and retaining talent,” Gibble said. “Therefore, we are very interested in supporting the county’s comprehensive planning process.”

Randy Sorrell, executive director of the Hancock County Economic Development Council, said at the recent county council meeting that the thoroughfare plan and economic development strategy will set the upcoming comprehensive plan update apart from ones in the past, which have solely addressed land use.

“It’s a tripod effect,” he said. “Each component is going to inform the other.”

During the update, consultants will perform studies to conclude the highest and best land uses for different parts of the county. The thoroughfare plan will consist of an inventory of all roads and streets along with determinations on what kinds of improvements will be necessary to accommodate the new land use plan and economic development strategy.

There’s also a legal motivation for an up-to-date comprehensive plan. State law requires Indiana counties to have comprehensive plans if they have zoning ordinances. When the Hancock County Plan Commission considers petitions from landowners to have their land rezoned to a different classification so they can carry out different uses, one of the commission members’ tasks is to determine whether that change aligns with the county’s comprehensive plan.