Comprehensive plan update nearly finished

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HANCOCK COUNTY – A draft is finished for a plan designed to guide officials through decisions that will shape the county’s future, culminating a $250,000 effort that began over a year ago.

An open house and public hearing on that plan is coming up on Sept. 20 at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex. Visitors can drop in anytime 5-6:30 p.m. to view documents and maps, ask questions and provide feedback. At 6:30, the county’s area plan commission will gather for a presentation and public hearing.

The draft 2022 comprehensive plan for the county and other information that’s been part of the effort, called Future Hancock, is available at futurehancock.com.

At nearly 200 pages, the draft outlines goals and aspirations for how the county will develop as far as aspects like housing, land use, transportation, recreation and infrastructure. An overhaul has been underway since last year to replace the county’s current comprehensive plan adopted in 2005 and updated in 2012.

The plan makes land use recommendations for the unincorporated parts of the county as well as the towns of Shirley and Spring Lake. If adopted, the plan wouldn’t establish zoning, nor would it prevent current uses from continuing.

A thoroughfare plan that addresses roads and transportation matters is also part of the update, as well as an economic development strategy for the county.

The plan is called comprehensive for good reason, said Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Area Plan Commission.

“It really does, I think, a very thorough job,” Dale said, adding he and his colleagues are proud of the plan’s past updates, “but this new plan is much more expansive. It takes economic development to a whole other level, and there’s a long list of implementation strategies in there for following through the recommendations in the plan, so it’s going to be a really big, herculean task to implement the recommendations in the new plan, but it needs to be done. So the county really needs to step up and provide the staff and the resources to implement the plan.”

To lead the update, county officials selected Vandewalle & Associates, a consulting firm with offices in Wisconsin and Ohio, in April 2021.

“It didn’t seem long at all really,” Dale said of the process. “And Vandewalle did a great job, they did a fantastic job at outreach. Even now, people can go online to the website and give comments. … I don’t think we’ve ever had a process that was more open and available to our constituents than this particular project.”

That process included a lot of public outreach, as it should, he continued.

“As government, we work for our constituents, and we need to be accountable to them and follow through,” Dale said. “This is supposed to be a community-based plan, supposed to be the product of all these workshops we had, and other open houses, and we’re telling the people that their input is important, but we have to prove it by implementing it.”

The plan commission will take input during the upcoming public hearing. Dale expects members will want to absorb that feedback before returning for their regular monthly meeting a week later, where they may direct the consulting firm to make changes to the plan, or, if a majority supports it, recommend approval to the county commissioners. That body would vote on whether to adopt the new comprehensive plan.

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