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Rural landowners surveyed for 'Smart Growth' plan

Pierce County mailed a survey last week to help 17 towns here gain public input as they develop "Smart Growth" plans, required statewide by 2010.

The 35-question Community Attitudes Survey form, featuring mostly multiple-choice answers, was expected to arrive in the mailboxes of rural landowners by the end of last week. They're asked to watch for it, take a few minutes to complete it and return it as soon as possible, no later than Friday, Jan. 19.

"We need your input," Pierce Land Management Administrator/Planner Andy Pichotta said Wednesday.

The survey includes sections on: demographics, development, commercial/industrial, service/utilities, transportation and general attitudes about the county. Pichotta said it went to people owning property in the unincorporated areas of the county and the responses are anonymous.

"No one will find out how their neighbors answered other than what town they're in," he said.

Answers are to be given from the perspective of one member of the household, a copy of the form shared by the administrator shows. Following some basic background about respondents and their living situations, the development section addresses issues such as the pace of development, government regulation of it, parcel sizes, housing needs and price ranges. Other sections discuss: commercial and industrial needs and growth, services available and needed, the county's jail facilities, condition of roads in the county, plus opinions about agriculture and tourism. Two essay questions ask for visions about the county and the respondent's particular town 10 years from now.

The survey is actually the second phase of a three-phase approach to the planning mandate, organized at the county level. Pichotta said the first phase involved data collection, compiling all background materials necessary to cover the nine required elements of the Smart Growth plan. There are now 18 sets of this material, counting all of the towns' along with the county's, a project for which Rudd and Associates of New Glarus was hired by the county.

"We tried to reduce the costs for the towns," he said about combining efforts in the interest of economies of scale. Costs to prepare for plan implementation range between $20,000 and $40,000, he added.

Rudd was retained to handle the survey phase, too. Owner Robert Rudd said Thursday his experience shows response rates have been as low as 30 percent and as high as 45 percent from surveys elsewhere.

"If we'd get 40-to-50 percent of the forms back, that would be good," he said.

The third phase will be the responsibility of the participating municipalities, Pichotta said. Facilitation and goal development as well as strategies to achieve these will be done. The municipalities may opt to hire a consultant for this phase or use resources from within.

The county's comprehensive plan was last updated in 1996, he said. At that time, the towns told the county what kind of zoning districts they wanted. The towns still have the ultimate say, he explained, it's just that Smart Growth (introduced with the 1999 budget bill) is becoming a factor in '10.

"We're not scrapping zoning," he said of the latest revision, but must be consistent in the plan.

As it's been, rezones go to the towns, which have the authority to veto them, he said. Yet, town officials are often without criteria needed to act. The revamp should help them make educated decisions about rezones.

For the county's part, conditions desirable in certain areas will be identified, Pichotta said.

The comprehensive plan definition initiated in '99 begins to provide the framework for a unified land use planning and regulation enabling law for Wisconsin, information from him states. The nine elements in the definition are: issues and opportunities, housing, transportation, utilities and community facilities, natural and cultural resources, economic development, intergovernmental cooperation, land use and implementation.