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Portage nears comprehensive plan completion
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Portage nears comprehensive plan completion

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Portage Plan Commission members evaluated the final pieces of the city’s proposed 2030 comprehensive plan during their meeting Monday before a public hearing and a Common Council vote on it planned for January.

Joshua Langen, community and economic development consultant for planning advisers company Vierbicher Associates, presented land use and implementation during the meeting, which are the final two chapters of the nine-chapter document.

Land use was of particular importance, Langen said.

“That’s the biggie,” he said, before pointing to a map that specifies portions of land throughout the city. “That’s the one we want to make sure we get right.”

Comprehensive plans are documents that outline future community goals generally centered around development. The introduction to the 2030 City of Portage Comprehensive Plan indicates the planning document focuses largely on land use with objectives for improvements based on community feedback.

Comprehensive plans tend to span a decade. Portage last created one in 2008. It also adopted a strategic economic plan in 2012. The 2019 Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan was recently approved. There are also transportation plans in place to address transportation-related concerns within the city.

The 2030 comprehensive plan highlight issues the city faces and how to address them. In drafting the document, planners gathered data from residents who attended a public workshop and a public hearing. There was also a survey made available online or on paper if requested.

A chapter focusing on agricultural, natural and cultural resources touches on plans to prevent water run-off through cooperative agreements with conservationist groups and notes that effective marketing needs to continue to address a concern over vacant commercial and industrial buildings. It also outlines a goal to attract more people to the area through the city’s “unique” history to bolster tourism and downtown revitalization.

Another chapter provides an assessment of public facilities and utilities. Some goals include a study to identify whether the city has adequate facilities for seniors as well as youth activities or how to provide a way for proper disposal of solid waste through cost-effective services for composting, recycling and disposal of hazardous waste. Goals also pointed to specific park improvements, like the removal of a rusted backstop at Pauquette Park.

Other chapters address transportation, housing, economic development and intergovernmental cooperation, like the regional planning commission or joint efforts between the city and towns or Columbia County. Housing concerns span a number of topics, from half the population living as renters rather than homeowners to an aging housing stock with little new development.

For land use, Langen said goals would be to promote infill development, or building in open spaces throughout the city rather than sprawling outward. Plans also call for keeping the cost of new development “reasonable” in a way that does not negatively affect residents with burdensome tax rates. Another goal was to promote growth in a way that does not clash with current city land uses.

“It’s something you already do, just keep looking for new ways to make land uses harmonious,” Langen said.

Another component of operating smoothly is to ensure the city remains adequately staffed, he said. If that happens, more consistency will be assured as new projects are undertaken and may even require additional contracted workers.

Langen said though sections of the city should remain consistent in use, like industrial remaining in its own block while residential stays separate within its own space, some companies could make connections with private developers to provide more housing for employees.

“As some of the industrial districts get a little cleaner, a little quieter, they don’t even mind having connections because more and more they’re looking for apartments,” Langen said. “We’re seeing even industrial and residential are starting to at least connect a little bit better.”

Development should also avoid large parking lots that will be “really hard to repurpose” once the building use becomes obsolete.

All seven members, Director of Planning and Business Development Steve Sobiek and City Administrator Shawn Murphy gathered around boards displaying the land use map. Plan Commission member Brian Zirbes pointed out inconsistencies with the 2019 Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, which he helped adopt as president of the city’s parks committee. Discussion of different sections of the city took place among them.

Langen stood answering questions, markers in hand ready for anyone looking to amend the proposed map as part of the final touches before it goes to public hearing Jan. 20. It will be considered for approval by the Portage Common Council at its Jan. 23 meeting.

Mayor Rick Dodd, who serves as the chairman of the Plan Commission, encouraged everyone to talk to residents about the plan before the public hearing. That way, Dodd said, concerns and questions can be brought to Sobiek and Langen for possible changes before the public hearing and subsequent final approval.

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget.

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