City comprehensive plan met with resistance
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Mt. Pleasant City Council members unanimously approved the city’s new comprehensive plan Wednesday, but the public hearing prior to the council vote was anything but unanimous.
About a dozen farmers voiced their concern and criticism of the document during a 30-minute public hearing on the plan before the council voted.
The farmers said they didn’t have any input into the plan and feared that farmland would be taken or disturbed by future city growth.
“It makes it difficult to farm when you have a road running through your farm,” Marilyn Scott stated. “We don’t want streets or townhouses out there (in rural areas).”
Another ag producer claimed the city was “making a vision for our ground that we weren’t even asked about.”
Had the city contacted farmers whom the plan might impact would have been beneficial, added another rural resident.
Council members defended the plan, saying that it was merely a map for future growth and said farmland would have to be purchased before any expansion of the city in rural areas.
However, the city does have eminent domain power, noted City Administrator Brent Schleisman. “The city does have eminent domain power and could do it (take land) whether it was in this plan or not.”
Mayor Steve Brimhall agreed with Schleisman, but said the city has never exercised that power and if they were to use eminent domain “we better have a good reason.”
“We have to have a long-range plan to move the community forward,” contended Schleisman. “We have to have it for grants. This plan is not a threat to anyone. There’s no way the city can contact everyone about every aspect of this plan. It’s too broad. It’s our responsibility to the community and by law we have to have this plan.”
Zach James, a planner with the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission (SEIRPC), opened the public hearing by giving an overview of the plan. The framework for the plan began in the fall of 2015, gathering various statistics and data on the community.
From March to July 2016, a public survey was made available to Mt. Pleasant residents and presentations were made to local civic groups. Interviews were also conducted with local stakeholders, both public and private.
Preparation of the plan draft document — summarizing of data, drafting of goals and objectives and a future land use plan — occurred from June to October of last year. In November 2016, a draft version was made available to the public. The plan was approved by the Mt. Pleasant Planning & Zoning Commission earlier this month.
Briefly, a comprehensive plan provides data for future development in the community; provides a vision for city priorities and public investments in the next 15 to 20 years; serves as guidance for decision makers, such as planning and zoning and the city council; and serves as a legal basis for land-use regulations.
“One of the key findings was that people enjoy and like Mt. Pleasant,” assessed James. “They would like better coordination with Iowa Wesleyan University in economic development and marketing. They say more housing and a more diverse range of options for different household types is needed.”
Other key findings were that the city should be more competitive in the recreational and lifestyle amenities offered; and that demographics have changed, such as a more racially diverse and aging population now living in Mt. Pleasant.
Vision for the plan is: “Mt. Pleasant will be the best small town in Iowa. Mt. Pleasant will offer ‘big city opportunities’ for recreation, health care, education, culture and business while preserving our pleasant small town atmosphere.”
James urged the council not to just put the document on a shelf to collect dust. “It is up to you to utilize and update this plan for future use,” he said. “It will be important to periodically review this to achieve the vision and goals for the future. These (goals and visions) are not set in stone or mandates, but things that could foster future growth.”
Although the public hearing on the plan dominated the meeting, the council awarded a contract, approved several mayoral appointments, okayed a two-year agreement with The Mt. Pleasant Benefitted Fire District and more.
Frank Millard and Company of Burlington out-bid five other firms for a bar screen replacement at the wastewater plant. Millard will be paid $625,000. Bids ranged upward to $923,000.
Emily DeWulf Glass and Lea Bradley were re-appointed to three-year terms on the Mt. Pleasant Historic Preservation Commission. Ray Vens was appointed to a three-year term, replacing Elizabeth Garrels, on the Main Street Mt. Pleasant Board.
The council approved a two-year agreement with the Mt. Pleasant Benefitted Fire District. A benefitted fire district is whereby a city fire department provides fire protection to surrounding townships, and the townships pay a fee for that protection. The city will receive $47,698 from the townships during each year of the agreement.
Tax abatements were approved for 40 properties that either are new construction or remodeling projects. Included on the list are 35 residences with a total construction value of nearly $3.8 million. Property owners have until 4:30 on Feb. 1 to apply for the abatement. Applications should be made to Jack Swarm, city planning and zoning administrator.
In final action, the council:
• Approved an engineering service agreement with Warner Engineering to provide the preliminary planning for the East Winfield Avenue reconstruction project. The street will be reconstructed from Grant Avenue to the U.S. Highway 218 overpass this summer.
• Set Feb. 8 at 5:30 p.m. as the date and time for a public hearing on a proposed agreement whereby the city will borrow $5.1 million from the State Revolving Loan Fund to make sanitary sewer improvements which are being mandated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and The Environmental Protection Agency. The council will have another public hearing during the Feb. 8 meeting to borrow up to $500,000 from the State Revolving Loan Fund for the paving of the Mapleleaf Athletic Complex parking lot.
Council members will meet again in regular session Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 5:30 p.m., at City Hall.