Watertown City Council seeks input from residents, plan will guide decisions on everything from business growth to solar systems
By Melissa Priebe
The Watertown City Council embarked on writing the 2040 Comprehensive Plan in January, directing staff to draw up plans for the future vision of the town.
After some obstacles surfaced in completing the last Comprehensive Plan, city officials are hoping for a smoother process and more engagement from the public, to incorporate their ideas for the development of Watertown.
A Comprehensive Plan is a governing document that guides residential and commercial expansion, as well as laying out guidelines for new activity such as solar systems or agricultural use. City Engineer Andrew Budde said the document for Watertown will apply to certain elements of the community and the city as a whole, including job creation, opportunities for businesses, schools, parks, economic development and things of that nature.
Watertown city staff have drawn up a timeline to ensure a thorough process in creating the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.
“Staff looked at what was done during the last comprehensive plan process,” said Budde. “We looked at the plan itself as it projected out to 2030.”
City staff have also been working on some measures to improve the process for writing a Comprehensive Plan, in order to avoid obstacles that have come up in the past.
“In the last comprehensive planning process, we did not have a specific utility plan, so sewer and water was not necessarily all planned out, and we didn’t have an orderly organization agreement,” said Budde. “Because of that and because we haven’t grown, I think, at the rate that was anticipated 10 years ago, given the economy and everything else that happened… They’re not done or they’re not perfect, but they’re probably in a good place right now. That gives us a different framework to start from, from what we had, say, 10 years ago.”
He said the process of developing the plan will be led by the Watertown Planning Commission, and it will require input from a variety of committees and other stakeholders, such as the Park Board.
“One of the biggest components of that process is the public involvement, and the strategies that we employ to try to engage public input and make sure that our constituent base has a good opportunity to provide input and ask questions as to what the plan looks like,” said Budde. He said public input is integral to creating a successful plan. “That’s something we want to capture.”
Last time, the City of Watertown sent a survey to local residents that asked what they wanted to see covered in the plan. The city council agreed that they should distribute a survey again this year, and encourage a large response rate from local residents.
“We’d try to put together that first,” said Budde. “After that community survey, if that is what we want to move forward with, we would then look to have a community meeting.”
The city council agreed to make the timeline for developing the 2040 Comprehensive Plan “very public.” They said residents who want to play a role in shaping the plan should attend city council meetings and keep an eye out for public hearings and other opportunities to discuss the plan in committees, such as the Park Board or the Commission on Aging.
“It is laid out as an 18-month process,” said City Council Member Adam Pawelk, “and there is a lot of things going on here.”
City Council Member Mike Walters said the Comprehensive Plan provides “a road map,” that helps residents and city officials to realize the “ultimate vision of what you want your community to be.” He pointed to the huge growth potential of a city like Watertown, and said the plan would be important in identifying how the land in the area will be used. In addition to development, the plan deals with transportation methods, parks and recreation, and vital services like utilities and storm water.
“Then it also addresses things like out downtown development. It addresses things like industrial and commercial growth, and how we’re going to accommodate it and where we’re going to accommodate it,” said Walters. “So the Comprehensive Plan is a map. It’s a way that we can take a vision – a broader vision for what the community wants to look like – and I always say what it wants to be when it grows up – and how we’re going to get there.”
Already, the City of Watertown has seen the existing Comprehensive Plan play a significant role in protecting the town of Watertown. It laid out guidelines that helped to prevent a new solar system from being installed in Watertown Township, and it included guidelines for how the downtown business district should evolve.
“I’m really pleased to see a lot of community engagement,” said City Council Member Lindsay Guetzkow. “I really would like to stress to residents that the more community engagement we have, ultimately the better plan we’ll come up with.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Watertown City Council approved a measure to direct staff to pursue the planning process for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.
Updates about opportunities for public involvement will be posted on the city website at www.ci.watertown.mn.us.
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