JEFFERSON — Jefferson County’s Comprehensive, and Agricultural Preservation and Land Use plans are advancing through public and governmental channels, with key themes emerging that include finding a balance between maintaining the county’s rural character and promoting urban growth.

Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier told the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that public engagement efforts have driven development of the plan, noting that there have been more than 1,800 participants in the process.

According to Wehmeier, the public has made it known that it wants a preservation of the county’s agricultural foundation, collaboration of local and regional entities and jurisdictions, more educational opportunities, preservation of resources and a modernization of policies.

Addressing housing as part of the plans, the public has said it wants greater affordability and options, along with more opportunities for the aging population to find viable living situations. There is also a need for more workforce-level housing, because housing stock is aging.

In the areas of transportation, the public said there needs to be more in the way of transportation options for the elderly, a greater variety of transit modes, more ride-sharing and commuting opportunities, and roadway system planning.

Since the summer of 2020, Jefferson County has been listening to input from residents and stakeholders as it works to update two of its long-range planning documents that outline strategies for growth, and preservation of its assets and resources.

Wehmeier has called the comprehensive, and agricultural preservation and land-use plans, “crucial visionary documents” for the future of the region.

He said they cover significant policy areas, including agricultural, natural, and cultural resources; transportation; housing; economic development; community facilities and intergovernmental cooperation.

“Public input and engagement is crucial to help guide the development of these plans to ensure the vision of future growth aligns with the needs of stakeholders in a balanced, proactive approach,” Wehmeier said in July.

On Tuesday, he described how the updated planning documents may change from the current ones.

He said there is a much stronger focus on the relationships and interdependence of the comprehensive plan and the agricultural and land use plan, as well as other planning documents. He said the plans will likely develop into their own “ecosystem” of interdependence.

“Collaboration and cooperation are highlights,” Wehmeier said, adding that the plans will stress expanded environmental protections throughout the county.

“(They will likely) discourage development in areas that possess valuable natural resource characteristics and wildlife habitats,” he said. “They will protect groundwater and surface water quality.”

According to Wehmeier, housing and development in rural areas will be directed in ways that design and locate homes in a manner that minimizes adverse impacts on agriculture and maintains the rural character of Jefferson County. Higher-density residential development would be encouraged in areas along transportation corridors and where public utilities are available. Non-agricultural-related businesses and industries would be encouraged to locate in areas along transit corridors and where public utilities would already exist.

Addressing agriculture, Wehmeier said there would be a minimization of non-agricultural development on prime agricultural soils and the county would maintain the integrity of agricultural districts allowing for accepted agricultural practices.

“We are really now in the process of including all of (the public’s) comments,” Wehmeier said.

The next steps for the plans include a joint executive committee/planning and zoning committee meeting Jan. 25 to consider revisions and a final recommendation to the county board at its February meeting.

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