The Onalaska Planning Commission is pushing for an update to the city’s unified development code, which many on the board say will promote growth downtown.

The changes outline a downtown district where developers have more flexibility to build on property that may not be zoned for that specific purpose. In the past, developers had to obtain a conditional use permit from the planning commission.

“I fully support what the staff is bringing forward… it will help downtown,” said Dennis Aspenson of Traditional Trades. “It helps the developer to get the project started on time and reduce the cost.”

Dennis Aspenson, speaking at a commission meeting last week, said anytime there is indecision and an issue has to be clarified by the planning commission, the planning subcommittee’s costs go up.

Commission member Knute Tempte said he supports the downtown development district, but felt there needed to be language in the code that made it clearer developers could still seek special consideration from the planning commission.

“I have more confidence in the planning commission to make these decisions,” he said.

Tempte said granting a conditional use permit to a developer on a case by case basis would not create a bad precedent.

City Planner Katie Aspenson said the downtown development district would offer developers more flexibility than they have in any other district in the city.

“No other district has this flexibility,” she said. “This particular area is allowing more control than in any other zoning district.”

Tempte insisted that there should be language in the code that indicated developers could still file for a conditional use permit if they didn’t fall within the limits of the code.

“I am willing to vote for this motion today if we are to add more we are willing to add that language,” he said.

Craig Breitsprecher initially supported adding this language, but quickly retracted his motion.

“We are trying to establish some level of consistency,” he said. “We want to keep as much flexibility for our developers, but we have to start somewhere.”

Dennis Aspenson said the revisions to the Unified Development code didn’t need any changes.

Instead, he suggested having the Planning Commission Subcommittee recommend an action to the planning commission that would do more to speed up the process for developers.

“Every time we kick the can down the street expenses go up and up,” he said.

The planning commission voted to forward the propsed changes to the Common Council for consideration.

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Winona Daily News Crime & Government Reporter

Tobias Mann covers crime and local government for the Winona Daily News. He can be reached at tobias.mann@winonadailynews.com or at 507-271-3271.

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