La Crescent Township’s board of supervisors has voted to cede authority over zoning and planning to Houston County.
The change means applications from within the township for conditional and interim use permits, variance requests and building permits will be handled by the Houston County planning and zoning office in Caledonia.
The vote to shift responsibility for zoning to the county came after a township planning commission meeting Monday. The commission discussed the proposal and listened to public input but decided against making a recommendation for or against the plan to the board of supervisors.
Immediately after the commission meeting, the supervisors met and voted unanimously to disband the township’s zoning department and give authority over planning and zoning to the county.
Supervisor Bob Schuldt said the board had wanted to move quickly with the decision to minimize disruption for any pending applications for zoning changes or permits.
The change means the La Crescent Township Planning Commission will be dissolved. Schuldt said the township’s attorney is working on the details of the transition to the county.
Last month, the township board voted to start the process of giving control over planning and zoning to the county. The township was advised by its attorney that a public hearing should be held about the proposed change, a request that was carried out by the planning commission Monday.
Part of the impetus for the change was the announcement by township zoning administrator Larry Hafner that he planned to retire from his part-time position.
Schuldt noted that the township is the only one in Houston County that handles its own zoning and planning. The vast majority of townships in the state also do not have zoning departments, he said.
At the planning commission hearing Monday, a number of township residents expressed skepticism about the plan to give power over planning and zoning to the county.
Jeremy Chipps, who owns property in the township, said he was concerned about the county’s history of lax zoning enforcement.
He was one of several people at the hearing who are worried about an application by Milestone Materials to mine a 39-acre site located two miles west of La Crescent on the north side of County Highway 25. The property is known as the Scheil Quarry and Milestone Materials is a division of Onalaska-based Mathy Construction.
Township officials have said the township lacks the expertise to handle the application for a conditional use permit. The county is better equipped to deal with such cases, they argued, bolstering their case to cede control over zoning to the county.
Ken Tschumper, a La Crescent township resident, said he was part of the planning commission that first launched the township’s zoning department over 40 years ago. At the time, the township was seeing new residential development, he said. Now the township is being squeezed by the city of La Crescent, which has been annexing township properties, shrinking the township’s tax base. Tschumper said the township had little ability to stop the annexations, due to state law.
“The township is going to get annexed all the way out to Pine Creek,” he said.
Tschumper said he supported the township handing over its zoning responsibilities to the county.
The county has more resources to put a professional zoning and planning structure in place at some point in the future, he said. At present, Tschumper is one of many who regularly protest county land use decisions on matters like the recently approved expansion of the Winnebago Quarry. However, Tschumper noted, the township “has had terrible zoning too” so by giving up power over zoning, township residents were unlikely to lose much.
Planning commission member Jim Rozovics expressed concern about the township plan during what at times was a heated meeting. His chief concern, he said, was the lack of communication to the public about the proposal. For that reason, he asked for the process to be slowed down to allow for more input from the public.
But Bob Cummings, a member of the commission and outgoing township supervisor, said the public had been given an opportunity to attend meetings and public notices about those meetings had been published. There wasn’t much more the township could do, he suggested.
“We can’t pound you on the head and say ‘you must read this,’” Cummings said.
After most of those who attended the commission meeting Monday left the room, the township board of supervisors convened to vote to cede authority over zoning and planning to the county. The vote is final, Schuldt said, although some of the details have yet to be worked out.