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Town reaches halfway point in new comprehensive plan; disagreements loom on rurality vs. urbanization

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Town of Cottage Grove

A sign welcomes drivers to a rural end of Cottage Grove.

The town of Cottage Grove is halfway through development of a new comprehensive plan, with a completion date set for sometime in winter of 2022, town officials confirmed.

Representatives from the municipality said the comprehensive planning process began last winter, with hopes to use the plan as a guide for the next 10 to 20 years of economic growth, development, housing, and resource preservation in the town.

Town Chair Kris Hampton said town board and plan commission members will use the comprehensive plan to “determine how the town views development,” as well as “deciding where and how that development will take place.”

Hampton said the comprehensive plan is essentially a guide in getting from point A to point B as concepts and ideas for new development projects come to light.

2021 marks six years since the town last updated its comprehensive plan, with Hampton saying one catalyst for the development of a new plan is updated guidance from the county on how the town should handle changes to its comprehensive plan.

In previous years, town residents wanting to see a change in the content of the comprehensive plan could, on a yearly basis, bring that issue to the plan commission to request a change.

Now, Hampton said representatives from Dane County have advised the town to change that from a yearly opportunity to an every other year opportunity.

According to Hampton, if a development idea is not under the umbrella of what’s covered in the comprehensive plan, it’s not likely to happen unless a change or amendment is made to the plan.

Comprehensive plans are typically conducted once every decade, but Town Planner Mark Roffers said the municipality is starting four years early to align with information from the 2020 census.

“We’re able to take advantage of updated information from... the 2020 census,” Roffers said. “That’s helpful, and that will then put the town on a 10 year update cycle that makes sense when that data is available again in 2031.”

Roffers also described the current town climate as, “a time of great change,” saying the town has seen a number of development plans over the last several years that challenge what’s outlined in its 2015 comprehensive plan.

Having a clear comprehensive plan is critical to make sure everyone’s on the same page, Roffers said, though some town residents seem to be on different pages surrounding issues of urban and rural development.

A comprehensive plan survey sent to residents in April of this year showed conflicting responses as to why residents actively choose to live in the town.

When survey respondents were asked to list their top reasons for residing in Cottage Grove, the number one answer was the ‘rural atmosphere’ of the town, followed closely by the urban, city-like feel that neighboring Madison brings to the town.

“Those two things don’t always work in harmony with one another, and that’s why you see the pressures on growth and development here in the town, and the push and pull associated with that,” said Roffers. “Madison is providing a lot of opportunity for folks to live close to work and shopping, but also providing growth pressure for the town.”

Through 2045, the town anticipates demand for less than 525 additional acres of undeveloped land for rural housing development, and less than 500 additional acres for new or expanded commercial development.

Town officials said they hope to utilize the new comprehensive plan in finding a happy medium between rural preservation and urban development.

“Part of what we want to do with this planning process is to either reconfirm or challenge this vision, in total or in part, to make sure that we’re still on the right track,” Roffers said.

The comprehensive planning process in Cottage Grove will continue through the summer and into winter 2022 before a public hearing is held, and eventually a final vote from the town board. Once approved by town board members, the plan will go to Dane County officials for a final say.

Hampton said the town is currently sifting through feedback from town residents to see if any changes can be made before the plan is taken to the public hearing later this year. He is encouraging anybody with feedback or input on the comprehensive plan to contact the plan commission.

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