The Adams County Board’s Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the final draft of the plan and make a recommendation to the County Board.
The meeting will take place in room A021 in the Science and Technology Building at John Wood Community College. It is open to the public.
In preparation for the meeting, the team from JEO Consultants of Wahoo, Neb., who put together the plan, released to the committee a series of questions that were raised during recent public hearings along with their answers. Here is a complete copy of that report:
Question 1: This Plan has been referred to as a “living, breathing document.” Does that mean it can be changed easily? For example, material that appeared in the Preliminary Draft was removed in the Final Draft, apparently without the Steering Committee’s knowledge.
Answer: A Comprehensive Plan is a living, breathing document. This means that it can and should be changed, amended, or altered over time so that it remains relevant and accurate. A Comprehensive Plan is only as good as the information it contains; its usefulness will erode quickly if the information is allowed to stagnate. As the desires and preferences of Adams County residents and officials evolve over time, this Plan should also evolve to keep pace with those changing conditions.
At this point, the document is merely a draft. As such, it can, and has been, changed numerous times. At nearly every Steering Committee meeting, suggestions are made to include or exclude specific information, correct errors and omissions, and alter text to more accurately reflect the consensus on a particular issue. Changes made at this point occur fairly frequent and can be made easily. However, any information that has been removed with ease can be reinserted just as easily.
Once adopted, this Plan cannot be changed in the same manner. A committee or an individual would not have the authority to make any changes to the Plan on their own. Any proposed change to the Plan would be required to be formally submitted to the County, reviewed by appropriate County staff who would provide input and a recommendation, then would have to be acted upon by the County Board in a public hearing process, much like the one being used to adopt the Plan in the first place. The complexity of the proposed change will influence how easy future amendments are, but all changes to an adopted Plan will need to be approved by the County Board.
Question 2: Why were several environmental maps and related text removed from the Plan when the Final Draft was presented to the Steering Committee? Who authorized the removal of this information?
Answer: The maps and text that were removed all addressed certain environmental data. Specifically, these maps depicted areas within Adams County that have limitations to the development of dwellings with or without basements, roads, and septic systems. Although there can be several natural limitations to development (flood frequency, slope, topography, etc.), these maps depicted limitations based solely on soil type. Due to the nature of soils in Adams County, these maps indicated that dwellings with or without basements, roads, and septic systems should not be built in Adams County, or rather that the types of soil located in the majority of Adams County imposed severe limitations on any of these development activities.
The information used to prepare these maps is information Adams County already possesses and makes available to the public through its GIS system; therefore it is not new information created for this Plan. In addition, the underlying data cannot be manipulated to change the threshold between when an area is considered limited or severely limited. Therefore, if these maps are used, there is a potential risk that they could be interpreted to mean that homes, roads, and septic systems cannot be built in Adams County, and that simply is untrue.
Several individuals expressed concern that the maps would lead to misunderstandings about the effect of an area being identified as severely limited, when in fact, I-72 and I-172, many state and federal highways, and numerous homes have been built in these areas without consequence. The individuals raising these concerns were generally involved in civil engineering or development, and came from County staff, County residents, and JEO staff.
Because these maps were based on one criterion only, could be easily misunderstood, and merely duplicated information already in the possession and use of the County, they were determined by the consultant to be unnecessary for this document and were removed. These maps and associated information can be placed back into the Plan. However, the text will need to be revised to reflect the limited usability of the maps based on the level of information used in their creation.
Question 3: The consultants have removed the “Future Land Use” section of the Plan in order to make it appear that zoning will be more difficult to pass in the future. Yet, the consultants are on record in the newspapers as admitting that with this Plan in place, Adams County residents are only two votes away from zoning. How does the adoption of this Plan affect the passage of zoning in Adams County?
Answer: The consultants have proposed a process to the County should zoning ever be desired. That process begins with the preparation of a Future Land Use Plan. This document would provide a detailed map of the County identifying locations for specific types of uses. For example, it could indicate that one property is appropriate for commercial development, but not houses or industry. That plan could become the foundation for development regulations and the zoning map that depicts where uses can and cannot occur. The locations of these uses would be dependent upon any number of criteria the County wanted to consider, but would rely heavily on issues such as access to transportation routes, adequacy of public services such as water, sewer, electricity and emergency services, as well as proximity to existing uses that may conflict with future uses.
In the proposed Comprehensive Plan, the consultants have stated that developing this Future Land Use section is a necessary step towards adopting zoning, and if the Plan gets adopted with an outline of this particular process, it would have to be followed as an adopted County policy. Any referenced to the County being two votes away from zoning is a recognition of this process as proposed by the consultant: there would be a public process to develop the Future Land Use section and a public hearing necessary to adopt it, then another public process to develop the zoning ordinance and a second public hearing necessary to adopt it. The act of requiring the adoption of a Future Land Use section prior to adopting a zoning ordinance is a method familiar to the consultant, and is one used in other states.
In the State of Illinois, a County does not need to have a Comprehensive Plan, or Future Land Use section, adopted prior to enacting a zoning regulation. Adams County has the authority at this time to enact a zoning regulation with one voting process. The consultant has suggested that the development of a zoning regulation in the future be conducted only after a Future Land Use Plan has been prepared to examine any potential issues. While this could have been an element of the proposed Comprehensive Plan (and often is an included, if not required element in these plans), it has been omitted from the Final Draft in an effort to impose upon future County officials a necessary second step to further insulate the vast majority of Adams County residents who oppose zoning. The intention of doing this is to make zoning go through two votes in the future, as opposed to the one that is currently required.
Question 4: What will be the composition of the Adams County Planning Commission? Who will serve on it and what will there duties and authority be?
Answer: The County Board is empowered to create a planning commission to enforce the adopted Plan. The Illinois County Code provides that the Board may establish the number of members of the commission, their method of appointment, and their power and authority in any way the Board may deem proper and not in conflict with law. However, the County Code does not enumerate any of these details. By way of comparison, the Municipal Code provides the following rules and authorities for city Planning Commissions, inter alia;
• A plan commission shall be appointed by a mayor of a city or president of a village board subject to confirmation by the corporate authorities.
• Members of the plan commission shall reside within the municipality or within territory contiguous to the municipality and not more than one and one-half miles beyond the corporate limits and not included within any other municipality.
• The plan commission shall consist of a chairman and members serving for such terms and such compensation, if any, as the corporate authorities of the municipality may prescribe by ordinance.
• The ordinance may provide that the plan commission shall have a paid secretary or staff or both.
• To prepare and recommend to the corporate authorities a comprehensive plan for the present and future development or redevelopment of the municipality.
• To recommend changes, from time to time, in the official comprehensive plan.
• To prepare and recommend to the corporate authorities, from time to time, plans for specific improvements in pursuance of the official comprehensive plan.
• To give aid to the municipal officials charged with the direction of projects for improvements embraced within the official plan, to further the making of these projects, and, generally, to promote the realization of the official comprehensive plan.
• To prepare and recommend to the corporate authorities schemes for regulating or forbidding structures or activities which may hinder access to solar energy necessary for the proper functioning of solar energy systems, as defined in Section 1.2 of The Comprehensive Solar Energy Act of 1977, or to recommend changes in such schemes.
• To exercise such other powers germane to the powers granted by this article as may be conferred by the corporate authorities.
Question 5: Why is there no plan to implement the Adams County Comprehensive Plan? Who will enforce the goals and guidelines?
Answer: The actual implementation of this Plan, if adopted, is an issue that needs to be resolved. A Planning Commission is the appropriate body to manage the Plan and make recommendations to the County Board that will advance the goals and policies contained therein. This piece of the planning process should be developed prior to adoption, otherwise the duties required to implement the Plan will likely fall to an existing County staff member who may have little experience with this Plan or the planning process in general.
The goals and guidelines of the Plan are enforced by the County Board. The County staff and Planning Commission that work with the Plan on a day-to-day basis are advisory in nature and merely make recommendations to the County Board. However, through their consistent use of the Plan, they are in the best position to ensure recommendations are consistent with the Plan policies and previous recommendations. The County Board also has the responsibility of weighing other aspects of County management into their decisions, and may therefore reach an action that is contradictory to a recommendation.
Question 6: Will there be a requirement for building or zoning permits?
Answer: No. The Plan itself does not regulate or impose restrictions on land uses or any other action it addresses. The issue of building permits is a separate issue, albeit a related one. Building permits are based upon building codes, which can be enacted and enforced apart from a comprehensive plan. Zoning permits are only allowed if a zoning resolution has been adopted. Adoption of a Comprehensive Plan does not provide the authority to enforce permits on the construction, location, or use of a building or property.
Question 7: What does Transitional Agriculture mean to me? Will it result in the regulation of my property, such as for noise or light?
Answer: The County Land Use Management Policy (CLUMP) Map was prepared to demonstrate a hierarchy for a preferred distribution of land uses throughout the County. The motivations for a person to use their property in a particular way can be quite varied, and may ultimately hinge on the price of land more than any other factor. Because Adams County does not enforce zoning or other land use controls, any landowner has the ability to put their land to any use they see fit. This is true currently, and will continue to be true if this Plan is adopted.
The CLUMP map proposes another way to look at the distribution of land uses based upon increasing public service efficiencies and decreasing their costs, fiscally responsible infrastructure expansion, and early disclosure of County preferences. The CLUMP map depicts a range of use guidelines based upon the intensity and density of uses, their relationship to one another, and their relationship to existing or planned public infrastructure. In this scheme, the agriculture policy areas are the least dense and most common in remote areas of the County. The transitional policy areas indicate that greater use intensity and diversity would be appropriate in certain locations, i.e. near existing major transportation routes and areas that have medium to high existing densities. The urban reserve policy areas continue this hierarchy by locating high density uses near the intersections of major transportation routes or areas currently planned for high intensity expansion. In addition, the urban reserve areas are located near Quincy, which has the best potential for providing the level of public utility and infrastructure needed by high intensity uses.
Within each policy area, certain uses are identified as more appropriate than others. This list of uses is meant to be illustrative only, showing how the intensity of uses increases from agricultural areas to urban reserve areas. The term “transitional” when uses to modify a use suggests that a particular area will tend to have a mix of use types that act as a transition from one intensity level to another. Where two uses have significantly different intensities, the uses may conflict with one another if they are located adjacent to each other. A transitional zone can be used to separate them. Within this transitional zone, uses would be designed to reduce conflict. Landscaping, physical separation and intermediate uses can be used to separate low and high intensities.
Question 8: Why do the areas shown on the CLUMP map not follow recognized boundaries, such as rights-of-way, section lines, or property lines?
Answer: Since comprehensive plans are not regulatory, the boundaries for these areas were changed to the rounded form in order to minimize the implication that they are depicting regulations of any sort. These areas are intended to depict general areas where the stated policies are relevant to the potential for future development or growth. The bubble shapes reinforce the general nature of the policies, and can be altered without the need to make specific decisions regarding individual properties. They merely show an approximate area, not a concrete area.
Question 9: What is the consequence of an action that violates or does not follow this Plan?
Answer: Although this Plan is advisory, it does need to be followed if it is adopted. Decisions made by the County that are addressed by this Plan should be consistent with the Plan. The County will need to establish a threshold level under which decisions can be allowed to differ from this Plan, and over which decisions should follow the Plan. This threshold is usually tied to the acreage size of the proposal. However, it is also entirely possible and common that policies and statements within comprehensive plans may contradict one another in a given situation. When this happens, the decision should be made that is best for the County. In the case that a decision must be made that is contradictory to the Plan, and that decision is the best one for the County, the Plan may need to be changed to remain consistent. This situation happens regularly when unanticipated opportunities arise, or when the preferences of the County have changed over time.