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Afton a step closer to comp plan completion

Step by step, Afton is inching closer to its draft comprehensive plan.

It won't be in time to meet the Metropolitan Council's Dec. 31 deadline -- that hope was abandoned a couple months ago -- but it should mean Afton can meet an extended deadline of May 29, 2009.

A public hearing at the Afton Planning Commission on Monday, Oct. 6 produced no comments from the public, and a special workshop session was scheduled for last night, Oct. 14, to allow commissioners to discuss the Old Village portion of the draft document.

Afton, it seems, is not alone in its struggle to turn its plan in on time.

"It appears we will have in the neighborhood of 30 requests for extensions," said Guy Peterson, the director of the Met Council's community development division, in an e-mailed response.

"The most common reason given by cities is that they will not be able to complete the required six-month [review by adjacent local governments or affected entities such as school districts] before the end of the year and that will carry over into next year."

Cities across Minnesota are required by statute to update their comp plans every 10 years, turning the draft document over to the Met Council for inspection.

Afton has been working on its draft since last fall, but has met with a number of obstacles this summer, including that of several meetings which had to be canceled when a quorum of planning commissioners failed to attend.

Planning commission chairman Jim Fox said last week he had a few concerns over the progression of work on the comp plan, partly as a result of the need to get a draft out to neighboring communities by Nov. 1 to meet the six-month review requirement.

"I'm a little concerned that we might be feeling rushed and not giving things as much consideration as we might be if we had a draft copy circulating while we were wrestling with some of these other problems," said Fox.

"I tend to look at these things as a compromise. Unfortunately, the city seems to be pretty polarized on some of these issues.

"There's one camp that says, 'I want to do it my way,' and the other camp says, 'I want to do it my way.'"

At the Afton City Council meeting last month, members voted 3-2 in favor of asking the Met Council for the extension, with council members Randy Nelson and Nick Mucciacciaro voting against the resolution.

"For myself, I just felt that I know the last two or three meetings, they haven't had a quorum, and it's not being given enough urgency by the committee that's overseeing it and by the planning commission," said Nelson, explaining why he voted against requesting the extension.

"I guess that was just kind of a statement from me to say at some point there's going to be a time limit here, and these people need to step up to the plate and try to get things done... The costs are going to be higher and I think there are a lot of different areas we need to be concerned with."

With each month that passes, the cost to the citizens of Afton of preparing the comp plan goes up.

For February through July, bills from Community Growth Institute (CGI), the city planner, totaled $26,560.96. Of that sum, work on the city's comp plan accounted for $10,250.16.

In the city's most recent draft 2009 budget, $35,000 has been budgeted to pay for the planner's services next year, an increase of 106 percent on this year's budget amount of $17,000.

As of the end of August, fees for the planner's services were already $6,349 over budget. Fees for the city engineer's services were also over budget, by $33,795.

Charles Marohn, the city planner with CGI, even wrote to the city in August to express his concern over the high bills CGI was invoicing Afton, but said the city's complex ordinances and methods of enforcing them was partly to blame.

For Afton, a city with a tight budget anyway and a couple of lawsuits still outstanding, it's an issue which needs to be addressed.