RF’s Comp Plan is in the home stretch

Council will vote to adopt March 28

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 3/23/23

RIVER FALLS – After 18 months of hard work, the Focus River Falls Comprehensive Plan is nearly to the finish line. The plan commission voted March 7 to forward it to the city council for …

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RF’s Comp Plan is in the home stretch

Council will vote to adopt March 28


RIVER FALLS – After 18 months of hard work, the Focus River Falls Comprehensive Plan is nearly to the finish line. The plan commission voted March 7 to forward it to the city council for approval; the second reading/vote will take place at the March 28 council meeting.

According to Stephanie Falkers of SRF Consulting Group, a comprehensive plan is a local government’s master plan for how the community should change in the future. The plan provides information about the community’s physical, social, economic and development characteristics and a basis for land use decisions for the next 20 years. State law requires comprehensive plans to be updated every 10 years. Official mapping, subdivision and zoning actions must be consistent with the comprehensive plan.

Falkers has been working with city staff and community members for 18 months on the city’s comprehensive, outdoor recreation and bikes and pedestrian plans. The city’s plan has not been updated since 2005.

“The goal was to create a plan built from community input,” Falkers said. “One that preserves a high quality of life, encourages smart growth patterns that support community and economic needs and defines implementation actions that will help the city achieve its vision.”

Throughout the process, the city sought extensive community input both in-person and online, through engagerf.org, steering committees, open houses, surveys, pop up events, National Community Survey data, outreach presentations, focus group meetings, direct mailings, council workshops, festival booths and tours. The plan commission served as the steering committee for the overall plan.

Throughout the engagement process, three foundational principles were identified and incorporated into the plan:

Social and physical connections – Enhancing the social and physical connectedness between people.

Recreation – Natural resources and recreations opportunities are important to residents, so the plan works to protect, maintain and enhance natural areas while providing community access.

Resilience – Protecting the long-term sustainability of the community and the quality of life for residents into the future.

From there, six goals were refined and shaped for the plan to focus on:

  1. Connection: River Falls is a welcoming community that incorporates equity and inclusion into decision making, thereby creating opportunities for everyone to connect and thrive.
  2. Livability: River Falls supports livability through intentional growth management policies and development standards, quality and diverse housing stock and local businesses that together support a strong connection to place.
  3. Access: River Falls has accessible transportation infrastructure for people to safely, sustainably, and efficiently move throughout the city and in the region using varied modes of transport.
  4. Resources: River Falls prioritizes natural and cultural resources and outdoor recreation to increase opportunities that support healthy lifestyles.
  5. Partnerships: River Falls has mutually beneficial relationships with the community, organizations, educational institutions, and state/regional agencies.
  6. Resiliency: River Falls has a resilient system of infrastructure, community facilities, and utilities that ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the community and preserve quality of life for future generations

The plan is required to address at minimum the nine elements detailed below.

“What we did was go through each of the plan elements and pulled out two key actions that were identified as … high benefit that we think are really kind of key activities to help us to start moving in the right direction with the implementation of this plan,” Falkers said.

Housing: Update the zoning ordinance to support density and development that accommodates missing and middle housing (townhomes, duplexes, fourplexes); and develop a housing action plan that identifies specific housing goals for the community, identifies roles and partnerships, and a plan for action.

Agricultural, natural and cultural resources: Continue to prioritize and celebrate preservation of historic resources. Efforts include the preservation and enhancement of locally and regionally designated historic sites, identification of new locally recognized sites, and programming that celebrates historic assets.

Economic development: Support infill commercial development through local financing tools and policy guidance as appropriate; support enhanced broadband internet in the community to increase business and residential capacity and access.

Transportation: Develop policies and procedures to support construction of trail connections with development that connects future growth areas and respond to the goals of the Bike and Pedestrian Plan; explore programming, funding, and incentives for local public transit options within the community. Opportunities may include community-wide transit service, shuttle service for user groups, or others.

Utilities & community facilities: Update water facility master plan, including new wells and storage infrastructure; update wastewater facility master plan.

Land use: Update the zoning code to support the residential land use categories and densities of the Land Use Chapter, including updates to minimum lot size requirements and other dimensional standards (setbacks, etc.); complete a comprehensive review of the zoning ordinance to identify and pursue amendments that support the community’s goals and vision for development.

Recreation: Explore opportunities to bring a community center to River Falls, include testing the feasibility and researching funding options; monitor existing and future park needs and plan for the construction of facilities to accommodate anticipated growth.

Intergovernmental cooperation: Complete, review or modify cooperative agreements with towns for developments and infrastructure planning; update the ETZ subdivision ordinances for clarity and alignment with current policies and goals.

While all elements of the comp plan are important, land use is generally the most used section and has the most impact over time, Falkers said.

The plan breaks down concepts of land use and how to achieve success in those areas, including urban area boundary updates, increased residential density, mixed use development, development regulations and community connectivity.

“Well now the hard part begins,” said Commissioner Christopher Holtkamp. “Writing the plan’s not easy, but it’s the easy part compared to what, 100-something actions? Yeah, it’s a lot.”

To view the full comprehensive plan and the accompanying outdoor and recreation and bike and pedestrian plans, go to rfcity.org

Focus River Falls, comprehensive plan, River Falls City Council, River Falls, Wisconsin