Development Director Amy Peterson told us that Focus River Falls is the name given to the Comprehensive and Companion Planning process that will occur over the next 15 months. There was a flourish of planning done between 1995 and 2005, then planning went on pause. The planning process getting underway now will update and roll those existing plans into the new plan. Amy said that to add to the fun (and complications) of this process, planning will include two other plans: bicycle/pedestrian and outdoor recreation. The resulting plan will certainly be comprehensive.

What is a comprehensive plan?

Amy described is as a master plan and a high-level policy document. Its intent is to provide a vision for up to 20 years. Cities are mandated by law to have a plan and to address specific elements including: continuity, balance, protection, a sense of place, economic development, justification of actions, and providing a collective vision. The plan is NOT a guarantee of how things will go, a definitive statement of how to grow or a parcel-by-parcel “what goes where” document.
 
Among the areas to address in planning are: issues and opportunities, housing, transportation, community facilities, land use, agricultural and natural resources, cultural resources, economic development, intergovernmental cooperation. Goals are visionary, actionable, inclusive, clear and concise, data-driven, system-based.
 
The outdoor recreation plan is necessary to apply for and receive DNR grants. Steps involved are: inventory, public outreach, needs assessment, compliance, savings, and guidance.
 

Stakeholder engagement is key

A key part of the planning process is stakeholder engagement, which is a phased process. There are three steering committees, one for each plan, and there is a website (engagerf.org) as a platform to allow on-line engagement. This phase will be announced soon, with opportunities to engage in person at events and at places in town. Kickoff was planned for 1/27, but the final decision will be later this week. As with just about everything else in 2021-22, the pandemic will affect timing.
 
Housing expansion is a widespread pressure on many municipalities; in response to a question, Jamie and Amy discussed the effect on school enrollment. District plans depend on how and where added residential housing is located. Challenges arise from River Falls being in two counties and adjacent to four townships. Development is underway in Sterling Ponds, Highview Meadows, Hills of Troy. The next big infrastructure project is a new water tower on north side.
 
Amy noted that the downtown plan due will kick off in 2024.