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Telling the Story of an Authentic Small Town Through Smart Growth Planning

Telling the Story of an Authentic Small Town Through Smart Growth Planning

By Christopher Long, Principal of CCL Consulting, LLC (christopherlong.com)

Bird’s eye view of Mazomanie, 1875.

Today a visitor to Mazomanie, with its historic but faded downtown, might be surprised to learn that 20 years after the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad recorded the original plat for the Village in 1855, this northwest Dane County community, framed by the beautiful natural landscape of Wisconsin’s Driftless region, was the second largest municipality in Dane County. Boasting the area’s first electric streetlights and a population numbering over 1,100, it was large enough to attract the Ringling Brothers Classic and Comic Concert Company from nearby Baraboo for its first public performance in 1882.

In 2020, the Village of Mazomanie, with an estimated population of 1,690, partnered with CCL Consulting LLC, CARPC, and UW-River Falls Survey Research Center (UWRF-SRC) to follow in the footsteps of those long-ago railroad officials who first surveyed the grasslands along lower Black Earth Creek and envisioned a regional rail and agricultural commerce center as a vibrant river valley community where residents would live, work, and play. The new project was the required 10-year update of the Village’s Comprehensive Smart Growth Plan.

Under Wisconsin’s Smart Growth law, adopted in 1999, the Comprehensive Plan is a local government’s guide to community physical, social, and economic development, providing the basis for local zoning and land use policy with a long-term vision for future planning and community decisions. The plan must be updated no less than once every 10 years. However, the law does not define “update.” As work got underway last January, the Village and its project partners had established these ambitious goals for the 2020 undertaking:

  • Update the plan-based forecasts for population, housing, employment, and land demand. The impact of the global economic recession of 2008 and 2009 on the local and regional economy had rendered the forecasts in the 2009 edition of the Village plan overly optimistic. By early 2020, however, major employers in the Mazomanie Business Park were again expanding operations and hiring new workers.
  • Incorporate the direction of the “Mazo 2020” Economic Positioning Strategy as well as the Community Outdoor Recreation Plan (CORP) Updates adopted by the Village in 2015, 2016, and 2020, respectively. CCL Consulting also partnered with the Village in those planning efforts to reposition and rebrand Mazomanie as a “gateway” community connecting Dane County’s expanding urban center with the abundant natural resources and rural lifestyle of the state’s Driftless area.
  • Recognize the community’s rich heritage and opportunities for expanding tourism and downtown revitalization linked to the Village’s Downtown Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places but has been described as a “movie set with no movie.”
  • Build the plan as a “living” document to help guide Village government decision-making moving forward, with clearly defined goals, objectives, and policies and a 10-year implementation schedule for action items.
  • Make the plan a story and a “good read” about an authentic small town.
  • Update the current and future land use maps in the plan and create a summary poster for prospective residents, businesses, and developers.

To meet the state law’s requirement for broad community participation in the plan update process, the Village took a series of steps to engage the public, a process that became complicated due to restrictions on in-person public meetings imposed by state and county officials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • UWRF-SRC conducted a community survey as part of the Village’s updating of both its Community Outdoor Recreation Plan (CORP) and Comprehensive Plan. In mid-January, the SRC mailed surveys to 749 Village households and non-resident property owners. Data collection was completed prior to the governor’s March 12 declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The response rate of 46 percent exceeded expectations.
  • A community visioning meeting was held in February to provide general information about the Comprehensive Plan, explain the update process, and invite people to get involved.
  • Virtual focus groups on Youth, Housing, and Economic Development were held in September.
  • The Village hosted a plan update open house and public hearing at its Community Building with social distancing protocols in effect in October and November. The Village Board adopted the plan update amendment in December.

The 2020 update of the Village’s Comprehensive Plan occurred amid a state of deep uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic on the community, including short- and long-term effects on the global and local economies. However, socio-economic trends now being seen—increasing numbers of remote workers and workplaces, population shifts nationwide from urban centers to small-town and rural quality of life, and broad growth in outdoor recreation activity—may augur more permanent changes in how Americans live, work, and play.  The Village’s current vision for smart growth and its economic positioning strategy are now well-aligned with potential opportunities to create an exciting new chapter in an already rich community history.

The Village of Mazomanie’s Comprehensive Plan Update 2020 is available on the Village’s website.