GERING — Gering’s Comprehensive Plan, last updated in 1995, is almost complete and ready for a hearing before both the city council and the Planning Commission.
Along with the comprehensive plan, the city’s zoning regulations, which date back to 1984, are also receiving an update.
“Plans in the past have sometimes ended up on a shelf and never implemented,” said Gering City Engineer Annie Folck. “That’s because past documents have been an encyclopedia of information that wasn’t readily available to the public. But today, everything is available online so plans have evolved.”
Folck said the new Comprehensive Plan should be more of a policy document that casts a vision for the community, so she wants to see it used. It will also help staff to better determine whether new projects fall within that vision.
Last October, Gering hosted a public forum to hear from the public about what they thought was important for the city’s future. The forum included a discussion of responses from an online survey the city had done earlier in 2018. As of last fall’s forum, about 150 responses had been received.
Cheyenne, Wyoming-based Ayres and Associates helped develop the survey.
One of the common complaints on the survey was about Gering’s zoning codes that said the city allows too many zoning variances that often contradict original zoning.
Folck said some of those complaints have since been addressed.
“There are a number of restrictions in our zoning codes that are inhibiting development in Gering,” she said. “Some things were already changed because they keep coming up.”
One of those is non-conforming use of property. Under current zoning, if a structure in a non-conforming zone is destroyed, the owner typically can’t secure a loan to rebuild.
“This plan was developed with a lot of help from the public in our online survey,” Folck said. “They gave us a better idea of what the residents want the community to be. The plan will help us present a unified vision of the future that isn’t arbitrary.”
The city’s park system was one of the major items mentioned by the public.
Another important item is the ease of doing business and having the city support new business opportunities.
“Retail is a struggle for us right now, and it is for everyone,” Folck said. “Online shopping has changed how the world works, but people still want to have local shopping available.”
The availability of good-paying jobs was also mentioned, which the city can help by making its business climate more conducive for new businesses to grow and thrive.
State statute requires any municipality that does its own zoning to have a Comprehensive Plan. Its intent is to develop a plan that’s been approved by the community and doesn’t treat any one sector arbitrarily.
From initial discussions in May 2018, Gering’s plan is being written so city staff can use it as part of their day-to-day decision-making process. Any policy decisions and reports should refer back to that Comprehensive Plan.
Ideally, the plan isn’t a 300-page document. It’s a summarized, concise statement of where the city is now, what issues it faces, and a statement of how the city will go forward.
“Ideally, a Comprehensive Plan will look from 10-20 years into the future,” Folck said. “Our latest one was adopted in 1995, so it’s coming to the end of its life. We’ve been working on this latest plan for more than a year.”
The new Comprehensive Plan and zoning update will cost in the $100,000 range. Because it will affect the entire city, funding has been spread out over several different budgets.
Folck said city staff is putting the finishing touches on the plan, which should be ready in about a month for members of the city council and Planning Commission.
“This will be a large document, so we won’t be going over every item,” she said. “Instead, we’ll put together a presentation highlighting the important points.”
The plan will then be available online for public inspection. Suggested changes and new ideas are encouraged during the 30-day comment period.
Any changes will then go into the plan for final presentation and passage by the city council.