MORRISON – An engineering consulting group enlisted by the Whiteside County Board to revise its comprehensive plan released Tuesday the topic areas it expects to amend and a schedule for the update.

The areas include economic development, emergency preparedness and land use and zoning. An initial draft of the revised plan is slated to be submitted to the board by Jan. 2021, and the board can vote as early as March 2021 to adopt the final draft.

The current plan, which the board adopted in 2014 to guide the county through the year 2035, won't be scrapped in the revision, said Steve Haring, a client service manager with Iowa-based civil engineering firm MSA Professional Services Inc.

"Now that we're 5 or 6 years out, we have some opportunities here we need to look at," Haring told the board. "We're not going to totally gut everything. We're going to update what you already have."

The revised plan will guide the county for the next five years, said Haring, who in 2013 was on the MSA team that drafted the county's current plan.

The first phase of the update, which lasts until November, will involve collecting population totals, housing statistics and other data from municipalities within the county.

Comprehensive plans for the cities of Morrison, Rock Falls and Sterling will also be reviewed during the first phase, and officials will gather feedback through a series of community focus groups.

By December, MSA expects to present an initial draft to the board, which will include new policies drafted on recommendations from the focus groups, and updated data sets, land-use maps and future land-use summaries.

Starting in 2021, a draft of the revised plan will be presented and reviewed by the Whiteside County Enterprise Zone Management Board and the Whiteside County Planning and Zoning Commission.

Two open meetings will also be scheduled in January for the public to share feedback on the initial draft.

MSA intends by February to have a final draft ready for review. The same month, a public hearing will be held by the planning and zoning commission for final feedback.

The full board can vote as early as March to adopt the revised plan.

Haring said the impetus for the update stems from general changes in how municipalities use their land and policies, and how populations and economic conditions shift over time.

"One example is large utility efforts when it comes to solar and solar farms," Haring said. "We want to look at those types of things and see how they would fit into [existing] zoning and what zoning needs to change."

The need to examine the plan was also accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, Haring said.

"With COVID we've seen economic dynamics change even more — people working from home, the need to work virtually or online," Haring said. "We want to look at that and see how economic development is at play here and in the future of Whiteside County."

Whiteside County