Should farmland bordering East Summit Street be zoned residential in the future since a recreational park is now only yards away?

Does the city want more say in what can be built in high-visibility, high-traffic areas?

Those were a couple of the questions Maquoketa Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee members discussed as they looked at the city’s 13-year-old land-use map.

A land use map, much like a comprehensive plan, serves as a blueprint for the city’s future, according to Dan Fox of East Central Intergovernmental Association. Fox is leading the all-volunteer committee through the process of developing a comprehensive plan, which hasn’t been done since about 1989, he said. Updating the land-use map is one step toward completion of that plan.

“We’re taking a look at what is development in the city and what will be around the city in the next 20 years,” Fox explained.

Maquoketa last updated its land-use map in 2005, Fox said.

The maps identify open space, parks, commercial land, residential areas, industrial property, etc. Planners — in this case, steering committee members — will study the undeveloped areas in and around the city and determine how they can be put to the best use.

Fox said the maps are most often used to handle zoning issues.

“The first thing a developer is going to do is ask to see our comprehensive plan to find a right fit [for their project],” said City Manager Gerald Smith. If the land doesn’t match the developer’s needs, “then they don’t waste time and we don’t waste time.”

‘Big, glaring white spots’

Fox showed the 2005 map to committee members followed by a new, updated map he put together.

Committee members immediately singled out undeveloped land in and around the city, starting with parcels along East Summit Street. Neal Engel grows crops and cattle on an estimated 132 acres adjacent to the Maquoketa Area Family YMCA and across the street.

Committee member Nathan Combs called that land a “big, glaring white spot right in the heart of town.”

“With the new Prairie Creek [Recreation Area] there, anyone would love to live there,” added committee member Lenke Carson. “This gorgeous park is surrounded by commercial and business” property when it should be housing nearby, she said.

“We’re not lacking in space for industrial,” Combs added.

The city does not own the land, but “it can still have plans in place for it” if it became available, Fox said.

“It doesn’t stop the marketplace from doing what the marketplace will do,” Smith added. “These are not hard-and-fast lines we’re drawing — it’s all conceptual.”

Committee members located properties for new residential and industrial construction near Kwik Star south.

The building of the new Jackson County Regional Health Center and possible construction of a new jail on the southeast side of Maquoketa prompted discussion about high-visibility areas.

“Do we want a policy to restrict uses along major thoroughfares?” Smith asked, referencing areas of high visibility. He noted that tax-exempt facilities such as the hospital perpetually take property off the tax rolls in areas that could otherwise generate more development.

“Visibility has a value,” the city manager said. “You need to remember that going forward.”

As a result, the comprehensive plan committee will begin identifying such “critical” locations as it moves forward with land-use map development.

That topic led to future use of Maquoketa’s downtown greenspace, which currently is zoned for commercial use.

Maquoketa Area Chamber of Commerce Director Wendy McCartt said she would like to see empty buildings along Main Street “fill up first” before selling and developing the greenspace.

“Are you going to put [the greenspace] in the land-use map as commercial or recreation or both?” Fox asked.

Carson envisioned doing both. She said maintaining it as a park only is a “waste of space.” She had no concrete plan in mind, “but it can be utilized in a beautiful way.”

The committee will continue discussing the best uses for undeveloped land in and around Maquoketa as the city’s comprehensive plan process moves forward.

In other committee news:

ν The public will be invited to an input meeting to learn about the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee’s work thus far and share ideas on future plans for the city.

The date, time and location of the meeting have not been decided, but the meeting likely will be held at the end of October or early November. 

More details will be announced as they become available.

ν Students in Maquoketa’s middle school and high school will be asked to share their views on the city’s quality of life for pre-teens and teens. 

The committee will work with the Maquoketa Community School District to distribute the surveys, most of which will be available online.

Students will be asked to comment on education, extracurricular activities, their future plans, ways Maquoketa could be more attractive to teens, work, etc.

The committee’s objective is to learn youths’ view of Maquoketa and what might bring more young people to the city.