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Grundy County comprehensive plan covers more users

MORRIS – The future of Grundy County is mapped out in a new 20-year comprehensive plan, replacing the county’s old plan which was drafted more than nine years ago.

“The most exciting part about the plan is we have things outlined in this that the county has never included in a comprehensive plan before,” County Administrator Heidi Miller said at a Land Use Committee meeting earlier this week.

The plan was funded through a $250,000 grant from the state and completed by Chicago consulting firm Houseal Lavign.

The county held several public workshops to gather input from residents, businesses and municipalities, and came up with a list of community-driven goals that need to be addressed in the future.

The plan identifies four general principles the county should work to achieve: Preserving rural character, supporting economic growth and development, sustaining environment and history, and coordinating closely with municipalities. 

For the first time, Miller said the county has a plan that is all-inclusive, providing information for schools, protection agencies, municipalities and the other entities that make up Grundy County.

“It’s not just exclusively thinking about Grundy County anymore,” Miller said. “This plan is so much more open to all of the different users and taxing bodies within the county.”

The 157-page plan outlines hundreds of recommendations to improve the county. They range from small goals – like making every Grundy County facility wheelchair accessible – to major ones, like attracting a higher education facility so more residents receive college degrees.

According to Houseal Lavign’s analysis, Grundy County’s higher education attainment rates are the lowest in all of the Chicago metropolitan area.

“The county should attract and grow a higher education presence within its borders,” Houseal Lavign Associate Doug Hammel said during the committee meeting. “Employers are looking for an educated workforce when they come in so they can easily plug into the local economy.”

Preserving the county’s rich farmland and cooperating with municipalities are two of the key areas the county will work to improve in the next decade, Miller said.

Hammel stressed the importance of agriculture, noting that the majority of the county is made of “prime farmland.”

“It’s easy to drive through Grundy County and say ‘Look at all this open space,’” Hammel said. “Well, it’s not open space, It’s an active economic generator.”

Miller said a county typically should update its comprehensive plan every five years, but the process is expensive and Grundy did not have the funds.

The new plan cost about $125,000 but was funded through a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant the county received in 2008.

The CDBG Disaster Recovery Program – commonly known as the ‘Ike’ program – was started in 2009 to help communities address disaster relief, restoration and economic revitalization in areas affected by natural disasters in 2008.

The 2008 flood that affected the Coal City and Morris areas caused the Illinois River to crest at a record of 24.84 feet and qualified Grundy County for an Ike grant.

The comprehensive plan was recently adopted by the Grundy County Land Use Committee and is awaiting passage by the county board, which could come next month.

Once passed, the plan will be distributed to local taxing bodies and uploaded to the county’s website for public access.

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