Lake County is making an attempt to plan for future development and growth but a more than 20-year-old guiding document is no longer sufficient, officials said.
"We're going through a development phase," said County Commissioner Jerry Tippy, R-Schererville. "If we're not prepared it will be the wild west."
Lake County is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan and readying to present a draft document to the public in the coming weeks. The plan is supposed to describe future land use for the county's unincorporated areas, according to Tippy.
"It's more of a guideline," Tippy said. "It's just another level of oversight."
Tippy said when projects go to the Planning Commission, the board must see if it fits the county's comprehensive plan.
The county's last comprehensive plan was released in December 1996.
"We want to stay updated," Tippy said. If the county's planning documents aren't kept current, Tippy said, it's difficult to prevent violations of zoning.
During the first round of public hearings, Tippy said people thought the county is trying to increase development.
"That's not what this is about," Tippy said. "When development occurs, this will direct it."
People were concerned that the county wanted to take farmland and turn it into other developments, Tippy said.
"It's the opposite," Tippy said, and the plan is aimed at protecting areas and directing growth.
The plan is not encouraging annexation of unincorporated land, Tippy said. If a town has identified a growth area and a development could fit into existing plans, that could be an opportunity for annexation, Tippy said.
Planning Director Ned Kovachevich said an example would be a large subdivision that's planned for an unincorporated area next to a development area in a neighboring town. Kovachevich said the subdivision would be developed to county standards, but if it's annexed, there's a better possibility better municipal water and sewer infrastructure.
While the county has taken public comment on what residents want in the plan, nothing is final yet.
Tippy said the public comment has been taken to develop the draft plan, but changes are likely.
"It's great to go through this process," Kovachevich said.
As the county undertakes updating the comprehensive plan, it's also eying changes to the zoning code, which was first established in 1957 and amended in 2016, according to Kovachevich.
Tippy said updating the zoning code requires a new comprehensive plan first.