Community centers could be allowed in residential zoned areas in Brainerd.
At its meeting Monday, the Brainerd City Council conducted the first reading of the proposed amendment, adding a definition for community center to the city’s zoning ordinance, as well as including community centers as a conditional use permit in residential zoning districts.
The next step in the process is a public hearing, which will be conducted at the council’s Nov. 4 meeting. Should the council choose, it could conduct a second reading of the amendment after that.
The council voted 6-1 for the motion, with council member Mary Koep against it.
The motion came before the board for the first time after passing at the Brainerd Planning Commission level.
The idea of possibly allowing community centers in a residential district came up because of plans for the Whittier School building. The Brainerd School District gave the nod to Northern Pines Mental Health Center to repurpose the building into the Whittier Elementary Community Center for Health and Wellness.
But before Northern Pines can move forward with plans, the city of Brainerd must first look into how to rezone the property, which is located in a residential district.
That’s when the planning commission started meeting, bringing the recommendation before the board this month.
City Planner Mark Ostgarden stressed that should community centers be allowed in residential districts, it will affect the entire community, not just the neighborhood surrounding Whittier school.
The zoning for Whittier is a separate topic that is yet to be discussed, he said.
“We’re not even there, yet,” he said.
Ostgarden said the planning commission talked a lot about the potential negative impacts of allowing community centers in residential areas, such as noise, traffic, parking, sales and the hours.
But the consensus was that community centers could add a lot more benefits, according to Ostgarden.
The definition of a community center that could be added to the city’s zoning ordinance is as follows:
“A building or buildings and associated property operated by a public and/or non-profit group or agency that serves the community that is used for three or more of the following uses: recreational, social, educational or cultural activities and/or public and/or non-profit group offices.”
The restrictions on those potential community centers could be as follows:
• No individual organization or activity exterior entrances.
• Public hours are limited to 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
• No exterior organization or activity signs.
• Merchandise sales permitted for non-profit and/or not-for-profit agencies.
Additional conditions may be location specific.
Koep disagreed with the vote because of the potential impacts on residents of a neighborhood where a community center could be built. Many residents research and review the area they want to live before investing in buying a house, she argued. They choose a house for its location and surroundings. The city should respect that, she said.
Councilman Kelly Bevans said he agreed with Koep, but chose to vote in favor of the motion so the public would have a chance to speak at the hearing.