On a hot summer day Brainerd residents weigh the benefits of walking across Washington Street for a Dairy Queen cone versus becoming a hood ornament.
Connecting people to places was part of a Thursday night meeting to get public input for a new Brainerd comprehensive plan. Part of a series of meetings, the latest version Thursday looked at parks and recreation and future land use. A final report is expected by early summer.
"There is something unique here," said Phil Carlson, senior planner with the city's consultant, Dahlgren Shardlow and Uban. "There is something you can help us figure out. It's your community. You have to tell us what you want it to be and we can help make that happen."
About 35 people braved below zero temperature to attend the nearly three-hour meeting at Mississippi Horizons School in Brainerd.
Using maps with suggested land uses designated by primary colors, participants were asked to envision what could exist in 20 years and how that could be shaped by current planning.
"Brainerd has never had a future and use plan," said Jay Blake, Dahlgren Shardlow and Uban planning consultant. Blake, who has extensive area experience, is leaving DSU and said Carlson will now be the primary contact for the comprehensive plan project.
Blake said when looking at the future people need to step out of what exists now and into what could be. He said there are incredible possibilities.
People were asked to consider quality versus quantity as one option in the parks system and at the concept of recreation beyond a physical city park. Blake said St. Cloud -- for example -- looked at arts, plays and community gardens and ultimately divided the park and recreation department into two components. One is responsible for the physical parks in an example of thinking of the park system in terms of hardware or software.
Other cities also have found the benefits of a rediscovered river front. Carlson said in Minneapolis an old railroad area was transformed into highly desirable housing units. Both public and private work can be involved in projects.
Creating greater access to the river was a repeated item from the small group discussions.
A greater split in thought and tension arose during the land use planning discussion.
Brainerd City Council member Mary Koep asked whether central government planning was wanted and if people believed it worked. She said the wonderful power of the marketplace should decide and while she is not suggesting zoning is not needed, the land use plan goes beyond that. The more you regulate, the more you subsidize, she said.
"I'm becoming disillusioned with this process," she said, suggesting a speaker be brought in to talk about the other side of smart growth. Koep said smart growth seldom has a great deal of logic and depends on a total government fist.
Ed Shaw said he did not think everyone at the meeting thought the process involved the next politburo. Shaw said government has been involved since the beginning.
Jody Crowe suggested the meeting get back on track and at one point got his coat and started to leave before other attendees said the meeting was getting back to its focus.
Ideas expressed included more open space in gateway areas and concerns about buffers between residential and commercial land use. The maps will be altered to indicate participants ideas and will be available at the next meeting in February.
Consultants suggested the possibility of creating land use categories such as gateway areas, identified points where people enter a city and gain a community flavor. Options include noting those areas -- such as south of the city or near the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport -- and regulating uses or even building materials.
Another suggestion was a development preserve so land where urbanization is expected but a clear direction is lacking. One question is how long it will be before an area is served by sewer and water. And one consideration, which needs to be coordinated with county and township officials, is to keep low density areas at the fringes of the city.
Growth is likely to occur there and larger tracts provide greater options in future development. The idea is not to create a gap with higher density coming on the other side and then a greater cost to the city and landowners as municipal services are extended.
As usual with planning meetings, organizers wondered how to get more residents involved to gain a wider perspective.
The other question was whether the completed document, with colorful maps and diagrams, would become more than a shelf decoration.
"The plan is just a piece of paper," Carlson said while the small groups worked at individual tables. "But when people care about it -- that's when things happen."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.