The room was packed, but few people spoke.
About 80 people attended the public hearing for the Crow Wing County comprehensive plan Thursday night. Frigid temperatures frosted the glass doors leading to the planning and zoning offices and the full meeting room.
Planning commission members met jointly with the Crow Wing County Board, several county department heads and county staff.
After the meeting, Bonnie Finnerty, county planner, said the main points of concern have been what the comprehensive plan should be -- policies versus goals, cluster development densities and where they should be allowed (such as whether they should be in shoreland areas), the tension and balance between property rights and community rights and whether the language should be specific or vague.
The draft of the comprehensive plan -- which will act as a guide for county policies and is expected to serve as a skeleton that will be fleshed out by updated ordinances -- has involved a series of public meetings since a kick-off gathering at the Brainerd armory on Oct. 19, 2002. Now the draft plan is nearing completion. The county board is expected to adopt the comprehensive plan in March. The last comprehensive plan update was made in 1994, but a lot of county ordinances date back to the 1970s. Finnerty said the key to the plan now is in its implementation.
Thursday night people were invited to provide comments on seven sections of the comprehensive plan -- agricultural and forest resources; employment/economic; housing and residential development; parks, recreation and open space; water resources; transportation and utilities; and the government section.
Additional time was allotted for general comments. But so few people rose to the podium the meeting was concluded earlier than expected.
Comments included whether preservation of agricultural land is a goal. Rod Osterloh, Pine River, applauded the work but said the plan seemed to be lacking on neighborhood, convenience and home-based businesses.
Dave Moe, Clamshell Beach Resort, Ideal Township, spoke of a need to retain existing resorts and waterfront businesses. He noted the resorts broken up for residential use. Moe said the resort industry's economic engine has seasonal cabins providing 10 times the revenue to a community than a seasonal residential cabin.
John Erickson, Brainerd, said the plan needed to be stronger and was seriously deficient because it did not exclude cluster development in shoreland areas. Erickson said planned unit developments outside of shorelands is different and is the future. He also spoke of a need for annual education for board of adjustment and planning commission members.
Phil Hunsicker, Unorganized Territory, 1,000 Friends of Minnesota, said the plan language has words like "consider" "research" and "encourage" in terms of cluster developments. He said if the county wants to promote cluster it needs to be more specific and create incentives.
It's a brilliant document, Hunsicker said, but it needs to be more specific in strategies. Mac McComas, Merrifield, Crow Wing County Lakes and Rivers Alliance, said the alliance hoped for stronger language and specific suggestions in shoreland standards.
Brett Hardy, Merrifield, said general language in the plan is good, giving the plan flexibility as it acts as a guide and not an ordinance in itself. Others said if the plan is not carefully written, politicians and people can find support for any argument.
"I think people are realizing in property rights that some moderation is needed," Crow Wing County Commissioner Ed Larsen said after the meeting. Commissioners John Ferrari and Dewey Tautges commended staff on the plan. Commissioner Gary Walters said another joint meeting with the county board and planning commission could look at serious questions. Commissioner Terry Sluss did not attend the session.
Roger Landers, planning commission chairman, agreed.
A joint meeting is expected Feb. 26. Comments from the meeting will be summarized and minor corrections were expected for the draft plan. A point of contention came when Landers suggested written comments from planning professionals like Chuck Marohn and Todd Holman be pointed out. Tautges said after all this time he does not want to spend more time adding items.
"It's vague now," Tautges said of the plan. "But we can handle it with ordinances."
Landers said he was frustrated by not having land use maps to go with the plan and waiting several more years was not soon enough.
Anyone with comments on the comprehensive plan may still submit written comments to the planning and zoning office. The deadline for comments is Thursday.
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