With a tie vote, the Brainerd City Council president had to cast a deciding vote Tuesday night on an issue surrounding the future look of Brainerd and costs versus benefits.
Whether the city should change from going forward with the master plan created for a renovated downtown area became one of the more lively and prolonged debates of the evening.
At issue was a Safety and Public Works Committee recommendation to not implement the master plan for lighting when Laurel Street West is improved this summer. The committee also had a recommendation to say putting a park where city parking lot is now located next to city hall would not be implemented at this time.
In two split votes, one with the momentary tie, the council voted to move forward with the master plan instead of the committee recommendations.
John Erickson, Brainerd Restoration and downtown business owner, sent the council a 10-page single-spaced letter with reasons why the city should go forward with the master plan developed with a task force and several public meetings.
"The master plan is now before you on its first stage on Laurel Street West," Erickson said. "... It's a plan you've invested $35,000 in and that's important to note."
Erickson said the city could see improvements this summer and it could be the beginning of what the downtown will look like.
"If you don't follow the master plan in some form at this time you'll have done for what for one reason or the other your colleagues have done in the past, time and time again, which is nothing."
Erickson said now the concern is loss of Local Government Aid but there will always be a concern about something. But with interest rates, Erickson said now is probably the best time for capital improvement.
"If you don't do it now I suggest you are not going to retrofit light fixtures five years from now," Erickson said. " ... You won't do it because in five years you are going to say it's going to cost too much."
Council member Anne Nelson Fisher asked why the committee did not take a middle ground and reject the lighting.
Council member Lucy Nesheim said that was considered but with the current economy the members decided to leave things as they are and aim further down the road to make additions to the lights.
Gary Scheeler, council member and public works committee member, said he thought the recommendation not to follow the master plan was a mistake but he went along with the committee.
Nelson Fisher said she heard from people for and against who are downtown property owners and concerned with assessments.
"I think we need to take a leap here," she said.
Council member Kelly Bevans said he agreed with Nelson Fisher and would not support the recommendation.
The council voted 4-2 with one abstention to deny the motion not to follow the master plan for lighting. Bevans, Nelson Fisher, Scheeler and Dehen voted no. Nesheim, council member Bob Olson voted in favor of the motion and council member Mary Koep, who lives on Laurel Street West, abstained.
Bevans said: "I just think at this point when we are doing the road anyway this is a tremendous opportunity."
Dave Pueringer, downtown property owner, said the city could look at putting in the infrastructure but not purchasing the lighting at this point.
In the second motion that split the council, the committee recommendation to say the city parking lot next to city hall will not be used for a park or green space as the master plan suggested was narrowly defeated.
Erickson said it was a collateral attack on the master plan and wondered why the motion was coming without any current plan to change the parking lot from its current use. He said there is no project at this time to take away one stall in the city parking lot. But to completely sandbag an idea of a town square there would be wrong, Erickson said.
Pueringer said the downtown area could not lose parking now. He suggested Gregory Park could be the downtown city park with greater access and signs and said the downtown area needs a parking ramp.
The council agreed the public parking spaces in the city lot should be more visible for city use.
Olson agreed the motion about the lot was premature. But his motion to table any action failed for lack of a second. Scheeler's motion to say nothing would be done with the lot until acceptable alternative parking was found also failed for lack of a second.
Finally a motion by Bevans to table the issue indefinitely passed 4 to 3. Scheeler, Koep, Nesheim voted against the motion. Bevans, Nelson Fisher and Olson voted in favor. Dehen ended the tie with a vote in favor.
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