Projections call for Crow Wing County's population to nearly double in the next 20 years and planners are asking where those new residents will live, work and play.
"Where are we going to put 40,000 people in 20 years?" said Bonnie Finnerty, Crow Wing County water coordinator. "... How do we protect Crow Wing County and the people who come here from ourselves?"
Wednesday night about 45 people gave up two hours of warm sunshine and attended a community meeting in Brainerd to look at shaping the county's future. The session was one of six community meetings in the county to continue the process of updating the comprehensive plan, which was first established in the 1970s and later updated in 1994.
If laws and rules are the tip of the community's governing sword, the comprehensive plan is a broad blade.
Meeting organizers began by describing what a comprehensive plan was and why participants should not be disappointed in a final document that broadly identifies goals and directions for the future. The real teeth to shape the county will come from the ordinances written after the completed comprehensive plan acts as a guide.
Public input is still being sought to develop an updated Crow Wing County comprehensive plan.
The last of the June community meetings will be 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Garrison City Hall.
In the next two weeks, written comments may be e-mailed to Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation, at email@example.com.
After July 10, a summary of information gathered during the community meetings and more information on the comprehensive plan will be available online at www.co.crow-wing.mn.us.
For more information, contact Bonnie Finnerty or Kristin Hansen at 824-1125 at the Crow Wing County Planning and Zoning Department.
Plans are to have a draft document completed and public review in September with a final draft and implementation in December.
Land use is key.
Is there enough land for public use or too much? Where should commercial zoning be targeted? In a county rich with lakes, how should water resources be protected?
One fact that emerges as more significant as the population grows is the limited number of public beaches in the lakes area.
"Unless you have lakeshore or know somebody, do you have adequate access to our lakes?" Finnerty said.
And county officials provided a presentation with considerable data on what the pressures are between anticipated growth and finite land resources. With 416 lakes in the county and associated wetlands, roads and land already developed or set aside in parks, there is a question of how much buildable land remains. How the county will balance those needs is a driving force to update the comprehensive plan and more significantly the ordinances that govern growth.
Population trends indicated the county may near 90,000 residents by 2030. The 2000 census listed Crow Wing County's population at 55,099. Population increases raise concerns, including balancing growth with the environment, creating livable wages and affordable housing, looking at transportation and providing public access to recreation.
Household growth, with fewer people living in each home, has been faster than recent population increases. The county grew from 15,171 households in 1980 to an estimated 22,810 households in 2001, according to the state demographer. Households grew by 29.3 percent between 1990 and 2000 with an addition of 5,046 permanent households. Census data shows about 71 percent of the growth came from newly built homes while 15 percent came from houses previously considered seasonal. The stock of older housing considered vacant or available in the county has decreased by more than 43 percent since 1990.
Based on a variety of growth projections, county officials believe the county will add between 3,115 and 3,916 new households by 2006. The county has an above average number of married couples without children compared to the state, following the county's projection for a growing aging population.
With additions to the county, there is an often-cited concern whether area wages are letting residents gain access to homeownership. At Wednesday's meeting, officials reported the median household income in 2000 was $37,589. And using guidelines for income and spending, the county's median household could afford to purchase a house priced at $76,433. However, the median value of residential sales in 1999/2000 in the county was $96,785.
Participants were asked to answer three questions in small groups.
* What is seen as the major opportunity for development in Crow Wing County during the next 10 years?
* What are the major threats to healthy development in the county during the next 10 years?
* Successful planning finds the balance between protecting the rights of the individual and assuring that one's neighbor's actions don't undermine community values and standards. How is the county doing with respect to this balancing act?
During the meeting, Crow Wing County Commissioner Ed Larsen said he thinks the county board, the governing body for Unorganized Territory, needs to have quarterly meetings specifically for residents in Unorganized Territory, which is located just north of Brainerd and Baxter.
Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation environmental specialist and one of the facilitators at the Wednesday session, said another consideration is changing uses of Potlatch land as those once considered long-term forest lands are sold.
At the end of the meeting, Hickman said how to preserve the area in terms of population growth is not a simple question.
"We've had good turnout at all of these and one of the heartening elements is how little finger-pointing there is and how much people realize we are all in the same boat."
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