One would think Brainerd area residents had never seen a stretch of pine trees or gazed at the Mississippi River before.
The reaction to the recently opened C. Elmer Anderson Memorial Highway was almost universal from those who drove the $20 million stretch of road. Motorists raved about the unspoiled countryside that contrasts so vividly with the rest of the rapidly developing Highway 371 corridor.
The tree-lined highway and bridge cuts through some beautiful and largely unspoiled woodlands. But how long will it stay that way? Left to nature -- the nature of economics that is, there will be businesses and other development on the bypass. If central Minnesotans want this stretch of road to remain as is governmental units are going to have to act fast.
What actions should be taken?
Restricting or banning billboards or demanding that developments be done with adequate landscaping is one thing. Completely banning all development is another choice altogether.
Billboards, the bane of scenery-lovers, appear to be the first battleground and Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls, has called for state legislation to ban or restrict the use of commercial signs and billboards along most of the memorial highway.
At 7 p.m. Sept. 7 an informational meeting at the Crow Wing Town Hall will be conducted on this topic. State, township, county and citizens will attend the session.
Billboards aren't the only type of development that might change this stretch of highway. Convenience stores, retail outlets, motels all might find the property appealing.
Could the land on either side of the highway be kept undeveloped?
There is precedent for such action. Rep. Wenzel points out commercial signs are banned on Veterans Evergreen Memorial Drive, a segment of Highway 23 near Duluth.
Even more ambitious is Boulder, Colorado's Open Space program. Seeking to create a buffer around its urban core, Boulder became the first city to enact a sales tax of .40 percent for the acquisition and management of open space lands in 1967. An additional .33 percent was approved by the voters in 1989. Aided by sales tax revenues, bond issues and private donations the Boulder community has spent nearly $100 million on the acquisition of open space.
How do we want the gateway to the Brainerd lakes area to develop? What price are we willing to pay? These are all issues that the community can begin to discuss at the Sept. 7 informational meeting.
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