City takes next step to create Comprehensive Plan

Maple Lake took another step forward in the effort to produce a Comprehensive Plan for the city when the city council conducted a special meeting last week to hear draft goals and policies produced from input gathered at a community meeting in January.

Dean Johnson of Resource Strategies, the consulting firm guiding the CP process, told the council that attendance at the town meeting in January was very good, with nearly 100 residents filling the high school cafeteria. And he said that such large attendance helped to send some clear messages.

“In a nutshell, it seems to me that people were pretty pro-growth,” he said.  Good Schools rated highest on a poll of community strengths taken at the town meeting, with 25 votes. And at the other end of the spectrum, Good City Planning did not receive a vote. Johnson said that perception of the city was underscored in a poll on community weaknesses, with Lack of Retail Stores gaining an overwhelming 50 votes, and Poor City Planning came in second with 19 votes.

“We kind of got that message loud and clear,” Johnson said of the low opinion of city efforts at planning.  “Right now, there’s a hogepodge of uses that don’t tie in, but you can’t blame anybody because it’s hard to make it all happen,” he said, noting that developing a Comprehensive Plan and sticking to it will ease those complaints.

“You’ve got to determine if we have the ability to say ‘no’ or are we just going to let anything happen?”

Council members also said better communication with city residents is needed.  “It’s important to get the information out to the public,” said council member John Northenscold. “We haven’t been doing a good job of communicating.”

Mayor Mike Messina brought up the recent change in city building inspectors, which has caught residents unaware of the fees now required and the permits needed.  “Have we done our best to educate the public?” he asked. “We recently switched building inspectors and that is a perfect example.”

Johnson also led a discussion on the revitalization of the downtown area and said the residents of small towns relate to their community through downtowns and new, urban areas don’t have that community identity. He said strategies should be developed that would tie Maple Lake’s downtown to businesses on Highway 55. However, he cautioned that those strategies should have widespread benefits.

“We need to try to make decisions that are good for the whole community and not just for one developer, business or resident.”  But Johnson made the point that more retail business will follow population growth and Messina noted that developers have said it takes a magic number of 2,400 residents to support a grocery store.

The importance of the airport to the community was also noted, with council member John Northenscold pointing out that at the town meeting, the airport was identified more often as a community landmark than the lake that is Maple Lake’s namesake.

Johnson said the information gathered at the town meeting was used to draft goals and policies that he reviewed with the council. “These are the statements that help interpret what you are trying to accomplish,” Johnson said.

Johnson identified five overall goals:

1. The City of Maple Lake will nurture a healthy and safe living environment for all types of families.

2. The City will maintain, support, and reflect its “small town” values as a part of community development activities.

3. The City will encourage business and business expansion to provide employment opportunities, tax base expansion, and services to residents and families.

4. The City will provide services and programs that “connect” Maple Lake to reflect community pride and identity, such as the preservation of significant natural amenities, provision and maintenance of parks and pathways, recreational and leisure time activities, cooperative programs, and support with the Maple Lake school district, Wright County, and other regional and state agencies.

5. A balance of a wide variety of housing types and values will be provided within the City for all types of individuals and families that currently reside or desire to live in Maple Lake.

And a sixth goal added by the council would include better communication, education and planning on the part of the city.

Categories receiving more specific goals and policies treatment were Land Use and Development, Economic Development, Design and Landscaping, Natural Resources and Open Space, Transportation, Public Facilities and Land Use, Intergovernmental, and finally, Implementation.

Johnson asked council members to review the Draft Goals and Policies and a meeting to discuss council changes was set for 6:30 p.m. on April 30, with a second town meeting to review the council’s work on the Comprehensive Plan for June 11. Copies of the Draft Goals and Policies are available for review by the public at city hall.  Johnson said promoting as much debate on the draft plan as possible would lead to a stronger finished product and communication is the key.

“You’re going to get critics, no matter what you do,” Johnson said. “But the public meetings will allow residents to come and hear the reasons behind the goals and policies and then some of those rumors get toned down a little bit.”