Comprehensive Plan looks at the city of the future

What should the City of Maple Lake look like in the future? That was the question for the city council on April 30 as work moved forward on development of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

City consultant Dean Johnson of Resource Strategies, led the council through a series of maps and figures intended to represent how Maple Lake might grow in the next 20 years.

Johnson presented the council with various scenarios for growth and how the city could control that growth through designating land uses and housing densities. He asked the council that it consider a housing category it does not currently have, Mixed Residential, which would allow a variety of housing types.

“I recommend Mixed Residential,” he said. “It’s better that the developer have the flexibility of determining those units. They tend to design the development better than we would.”

He said it would result in a mix of attached and detached homes at a unit rate of about 3 per acre.  “In the seven-county metro area, that’s the policy,” Johnson said. “The developers like it, the people that move in like it, and the developers are better at it.”

Johnson said he also mapped out a large central business district that would stretch from Highway 55 to about Third St. SW., but said the intent was not to displace homeowners or other uses in that area.  “You could create a mixed-use business district that doesn’t penalize the existing uses that you have,” he said.

Johnson also said that larger retail facilities could be designated for the highway area and that light industrial should be steered away from highway or downtown retail areas.

“Don’t allow light industrial to take up what little retail area you’ve got,” Johnson said, noting that protecting the downtown area should be a priority. “We want to preserve the downtown area for what it is because a lot of communities don’t have them.  “The goal here should be to try and make the highway commercial district work in conjunction with the downtown.”

The council also looked at possible changes in the city limits over the coming 20 years. On Johnson’s map, he showed expansion of the city limits up to Ney Park to the north and west to County Road 7.  “Going up to the park makes some sense,” Johnson said, cautioning that the projected city boundaries were only offered for council discussion. “This is meant to help you think about those scenarios,” he said.

In a discussion about future population growth, Mayor Mike Messina said that a growth rate of from 25 to 30 homes per year would be more manageable than allowing rapid development at a rate of 50 to 60 homes. “Do we want to grow that fast or not?” he asked. “I’ll make the assumption that we don’t. We want a little bit of control.”

Messina also asked if the city would have the power to dictate land uses to property owners.  “This should not be a case of the tail wagging the dog,” Johnson said. “What if everybody said ‘This is what I want to do?’ They can’t. It’s chaos.

“If your plan makes sense and someone takes you to court, you’ll spend some money, but I’ll guarantee you’re not going to lose.”

Johnson said that the courts have upheld zoning rights. “Your backbone, your fortitude is going to dictate what happens,” he said.

Messina said he is also concerned about carving out space for light industrial uses, noting that city developer John Meyer has predicted the Jude Industrial Park will be full by the end of the summer. And council members agreed.

“That’s the only thing I think we’re lacking here,” said council member John Northenscold, “is more area for light industrial.”  In discussing additional space for light industrial, areas around the airport and County Road 8 were mentioned.

“On north 8, we don’t want to go from industry to housing to industry to housing,” Johnson said. “I’d hate to see light industry on Cty. Rd. 8. That’s the gateway to the park and a nice residential setting.”

Council consensus was to continue to work toward finding more space for light industry and set a date of May 14 at 6:30 p.m. to continue the discussion of refining goals and policies that were presented by Johnson at the Feb. 28 meeting.

However, council members noted that it would be difficult to make the original date of June 11 set to present a draft of the Comprehensive Plan to area residents. Messina asked that the June 11 date be used by the council for another meeting with Johnson and that August be considered as the target for a town meeting.