Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Aug. 23, 1999

LP receives results of community survey

By Luis Puga

Matt Johnson, of the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, presented the results of the Lester Prairie Community Survey for the city's comprehensive land use plan.

At the meeting were the planning commission, city council, school board, and some concerned citizens to hear what the citizens of Lester Prairie wanted for future planning.

About 80 percent of the population responded. Johnson said that was about 481 households of 1,245 people. He said that was a significant return rate, adding that some cities only get about 30 percent.

Some information regarding Lester Prairie homes include that about 84 percent of residents own a home, while 15 percent rent. Most people, 84 percent , live in a single family house, and the average number of bedrooms is three. The average age of a home is 45 years.

Some key information is how home owners rated their own home and how much their income is.

Johnson said that had the city had a significant low to moderate income level and needs for housing rehabilitation, a small cities grant might have been available from the state.

However, the average income was about $42,193, a little higher than Winsted's.

In general, most home owners reported their houses are in good condition.

Also, 194 respondents said they would not be interested in rehabilitation of their home from a grant of low interest loan money.

In terms of age, one-third of Lester Prairie is under 18. The smallest age group, about 202 people, are 60 and older.

Other stats from the survey indicate that 55 percent of citizens would like the city to maintain its own police service, and 46 percent felt a city manager is needed, while 45 percent said one is not.

Johnson explained that split by saying that perhaps it would have been different had the survey indicated what a city manager does.

Sixty-one percent of citizens expressed an interest in having the city develop more new housing. Other strong desires were industrial park development (41 percent), downtown building rehabilitation (56 percent), and affordable housing (40 percent).

He said most people's stereotype of affordable housing are trailer parks. He said that he has seen and lived in very attractive trailer parks. As for the stereotype of the low income bracket, he said that many people would fall into that bracket since anyone who makes 80 percent of the county's average income is considered a low income earner.

Priorities for citizens were for downtown renovation, industrial park development, and bike and walking paths tieing at 64 percent, park and pool improvements, residential sidewalks, and additional parks also made the list.

The most significant reason people enjoyed living in Lester Prairie is its location, followed by its size, safe atmosphere, cost of housing, education, and employment opportunities.

Johnson noted that Lester Prairie is growing slowly compared to other communities, and has a 0.2 percent annual growth rate.

He noted that the area's average was 2.3 percent and said that, in the comprehensive plan, the city should ask itself why it is growing so slowly.

Lastly, he noted the importance of public attendance and handed out a tentative planning schedule (see sidebar).

He said, "If my city was a making comprehensive plan, I'd be right there at the meetings."

Joint school board/city council meeting

After Johnson's presentation, the city council and school board held a joint session to discuss long range planning.

Mayor Eric Angvall opened the meeting by saying, "As you've discovered, we're not at the end of our planning cycle; we're in the midst of the planning cycle. No, we don't have all the answers, and I don't think you'll have a time when you have all the answers.

"Keep in mind, the city itself doesn't do a lot of these things. Developments aren't done by the city. You create abilities, but it isn't that we physically do them, so we have to figure out amongst ourselves how we can try to encourage things to happen."

The mayor then introduced other people at the meeting, including Joanne Foust and David Drown, of David Drown Associates, and Pastor John Hogue, who all have had experience in grant writing.

On hand from the school were the board members as well as Charles Orton of DLR Group, who had presented information to the board about potential facilities development.

The majority of the evening was dedicated to Drown, who presented on the services his firm offers to municipalities.

A number if topics were touched upon as school and city officials asked Drown and Foust questions about obtaining grants and general development.

The school board members noted how they wanted to grow, but was landlocked. Starke also told Drown and Foust of the proposal to build a joint facility with the city.

The council presented its concern, including a lack of growth and need for more housing and commercial development.

Drown asked whether the city had cooperation from surrounding townships on annexation. The council said it did, if it was petitioned to annex, but that it could not grab land from the township.

It was also said that interest annexing to the city had in the past been negligible from landowners.

However, the city did report it was in the process of annexing in 100 acres of farmland.

General consensus from the board was that land could not be used for facilities since it was not near the current school location.

Some thought was given to possible industrial park or residential development. Drown emphasized the importance of maintaining a business friendly atmosphere with a pro-development attitude.

School Board Member Barry Kyllo said that was good, but he did not want to see the city "give away the farm."

Drown agreed, but added that the city should not give away anything unless it is certain it will get something back.

Council Member Galen Hochstein added that most businesses don't want everything, but mostly just a low interest rate on loans or gap financing.

City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk asked Drown how much his services were.

Drown said, depending on the type of work, his firm would charge an hourly or flat rate. Bigger projects would receive a flat rate, while smaller ones would be charged by the hour.

Pawelk was also curious how Winsted had borrowed money from a bank for one of its city projects, given that she had believed that cities could not borrow from private lenders.

Drown said it was possible, but had to be done in such a way to circumvent the regulations against such borrowing. The bank could buy the bond from the city.

General consensus was that various elements of the city had different ambitions.

When Drown asked, "There's no consensus on where you want to go?" the entire room responded with one "right."

Angvall concluded that enough studies had been done and the city is ready to do something.

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