By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE More than a dozen residents attended a public hearing during the Lester Prairie Planning Commission’s meeting Sept. 5.
The subject was the city’s proposed comprehensive plan.
Community Development Coordinator Adam Birkholz presented an overview of the plan, and chairman Merlin Mathews opened the floor for public comments.
Residents who spoke generally seemed to support the proposed plan, which was developed with input from a 10-member task force that represented people from across the community.
The biggest concern expressed by residents is that the city move forward with the objectives identified in the plan.
Several residents spoke during the meeting, asking questions and offering suggestions.
Resident Stan Ehrke noted there are a lot of objectives in the plan. He asked if there is a list of things the city wants to accomplish in 2017 and beyond.
Birkholz said the plan identifies short- and long-term goals, but there are no dates assigned to them.
Councilor Tim Dahl, who is the liaison for the commission, said he is “all for accountability,” but there needs to be flexibility, as well.
Commissioner Fred Blaser noted the comprehensive plan is intended as a guide for policy decisions.
Birkholz said the commission can work with the city council to establish yearly goals.
Ehrke asked why the land along the Crow River near the wastewater treatment plant was not included in the plan.
Birkholz said the plan identifies the river as an asset, but did not identify uses for that land specifically.
The park commission has discussed possible development of a canoe access in that area, but no specific plans or funding sources have been identified.
Dahl said both the area near the river and Sunrise Nature Park are areas that will be addressed by the park commission.
Ehrke asked why the city website was not addressed in the plan.
Birkholz said there is language in the economic development section of the proposed plan regarding marketing the city, and the website could be part of that objective.
Resident Paul Christianson asked who is going to set action items and determine how they move forward, so the plan is “not just something we paid for but don’t use.”
Blaser said one thing the city has now that it did not have in the past is the community development coordinator position. He said Birkholz can “formalize plans and do the legwork,” but the city council is the final authority.
“Our planning process has changed dramatically in the last two years,” Birkholz added.
Dahl referred to the recently-formed economic development authority (EDA) which met just prior to the planning commission meeting. “It’s an exciting time to be in Lester Prairie,” Dahl said. “A lot of things are happening.”
There was discussion about the definition of short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals, and what those mean. There was agreement that the terms should be quantified for planning purposes.
Resident Steve Ziermann said technology should be part of the city budget.
It was noted one of the objectives in the proposed comprehensive plan is a yearly event to gather public comment.
After further discussion, the public hearing portion of the meeting was closed.
The commission voted to recommend adoption of the draft comprehensive plan, with the addition of the proposed additions that were identified during the meeting.
The city council is expected to review and consider approval of the comprehensive plan during its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 12.
The commission also discussed possible changes to the city’s parking ordinance during the meeting.
It was noted the commission has discussed the matter at previous meetings, during which there were some differences of opinion.
Residents expressed concern about possible changes to parking regulations in backyards.
Birkholz stated that the changes being discussed do not involve backyards.
“We are looking at regulating parking in front yards,” he said. “We are not looking at regulating backyards,” he added.
He said the current ordinance is difficult to enforce.
Birkholz presented a list of possible guidelines that he characterized as a starting point for discussion.
Blaser said some of the proposals are too restrictive, and recommended a proposal of his own.
After discussion, the commission directed Birkholz to review the proposed changes and draft a possible plan for future discussion.