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Proposal to restrict Willow Street parking packs Brainerd council chambers

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Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The possibility of restricting parking on Willow Street created standing room only during a Brainerd committee session, which then spilled over into the council meeting.

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At issue is a proposal to install marked bicycle lanes following a resurfacing project on Willow Street in southeast Brainerd. The resurfacing project is between South Seventh Street and 13th Street Southeast. The project is slated for this summer.

The city reported in order to create a bike lane in each direction, parking would need to be removed from at least one side of the street.

City staff recommended retaining parking on the south side of the Willow Street in front of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, where a partial sidewalk already exists to create the greatest degree of safety for pedestrians.

Monday, the Safety and Public Works Committee heard from residents and received maps of possible alternatives to the city’s plan. Council members decided to delay a decision and bring the project back on May 5.

“I’m sure there is going to be a lot of discussion in the next couple of weeks,” said Council member Gary Scheeler.

Father Tony Wroblewski, pastor at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, said the church would prefer to keep the parking that exists now, noting there are a number of older parishioners who need to park close to the entrance. Wroblewski said it’s absolutely essential to keep the parking on the street’s south side.

An Eighth Street resident, who said she was a parishioner and an avid bicyclist, said the practical side for the bike lane would be Willow Street’s south side. She gained laughter from the crowd by saying she hoped she didn’t offend Wroblewski or if she did, she’d have to go to Father Daniel Wieske for confession. An 11th Street resident who shares parking with St. Andrew’s parishioners said elderly people rely on parking there. Expanding off street church parking on the left would move people farther away and to the east is a grassy swamp area, Wroblewski said.

Bryan Pike, Jordan Road, said limiting parking would push more vehicles farther up on north/south streets, impacting more residents. Pike suggested taking advantage of the nearby dedicated bike trails instead of using city streets. Another church member was concerned about safety and walking a greater distance when arriving for 5 a.m. start times at the Adoration Chapel.

Maddie Anderson, a student who lives on 11th Street Southeast, was opposed to the bike path. She said when there are funerals, there are lines of vehicles using the parking. Barb Anderson suggested extending the sidewalk in front of the church and retaining parking on both sides of Willow Street.

Council member Mary Koep said the council should take time to listen to the concerns and consider other options.

Council member Chip Borkenhagen said the council has to consider the welfare of the greatest number of people in the community.

Jeff Hulsether, city engineer, said there is time to consider ideas.

Koep said she didn’t think the city should pursue the option of putting the trail in front of the church. Council member Dolly Matten asked if the Brainerd Bicycle Advisory Committee would be involved. Koep said this kind of decision wasn’t the bike committee’s charge. Koep asked if the council was trying to take the voice away from affected citizens.

“I feel the more ideas you get, the better you are at making decisions,” said council president Dale Parks. “The city council makes the final decision.”

Parks said the city should utilize its committees. Koep said often the council rubber stamps what comes from a committee.

“I think we are losing sight of the democratic process,” Koep said. The people who are primarily affected should have the greatest voice, Koep said.

A motion to have the bike committee consider the matter passed 5-1 with Koep opposed. Council member Dave Pritschet was absent.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
(218) 855-5852
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