Housing, public transportation, safety, jobs and visual appeal are among the priorities Brainerd residents and community members want to see included in the city's updated comprehensive plan.
Public input is an important element in the update process, which is a collaborative effort among Sourcewell, Region Five and the city of Brainerd.
Planning leaders conducted interviews, meetings, surveys and focus groups for the last six months to figure out what needs to be added to the plan.
Among the final public input initiatives were two open houses Wednesday, Nov. 14, in downtown Brainerd. Attendees got to see what priorities were identified for the plan so far and suggest additions or changes.
"Did we hear you correctly? Did we miss anything?" Sourcewell planner Jake Huebsch said of the goal of Wednesday's open houses. "We're just making sure that we've done our due diligence in making sure we've gone through a quality public engagement process at multiple levels to make sure we've heard everything correctly."
Charts at the open house listed the priorities already identified from previous planning sessions. They include:
• Creating safe neighborhoods and lower crime: Survey respondents dubbed improved safety measures and lower crime rates as the No. 1 priority. Though a comp plan does not traditionally serve as a crime prevention plan, it can address socio and economic conditions behind crime and chemical dependency.
• Improving the overall maintenance and attractiveness of the city: Overall maintenance and community image play a large role in the city's character. Survey participants want to see a collaborative effort to enforce city codes, address property maintenance violations and improve city gateways and visual appeal of the main corridors.
• Improving the image of housing stock: Blighted houses and storefronts play a role in the image of the community. Survey participants support a coordinated effort to address blight, revitalize neighborhoods and improve housing conditions.
• Offering more affordable housing: Survey participants seek an array of housing options that meet their income, size and quality needs. Various concerns were voiced on the quality of rental units and the amount of available units.
• Providing adequate job opportunities: Residents want variety of employment options at various income levels. Survey respondents support a concerted effort to help existing businesses expand employment opportunities and attract new businesses to Brainerd.
• Revitalizing downtown: Brainerd's downtown plays an important role in the economic and social aspects of the city's identity. Residents seek a collaborative approach to improving the physical, social and economic condition of the downtown area.
• Protect and enhance recreation opportunities: Residents value their location to area lakes and natural features. Respondents seek to improve access and connections to amenities in the area.
"As we start constructing the language behind this, these are kind of the main themes of the plan," Huebsch said.
In terms of housing, Cynthia Sharrar hopes to see a focus on affordable housing for seniors. Sharrar lives in Pequot Lakes but owns a duplex on Oak Street where her elderly father lives, as she said it was hard to find him housing when he moved to town.
"He likes to be close to the senior center and the library and that kind of stuff," she said, also citing a lack of quality public transportation as another hindrance for her dad.
Senior housing and public transportation were recognized as priorities by some open house attendees, along with technology advancements, more cultural events downtown, more connectivity for easier walking and biking, and ways to keep younger generations-high school and college graduates-in the area.
Brainerd resident Colleen Morgan-Hess thought trying to attract technology and other bigger companies to the area would be a good way to keep younger people here instead of having them move to bigger cities like St. Cloud, Duluth or Fargo, N.D., for those kinds of jobs.
Morgan-Hess also thought in terms of tourists and said she would like to see a revitalization of the rail yards, including a remodel of the clocktower and the addition of passenger trains going to Fargo and Duluth.
"That's more of a tourist thing, but that would help," she said. "And then you could probably even put in some restaurants and some shopping things over there to expand."
Attendees were also asked to share their "big ideas" for Brainerd, which Huebsch described as any sort of major project or plan.
Ideas for projects to complete in the near future (0-2 years) were new zoning ordinances to increase flexibility for business owners and residents and the addition of a children's museum.
Short-term (3-5 years) suggestions included broadband expansions, more murals, downtown streetscaping, creating neighborhood identities with projects geared toward specific neighborhoods, and taking advantage of the Mississippi river.
A mid-term (6-9 years) suggestion was for Brainerd to work with Baxter and Crow Wing County as a whole to become a world-class destination by connecting trails, celebrating the history and culture of the area, and using the Mississippi River as a backbone.
An expansion of the public library was a suggested project for the near future and in 6-9 years.
The next step, Huebsch said, is for planners and steering committee members to take the suggestions from all the public input sessions and start writing a draft plan. Once the draft is complete, it will be available online for further public input before going in front of the city council for approval, which Huebsch expects to be June or July.
"I appreciate the fact that they're taking time for this," Sharrar said of the open house. "There's some good ideas here, and it's good somebody's getting them out."