Pondering good neighborhoods: Brainerd Planning Commission discusses development of Kingwood St.
What should a neighborhood look like?
Should businesses be intermixed with houses? Should fences all conform to one style? Should parking lots sit at residential street corners?
These questions and more were asked and answered during walking tours of Brainerd's Kingwood Street last week.
After community concerns about the placement of Thrifty White Drug on Washington Street last year, new zoning ordinances and other planning criteria changes may be in the street's future, as the Brainerd Planning Commission reaches out to residents for opinions on the development of the neighborhood.
Planning commission member Chuck Marohn told a group of residents Thursday, May 30, the development pattern of the south side of Kingwood Street looks similar to that of Washington Street.
"And certainly the feedback we got from people was that that doesn't seem like the direction people want to go," Marohn said during Thursday evening's walking tour of Kingwood.
Marohn invited residents on and around Kingwood on one of three walking tours last week to learn how they felt about the look and atmosphere of the street.
"Just talk about what you see, what you like, what you don't like," Marohn told the group of about 15 residents as they started on their walk down Kingwood Street from North First to North 10th Street.
One of the first items discussed—the catalyst for the discussion in the first place—was the Thrifty White parking lot, which backs up to the corner of Kingwood and North Second streets.
Keith Gadacz, who lives on Fir Street, said the parking lot never looks full and seems to be much too big for the business.
The intersection the parking lot is on, the residents noted, is very busy with hospital traffic and also includes a school bus stop, where several students get on and off the bus.
Resident concerns expressed during a public hearing on Thrifty White last year included the need for vegetative screening around the property and the loss of residential property. For those and other reasons, many residents spoke against rezoning the land from residential office to commercial.
The parking lot as built does not include the mature trees residents hoped for.
Juniper Street resident Kathleen Hermerding suggested the idea of Thrifty White sharing the parking lot with nearby residents outside of business hours, but she and others in the group ultimately agreed they do not want to see a parking lot like that repeated on Kingwood.
They said street parking, on the other hand, is much more desirable.
"It's part of city living," Kingwood Street resident George Marsolek said of on-street parking.
Businesses versus residences was another conversation topic, and many in the group said a few businesses on the street were OK, though they might be better suited for the downtown area where there are empty storefronts.
Hannah Puttbrese said she doesn't mind businesses in the neighborhood at all, as she believes they help increase property values.
If businesses do come in, Hermerding said she would prefer them to look like houses, such as the Farmers Insurance building near North Sixth and Kingwood or The Fine Line Salon and Spa on North Fourth Street.
Other conversations centered around trees, fences, setbacks, rental properties and landscaping.
Most residents noted they liked the presence of trees in front of properties and along the boulevard, as they give the area a neighborhood feel and help keep the sidewalks cooler in the summer. Trees, shrubs and other plants, however, should be kept trimmed, they noted, so as not to interfere with pedestrians or line of sight for drivers.
As long as they're well maintained, many said they didn't mind fences around yards, as they lend to privacy and boundaries for dogs.
Residents agreed they liked the parts of the street that exhibited uniform setbacks for houses, rather than those where the buildings were set back different distances from the road.
When Marohn asked how the group felt about rental properties, many said they don't mind them, as rentals are a fact of life for those who can't afford to buy a house or don't want to.
Hermerding said she would prefer more residents than rentals, as renters tend to be more transient, which makes it hard to build a sense of community.
"Generally speaking, we have a lot of rentals in this area as we walk down that are not well-maintained, and I'm not sure how well the tenants are screened," Hermerding said, also adding she understands the importance and necessity of rentals in Brainerd and would like to see any that do come in kept up well on the outside.
Marohn told the group there's a fine line between not wanting more rental properties and being willing to change the zoning use of properties.
"If you want to not have transient rentals, you have to have a neighborhood that is improving in value. And the way you get a neighborhood like this to improve in value is to incrementally intensify the use, and that's often resisted by the people who are there," Marohn said, noting that issue is one the planning commission hopes to address through its Kingwood Street conversations.
The idea of adequate upkeep seemed to be a theme throughout the walk, as many noted whatever the type of structure—whether a residence, rental unit or business—maintaining the outside well, including appealing landscaping, is key to integrate the property into the neighborhood well.
Toward the end of the tour, the large parking lots on both corners of the western portion of the Kingwood and North Ninth Street intersection served as an example of what many in the group said they did not want in their neighborhood, with one resident saying something like that on either side of her house is one of her biggest fears.
Marohn said the planning commission is going to look at all the neighborhood feedback from the notes both he and planning department intern Collin Mieras took during the tours to come up with some ideas for the neighborhood.
Those ideas may include altering zoning ordinances, or they may include other city involvement, like designing streets differently, Marohn said.
Currently, the city operates under use space codes, meaning it regulates the use of buildings more so than the look. But in a neighborhood like that along Kingwood Street, Marohn said the city may look to dial down use regulations and focus more on appearances.
"How they relate to the street, how they relate to each other, how they orient, things like, 'You don't put a parking lot on the corner, you put it internally,'" Marohn said. "Our ordinance right now today is completely silent on all that, and those are the kind of things we're talking about doing."
After the planning commission reviews feedback and forms concrete ideas, Marohn said he may conduct a walking tour again to show residents exactly what is planned.