Brainerd: New comp plan focuses on revitalization of city

A new comprehensive plan will replace the city of Brainerd's previous plan, which dates back to 2004. The city council approved the new plan this week, which focuses on neighborhoods, housing and overall revitalization efforts throughout the city.

Brainerd comp plan
Ashley Kaisershot, of Sourcewell, discuss the development process behind Brainerd's new comprehensive plan, which the city council approved at its meeting Monday, Oct. 7. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, an attractive city, adequate jobs, enhanced recreation opportunities and a revitalized downtown -- those are six important elements community members identified over the last two years when asked what should be included in Brainerd’s updated comprehensive plan.

After two years of meetings, surveys and information sessions, the planning commission and the comprehensive plan steering committee came up with a new 15-year plan, complete with enhanced goals and policies for the city, which the council approved during its meeting Monday, Oct. 7.

The city’s last comprehensive plan was approved in 2004.

Eight guiding principles drove the plan’s direction:

  • Continue enhancing Brainerd’s neighborhoods in ways that encourage safety and a sense of community.

  • Champion the range of employment opportunities available in the Brainerd lakes area.

  • Promote the development and redevelopment of housing for a range of densities, types and price points.

  • Highlight, maintain and enhance the recreational assets and opportunities in Brainerd.

  • Celebrate the unique qualities, attributes and identities of Brainerd’s neighborhoods.

  • Expand and enhance high quality rental property opportunities in Brainerd by continuing to encourage best practices and accountability.

  • Be active in a vibrant downtown, support existing businesses, new business development, housing and cultural events all tied to Brainerd’s historic character.

  • Maintain and enhance infrastructure and recreational assets by considering both form and function.

The new plan’s vision statement is “to provide high-quality, year-round recreation, a strong workforce and a variety of life experiences that support a welcoming place to live, work, play, stay and learn for all.”
The comprehensive plan is primarily a tool designed to provide steps to help achieve that vision and help residents and local leaders work together more efficiently to guide future growth and development within the city.


Ashley Kaisershot of Sourcewell -- who spearheaded the plan’s writing -- and Community Development Director David Chanksi emphasized the importance of the plan within the city and the necessity of its daily usage.

“It really is a workbook of sorts, meant for you to sketch in, to draw in, to put notes on, to use as a checkmark,” Kaisershot said, noting all the community input that went into the plan and the inclusion of opportunities to work with several community leaders to help achieve the plan’s goals.

“It’s meant to be leveraged and used every day. It’s meant to, in essence, be filled with coffee stains, doughnut jelly,” Kaisershot added.

Chanski said he hopes the new plan will not just be a compliance document that’s thrown into a desk drawer and forgotten until 2035, much like what happened to the last plan. He urged the council and other city staff to keep the comprehensive plan as a living document, not only within city hall, but within the community.

The goals and policies in the plan are split up into nine categories -- land use, community character, housing, mobility, economic development, parks and recreation, facilities and infrastructure, public safety and natural resources.

Stated goals of plan

Land use

  1. Support mixed-use development focused on integration of land uses.

  2. Maintain the identity of the city and all appropriate land uses through thoughtful planning.

  3. Support and invest in the incremental enhancements of the quality of life.

Community character

  1. Preserve and repurpose historic assets.

  2. Enliven the community through intentional community design.

  3. Enhance the city’s identity where the appropriate blend of historic and modern structures coexists.



  1. Provide a diverse mix of housing choices for all stages of life, income ranges and ownership/rental preferences.

  2. Encourage the preservation and historical significance of existing neighborhoods.

  3. Ensure quality living conditions for all residents.


  1. Maintain, develop and adapt a dynamic multimodal transportation system within Brainerd to accommodate all users.

  2. Work collaboratively with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, federal and state agencies, neighboring cities, the private sector, residents and other agency partners to improve mobility in the region.

  3. Consider other modes of transportation at the same priority level as automobiles.

  4. Commit to creating bike and pedestrian connections from neighborhoods to downtown.

  5. Use the airport to provide a global gateway that safely and efficiently generates economic vitality in a sustainable and responsible manner.

Economic development

  1. Support the development of vacant areas and redevelopment throughout Brainerd as a strategic component of growth.

  2. Support those in the workforce and help them thrive.

  3. Help local businesses grow and attract new businesses in neighborhoods, along main corridors and downtown.

Parks and recreation

  1. Maintain a quality parks system that meets recreational needs of a variety of users.

  2. Collaborate with community partners to maximize the value and impact of the park system.

  3. Seek ways to expand event programming for each park to highlight the qualities of each neighborhood.

Facilities and infrastructure

  1. Improve the overall image of the city.

  2. Preserve the history and small-town feel of Brainerd.

  3. Provide quality water/power and wastewater systems that support new and existing development and redevelopment, all while being adaptive to change.

Public safety

  1. Protect and provide for the safety of residents and visitors.

  2. Evaluate and improve Brainerd’s emergency management.

  3. Continue to seek out and foster partnerships to better prepare the public and city staff for emergencies and natural disasters in the context of a changing climate.

Natural resources

  1. Protect and preserve waterways, wetlands and wooded areas and identify threats to native species within and around the city.

  2. Increase access to open space.


The plan identifies several policies to accomplish the goals identified over the next 15 years. For the immediate future, Chanski specified five action items for the city to begin working on:

  • Update ordinances to reflect changes in the plan.

  • Update future land use map.

  • Develop performance measures and benchmarks for tracking progress.

  • Identify housing needs for seniors, young families and workforce.

  • Develop a marketing and branding initiative.

The full comprehensive plan will be available on the city’s website later this week.
Council member Tad Erickson abstained from voting, as he works for Region Five Development Commission and helped to write the plan. He did, however, praise those who worked on the plan and the process they went through.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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