Crow Wing County Board: How organized should Unorganized be?
A request to update the comprehensive plan for Unorganized Territory evolved into a discussion of whether such a plan was desired by the territory's residents at Tuesday's Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Mark Liedl, Land Services director, and Tim Bray, county engineer, sought approval from commissioners to solicit professional services to update the comprehensive plan. The last comprehensive plan prepared for Unorganized Territory, also known as the First Assessment District, was completed in 1997.
Unorganized Territory includes the area north of Brainerd and Baxter, stretching from Woida Road north to Cinosam Road and east from the Crow Wing/Cass county line to Merrifield. The Crow Wing County Board acts as the township board for the area, which, with about 5,500 residents, is the third largest population center in the county.
Bray said the area's size means it warrants "a more robust level of analysis" than other townships. This analysis, Bray said, would establish a plan for transportation needs in the territory and may include land use guidance as well. Bray pointed to 60 miles of discontinuous roads and numerous dead-end cul-de-sacs that are difficult for the county highway department to maintain.
Comprehensive plans prepared by local governments are documents outlining broad goals for the future of an area. In the case of Crow Wing County, which developed its comprehensive plan in 2004, the planning commission and board of adjustment uses the plan for guidance when considering zoning requests or other land-use decisions.
"It is designed to be a grassroots effort," said Tim Houle, county administrator. "Where do you want to see commercial growth? Where do you want to see residential growth? Is there some design standards you want to have for the roads? ... It is trying to engage citizens from that area to help define what they would like the future of their area to be."
Commissioner Paul Koering asked why an outside consultant was needed for the development of a comprehensive plan.
"I think we've got the best qualified people right here," Koering said. "I think you two guys are super smart and could figure out a plan."
"I think we've got the best qualified people right here. I think you two guys are super smart and could figure out a plan." - Commissioner Paul Koering
Houle said developing a plan is an involved process, one that requires a substantial amount of work that would be difficult for county staff to complete between other daily job expectations.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom asked whether developing a plan was required, and Houle explained it was not. Liedl said the driver for asking to update the plan was transportation planning.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said he was the only commissioner who was on the county board at the time the current plan was completed. He connected his approval of the plan with his loss in the election that followed that decision.
"Part of the reason for that is the FAD (First Assessment District) is unorganized," Thiede said. "They don't want an organization. They have been unorganized because no one has been able to drum up enough support to organize it into the third largest city in the county. By virtue of this being on the table today, we are now going to have another conversation about what's the dang county board going to do now?"
"They have been unorganized because no one has been able to drum up enough support to organize it into the third largest city in the county." - Commissioner Paul Thiede
Thiede said annexations from Unorganized Territory into Brainerd and Baxter would likely continue as those cities grow, and organizing into a city might be "the only defense they have to prevent encroachment."
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said she was "baffled" by what Thiede said. She said she supported developing a transportation plan for the area.
"I think nobody has ever talked about making this into another city, not in my time anyway," Franzen said. "I don't know why you lost an election after this was talked about, but I find it hard to believe it was because (of this)."
"I think nobody has ever talked about making this into another city, not in my time anyway. "I don't know why you (Commissioner Paul Thiede) lost an election after this was talked about, but I find it hard to believe it was because (of this)." - Commissioner Rosemary Franzen
Franzen said in conversations with Bray, the need for a plan was apparent, including some land use elements.
"If it's going to be a commercial area ... we'd have to plan for different kinds of roads," Franzen said.
Thiede said he was concerned if certain areas were zoned commercial, it might encourage annexation into Baxter. He used the parcel at the corner of Highway 371 and County Highway 49 as an example.
"I think they could already annex it," Franzen said.
"I rest my case," Thiede responded. "This would just be one more impetus because it's now got proper zoning, if you will."
County Attorney Don Ryan asked Chairman Doug Houge if he intended to take comments from the public on the matter. Houge said he would, and Ryan stood up from his seat next to commissioners and walked over to the microphone in the viewing area. Ryan said he did so because he was commenting as a private citizen who lives in Unorganized Territory.
Ryan said he was part of the staff that put together the 1997 plan and there were five meetings to discuss the plan with residents at the time. He added it's "100 percent correct" there is no interest from those residents of organizing into a city.
"There was a lot of discussion and debate when we went over that," Ryan said. "Perhaps you want to consider that before you say yes or no."
Ryan said he personally had no problem with addressing transportation needs and gave the example of what he called the "road to nowhere" that ends west of the Northland Arboretum. Where he foresaw resident response, he said, was in planning multi-family residential areas.
"A lot of people live out there because it is single-family residential or rural residential," Ryan said. "I don't personally have a problem with trying to figure out the best way to develop the road system. I'm more interested in how much we are going to have commercial encroachment into that area and how much multi-family residential we're going to have."
Bray said the current plan was almost 20 years old, and he felt it was a logical request to consider updating it.
After several minutes of discussion on whether committee of the whole or a regular county board meeting was the best venue for receiving public input, commissioners voted to table the issue and discuss it at the June 14 county board meeting.