Crow Wing County Board: Connecting loose, 'Unorganized' ends
Few people attended the June 14 Crow Wing County Board meeting to speak on whether an updated comprehensive plan for Unorganized Territory was in order.
The board set aside time for public comment after discussing the issue at its May 24 meeting, when County Attorney Don Ryan suggested commissioners seek resident input. At issue was whether an appetite exists for comprehensive land planning among those who call the area home.
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. Bray said reviewing the plan could assist in connecting the nearly 100 miles of discontinuous roads.
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. At no point in the county's history was this area organized into a township or city.
At first, no one stepped to the microphone to speak on the matter.
"No public comments," said Commissioner Paul Thiede, who ran the meeting in Chairman Doug Houge's absence. "That helps us make a real informed decision."
"No public comments. That helps us make a real informed decision." - Commissioner Paul Thiede
Jake Frie, natural resource manager in Land Services, then approached to share his concerns, noting he felt uncomfortable with the safety of some roads in Unorganized Territory. Frie pointed to County Road 115, also called Ojibwa Road, in particular.
"I don't know as much about the current comprehensive plan," Frie said. "Wherever in a comprehensive plan where you can make sure our roads are safe."
Mike Howard, a resident of the Cinosam area, urged the board to reconsider unaccepted roads. Howard lives on one—Minnehaha Avenue—and said the county does very little, if any, maintenance.
"Sometimes if you beg the county, they'll come up and put a little gravel on it once a year," Howard said. "We pay taxes like regular people. I think we should have our roads maintained like regular people."
Thiede asked Howard whether he had a position on whether the county should pursue a comprehensive plan for land use. Howard replied he didn't think residents of the area "want to be like Baxter or Brainerd at all."
"I don't think we need any more government," Howard said. "Just take care of the roads that are there. That's all I'm asking for."
"I don't think we need any more government. Just take care of the roads that are there. That's all I'm asking for." - Mike Howard, resident of Cinosam area
Bray said the reason the road is not cared for in the same way as other roads is because it does not meet standards. There are 12 miles of unaccepted roads within Unorganized Territory, he added.
"It's very hard to maintain," Bray said. "If they do not meet the standards, they should not be accepted."
Bray said residents on these roads have the opportunity to petition for acceptance, which would then require the roads be brought up to standards. This could include widening the road, adding shoulders and other improvements. It would also lead to assessments for residents and could eventually raise the road and bridge levy for the township.
Commissioner Paul Koering said if the county were to accept a road that did not meet standards, it could encourage bad actors.
"If we accept that, then all the other taxpayers are paying to fix that road that the developer should have did it the right way in the first place," Koering said.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said this situation was an example of why land use planning should accompany a transportation plan.
"They will develop their property with the proper kinds of roads so that we can take it over," Franzen said.
Bray said the purpose of updating the comprehensive plan was not to solve apparent problems with unaccepted roads.
"The comprehensive part is looking at continuity as it relates to the land use decisions," Bray said.
Another suggestion of Howard's was to request a name other than "Unorganized Territory."
"If I said this board was 'unorganized,' would you take that as a compliment?" Howard said. "I would suggest maybe 'Up North Territory.'"
"If I said this board was 'unorganized,' would you take that as a compliment? I would suggest maybe 'Up North Territory.'" - Mike Howard, resident of Cinosam area
County Administrator Tim Houle said the term "Unorganized Territory" is statutory, not the name chosen by the county. The county refers to the area as the First Assessment District, one of two such unorganized territories. The other is formerly Dean Lake Township, now known as the Second Assessment District.
"There is a way for the residents of this area to get a name," Houle said. "It is to organize as a township and call it whatever you want."
"There is a way for the residents of this area to get a name. It is to organize as a township and call it whatever you want." - County Administrator Tim Houle
Following the discussion, the county board moved ahead with approving a comprehensive transportation plan, while de-emphasizing the land use element. The measure passed 4-0.
Land use in Unorganized Territory is currently directed by a comprehensive plan developed in 1997 for the area, along with the county's overall comprehensive plan.