City wants public involvement in comprehensive plan update

Contributing Writer

Extensive public involvement in the update of the comprehensive plan is the goal of the city of Coon Rapids.

The Coon Rapids City Council met in a joint work session with the Coon Rapids Planning Commission Feb. 16 to discuss the mandated comprehensive plan update and how the public will be part of the process.

Under state law, cities in the metropolitan area are required to update their long-range comprehensive plan to guide policy making on such issues as land use, transportation, housing, water resources and open space and community facilities, according to Grant Fernelius, city community development director.

The current plan was adopted in 2008 and the update must be completed and approved by the Metropolitan Council by the end of 2018, tying into the Metropolitan Council’s long-range system known as Thrive MSP 2040, Fernelius said.

Fernelius’ presentation to the joint council/commission work session provided a summary of the current plan; population, household and employment forecasts through 2040; new elements proposed for the 2018 plan; a work plan and public engagement strategy.

In fact, the meeting was the first of a series of comprehensive plan “road show” presentations to local public officials, Fernelius said.

“The goal is to present the comp plan in understandable terms and provide opportunities for the public to weigh in on the document,” he said.

Over a six-month period this year, “road show” presentations will be made to the city advisory commissions, as well as community and civic groups, like the Coon Rapids Rotary Club, of which he is a member, according to Fernelius.

“We will be more than happy to talk to these organizations,” Fernelius said.

There will also be displays on the comprehensive plan update set up and planning staff to talk to residents about them at the Summer in the City events in four parks scheduled in June and July, he said in an interview following the work session.

Other city events, like the Fourth of July celebration and Movies in the Park, will also likely be targeted, Fernelius said.

And during the summer, “pop up” meetings with the public will also occur “at places where people typically gather” with the presentation “tailored to the audience to make it meaningful for them,” he said.

But staff has to better define where these meetings will take place and “what they will look like,” Fernelius said.

“They have been done successfully in other communities,” he said. “St. Paul is an example where it went into the neighborhoods.”

The public engagement process will also include stories in the quarterly city newsletter, information on the city’s CTN cable television station and a specific page on the city’s website with summaries of the various chapters “that are relatable to residents” plus a survey tool, according to Fernelius.

By taking an interactive approach to the update process, “we want to make the comp plan user friendly and understandable for policy makers and the public,” Fernelius said.

Under the timetable Fernelius presented to the work session, the draft plan will be ready for review in September with updates given to the council, planning commission and other groups in the fall. This will be followed by planning commission workshops and hearings in January-March 2018.

The council will review the draft plan in April 2018, then it will be circulated for comment to other public agencies, including the school district and surrounding cities – before formal approval by the commission and council in July 2018 and a review by the Metropolitan Council.

According to Fernelius, the current comprehensive plan focuses on long-range planning through 2030 incorporating all the elements required under state law – basic demographic information, land use, transportation, water supply, sanitary and storm sewer systems, parks and open space, solar access protection, housing and wetlands protection.

While the Metropolitan Council is requiring the same state law elements as the current plan, it is encouraging cities to consider two new elements – resilience (environment, energy, sustainability, healthy communities, etc) and economic competitiveness (redevelopment, education, workforce, business development) – in their new long-range planning through 2040 and Coon Rapids plans to do that, Fernelius said.

While several trends identified in the 2008 comprehensive plan have not changed, the plan was adopted before the start of the Great Recession and the impact of the “housing bubble” that drastically changed the economy, while demographics have also changed, so have housing and lifestyle choices, he said.

Metropolitan Council projections show a 17.3 percent population increase from the 2010 U.S. Census to 2040 – 61,476 to 72,100 – a 24.5 percent increase in households over the same period (23,532 to 29,300) and a 32.8 percent jump in employment from 23,260 in 2010 to 30,900 in 2040, Fernelius said.

The anticipated growth in households and employment should both “drive the need for more housing in the community,” he said.

Fernelius outlined goals for the plan update, indicating a hybrid approach. “There is no strong desire to rip up the comp plan and start over,” he said.

While many current development priorities are still valid, all chapters of the plan will be re-examined and particular attention will be paid to a deeper analysis of housing and infrastructure, while elements of water supply, surface water, storm water and parks and open space will be expanded, according to Fernelius.

The new plan elements – resilience and economic competitiveness – will be incorporated, so will be recently approved Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area regulations from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Fernelius said.

Mayor Jerry Koch described the comp plan update as a “visioning process,” but he said attention must be paid to retail changes so the Riverdale area is not empty of stores and becomes an eyesore like some other retail centers in the metro area.

Council Member Brad Johnson wanted to see access to the Mississippi River addressed beyond the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park as well as building out the trail system in the city, he said.

The city has received a $32,000 planning grant from the Metropolitan Council to offset some of the costs associated with the update. Jason Jonathan Belteton