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Plan for downtown Willmar, Minn., approved by City Council

The Willmar City Council voted unanimously Monday night to adopt the new downtown plan. Here, trees overhang traffic pictured Monday between Benson and Litchfield Avenue Southwest. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council voted unanimously Monday night to adopt the new downtown plan. The council's action, which replaces a section of the comprehensive land use plan with the new downtown plan, was greeted with applause by eight supporters in the audience.

No comments were offered during a hearing to take comments from the public before the council considered approving the resolution that ad-opts the plan.

The plan was recommended by Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, who said the plan encourages development to create employment and preserve and increase the downtown tax base.

"I believe the new downtown plan ... will provide a better framework to accomplish the former goals, objectives and policies that were determined in the comprehensive plan and that the new plan offers a fine substitute of thinking that's still very consistent with the former plan, but provides better clarity and better accountability for accomplishing the goals and objectives of the plan,'' said Peterson.

Following much comment and stakeholder involvement at a series of public meetings, the new downtown plan was drafted, focusing on 19 elements.

After additional review by city staff, the Steering Committee, the Planning Commission and the Community Development Committee, the plan was presented for adoption.

Peterson said putting the plan into practice will require public and private investment. City participation will include staff resources and capital investment over a 15-year period.

Adam Arvidson, a landscape architect working part-time with the Willmar Design Center and one of 16 plan Steering Committee members, praised the council's action. In a brief interview after the council moved on to other business, Arvidson said many people put a lot of work into the plan over the past six months.

"But really over the past six or seven years since the Design Center was here, the plan has evolved to a point where at this moment it's really more comprehensive than it really was,'' he said.

Arvidson said the design team never considered housing or economic development and those are critical aspects of a successful downtown.

"To see those now added in explicitly and to see the council unanimously accept, I think it's a great victory for the community as a whole, not just downtown, but the community as a whole because the community will see a better downtown in the coming years,'' he said.

The plan has 19 elements organized into five topics:

- Access, movement and parking: establish downtown gateways and improve vehicular access; improve pedestrian environment and connections; perform downtown parking study; and implement the Becker Avenue multiple-use roadway plan.

- Open space, green space and trails: implement Becker Avenue green space and trails; extend Glacial Lakes State Trail into downtown; create downtown trail head at Selvig Park; and improve the urban forest.

- Building conditions and aesthetics: adopt downtown design standards; facilitate façade improvements; encourage historic preservation and restoration; update and improve lighting.

n Business mix and redevelopment: revise the central business district zoning boundary; encourage redevelopment of targeted sites; encourage restaurant and retail development; and support and maintain cultural, governmental and institutional uses downtown.

- Housing: analyze existing downtown housing; promote higher density development at the fringe of the central business district; and increase and improve downtown housing.

The downtown planning process was initiated last fall by Mayor Frank Yanish who wanted a new start to looking at the downtown plan, reviewing the previous document and determining where it was relevant, said Peterson.

The diversely representative steering committee appointed by Yanish and the council provided guidance along the way, he said.

Peterson said views were included from a wide variety of individuals, building owners, ethnic businesses and groups, elected officials, city staff and steering committee.

In other business, the council:

- Voted to hold a hearing June 4 to take public comments on introduction of an ordinance to sell general obligation bonds to finance the 2012 street improvement program.

- Voted to declare costs to be assessed and ordered preparation of the assessment roll to assess the cost of 2012 street improvements.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150