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Officials pleased with input provided by public at meetings

WILLMAR -- Citizens provided some good comments about Willmar's future development during a series of three public meetings. The comments will be used to structure and formulate new goals and policies for the city's revised comprehensive land use...

WILLMAR -- Citizens provided some good comments about Willmar's future development during a series of three public meetings. The comments will be used to structure and formulate new goals and policies for the city's revised comprehensive land use plan.

"We got some good input,'' said Bruce Peterson, director of planning and economic development for the city of Willmar. "You never know if you're getting enough input. Anyone who wanted to be heard was heard. It will be interesting to sort it out.''

Peterson recapped the public comments and explained the process for reviewing and considering the revised plan by the Planning Commission and the City Council during the council's Community Development Committee meeting Thursday evening.

The goals and policies in the comprehensive plan guide land use and zoning decisions. The council had earlier encouraged Peterson's department to update the 1989 plan.

The Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the revised plan when a proposal is prepared by city staff, and the City Council will follow with its own hearing. Peterson estimated the process could take at least six months because his office is also working on other projects.

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Comments may still be submitted online at the city's Web site or at the Planning Commission's hearing.

"If the public comes to the Planning Commission and says we want you to consider this or we weren't able to attend the meetings and we'd like you to consider this, wonderful,'' said Peterson. "Up until it's adopted, it can be changed. It's hard to put a start date and a stop date on good ideas. They just evolve.''

"It should be a fluid document,'' said Bruce DeBlieck, committee chairman.

Attendance by the 75 to 80 participants was better than the three people who showed up for two meetings when the last plan was revised, said Peterson.

Participants focused on the economy, public utilities and infrastructure, transportation, natural resources and environmental quality, parks and open space, housing and culture, historic preservation and aesthetics, land use, and downtown.

Participants were asked four questions:

n What did they view as the most important issue and how would they like the matter to be handled?

n What did they see as a positive issue within the city and what makes the issue successful or favorable?

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n What did they see as a negative issue that needs improvement and what would they suggest for improvement?

n What was their vision for Willmar in the future?

Peterson said comments ranged from distribution of housing types, making sure good access is maintained in and out of the city and within neighborhoods, and the amount and location of affordable housing.

He said people were generally impressed with the overall condition of the city and were impressed with parks and trails.

People were pleased with the development direction being taken by the central business district, and they saw potential for some good things to happen in the central business district as a result of the Rice Hospital expansion and recent efforts to make improvements downtown.

Peterson said people generally expected the city would continue to grow in an orderly fashion, and they supported staff's opinion that development should fund the growth of the city.

There was concern the city protect its natural resources such as lakes and wetlands as well as parks, and that the city continue to provide opportunities for use of open space.

He said there was concern that more be done from a development standpoint to increase the feeling of neighborhood with the use of new urban-style housing, built on narrower streets with porches on the front and garages in the rear, with access provided by alleys.

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In other business, the committee recommended the city proceed with the process of selling a parcel of city-owned land in the Pleasant View neighborhood.

The parcel had been suggested by the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority as the site for a 40-unit work force housing project. The City Council voted in June to support the concept of the housing project but opposed placing the project at that site.

Since that time, two developers have shown an interest in buying the parcel, which is from 3.5 to 4 acres in size, according to Peterson.

The committee voted to recommend the parcel be appraised. City staff will also investigate whether the parcel has any potential for public use, such as a park.

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