North Mankato residents and officials have been wrestling with the vision and plan for its city and, particularly, the downtown. More precisely, they’ve been struggling with the lack of a clear plan and vision.
The lack of a long-range blueprint has most recently been manifested in the discussion over the proposed Marigold apartment complex. Residents opposing the plan said the building would be too tall and large for the location and would harm the character of the area.
When the Planning Commission considered whether to recommend a number of variances the project would need because it would violate existing building codes, they were left without the guidance of a comprehensive development plan for the downtown. In the end, they were left with only the existing codes to guide them and recommended against giving the variances.
But the absence of a plan has caused confusion in the past for the City Council and the Port Authority, the city’s economic development body. The Port Authority, for example, has been asked to approve grants for the expansion or renovation of Belgrade Avenue businesses without a clear idea of what goals the grants are supposed to support or which businesses and projects should get grants.
The city has laid some groundwork for a comprehensive plan. It was involved in the regional Envision 2020 planning process that developed some general, broad goals. And the city last year commissioned I&S Group to conduct a study, based on discussions with business, civic and government leaders as well as public open houses. The report issued from that study provides some good information for a comprehensive development plan.
While any master plan must be flexible enough to allow for unexpected challenges or opportunities, a plan should look at what the city wants to accomplish in different parts of the community: What types of development should be sought for the Commerce Drive district, industrial park and downtown? What steps should be taken to limit impacts on residential neighborhoods near commercial districts? How much green space should be required in certain areas of town? What criteria should be used to decide if a proposed project seeks taxpayer subsidies?
Developing and approving such a master plan requires broad public and business input and the elected City Council needs to make the decisions on what a comprehensive plan will include.
The city will soon have a new administrator coming on board and the makeup of the City Council will be changed in 2013. Next year will be a perfect time for North Mankato to develop a plan for its future.