Everyone stresses that Downtown Master Plan is not the end-all, be-all that must be implemented in its entirety, or even in part

    Although they indicated earlier in the evening that one of their top priorities in the Downtown Master Plan they’ve spent several months putting together is creating as many multi-use path opportunities along the Red Lake River to and from downtown and it’s “near-side” neighborhoods, representatives from JLG Architects Monday night at city hall – after strong concerns voiced by potentially impacted property owners were backed up by the mayor and city council members – said they would amend the current draft of the plan to indicate that such paths will be a priority on public property, but not private property.

    Although not everyone was there to voice concerns about multi-use paths or even to hear JLG Architects’ presentation of the draft of the Downtown Master Plan - there were several other presentations on Monday evening’s Crookston City Council Ways & Means agenda – around 40 people filled the council chambers, and the most vocal in the audience were concerned about walkers, joggers, bicyclists and others coming by at all hours of the day and night, either right through their backyards or very close to their backyards on top of the river levees.

    “You have an entire neighborhood that doesn’t want this; it’s all private land and we don’t want strangers in our yard,” said Woodland Avenue resident Brittany Distefano. A short flood wall sits only a few feet from her bedroom, Distefano said, so even if such a path were to be located on the “wet” side of the flood wall, people would still only be around 20 feet from her house and could easily hop over the wall into her yard. If the path were on the dry side of the flood wall, it would be only a few feet from her bedroom window. “That’s 10 feet from my bedroom,” Distefano said. “We have the sidewalk already, we have the bridge, we know how to get to downtown already. It’s very nice the way it is.”

    Mayor Wayne Melbye said he’d been inundated with public feedback over the weekend after the draft of the Downtown Master Plan was publicly released last week. He sided with the concerned property owners. “They’re absolutely right,” he said. “I don’t think it behooves us at all to even follow through with this.”

    At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud said the issue goes beyond Woodland Avenue. People with levees in their backyards own the land to the top of the dikes, he said. “This all looks great, I’m not knocking the plan,” he said. “But if it’s not (City) property, I think we should take it off the table.”

    Mike McLean of JLG Architects said that the draft of the plan could be amended to suggest that a continuous path along the river be an overall goal “as much as you can on public land, but not private land.”

    “Just stay out of their backyards and I think we’ll all be a lot happier,” the mayor added.
Just a vision

    The Downtown Crookston Development Partnership and the Crookston Chamber secured a $20,000 grant last spring to have JLG Architects formulate the Downtown Master Plan, which JLG needs to wrap up by early August. But, City Administrator Shannon Stassen stressed Monday, there’s no deadline for the council to adopt it.

    McLean, who presented the draft with his colleague Shawn Senescall, stressed that the Downtown Master Plan is not rigid in nature, nor is it required to be implemented in its entirety, or at all. “It’s a flexible, living document that provides guidelines for potential future implementation; it’s a solid foundation for you, a framework,” he explained. “The community sort of gets to go on a joyride with it, with the understanding that their are some hairy times when you’re riding cross-country; figuring out the details, whether it’s how to pay for something or public and private land issues…those are going to be really difficult.

    “It’s up to your community to further develop your priorities,” McLean continued. “We’re not hear to deal with that at all; you guys figure out what’s important and go from there.”
Focus areas

    The Downtown Master Plan is built on a trio of focus areas: The historic district, a greenway plan and multi-family plan. The first focus area looks to further utilize, highlight and develop the current historic district at the core of downtown, but also expand it to historic buildings downtown that are outside of the core district. The greenway plan stresses paths to and from downtown from neighborhoods and public places, such as Central Park. The closer those paths are to the river, the better. The third focus area seeks affordable, multi-family housing opportunities in “near-side” neighborhoods, including “life-cycle” housing opportunities for people ages 19 to 80.

    The Downtown Master Plan wants to expand on Second Street as a pedestrian destination that would congregate toward a relocated Town Square near the old Cathedral, and Town Square activities at the new location could potentially bleed into the western portions of Central Park, where a natural amphitheater exists. McLean acknowledged that an expanded Central Park campground would likely have to be slid a bit to the north to accommodate the amphitheater vision. Draft language is strongly in favor of a redeveloped old Cathedral, whether it’s a combination community and art center, or a “celebrated ruin,” an idea that has been floated of late that McLean also endorsed Monday.

    “We recommend doing whatever you can to save that building,” he said, “whether it’s an all-season destination, or a celebrated ruin.”

    The primary suggested use for the current Town Square site? It would be ideal for an outdoor swimming pool, the Downtown Master Plan suggests.

    JLG Architects is also a strong proponent in the draft of reducing the number of traffic lanes on Main and Broadway downtown from three to two, and adding bicycle lanes.

    Although the Downtown Master Plan includes the development of multiple “critical sites” that are currently open spaces, much of the plan stresses the importance, and affordability, of developing or redeveloping existing buildings and spaces, whether it’s commercial development or housing.

    McLean mentioned the “old brewery” that’s home to Torkelson Repair just off the Red Lake River, to the north of Main Street. “What a great spot,” he said. “It would be a tremendous location for a restaurant of some kind.”

    The Downtown Master Plan, McLean said, in addition to being a guideline for future decision-making, also sends a signal that the Crookston community and its decision-makers are serious about making downtown a destination. “The time is now to get in here, not later, is what you tell developers,”  he said.