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Citizens Advisory Committee sets course for long journey

Heidi Herron reaches toward the sticky notes that were placed on the wall by members of the citizens advisory committee. The members of the group were tasked with coming up with the things they would "keep" in New Richmond and things they feel could be done away with in the future. (Raymond T. Rivard photograph)1 / 2
City of New Richmond Community Development Director Beth Thompson addresses the members of the citizens advisory committee at the body's inaugural meeting. The next meeting of the body is set to be held Tuesday, March 21, 4-6 p.m., in WITC's Cashman Conference Center in New Richmond. (Raymond T. Rivard photograph)2 / 2

New Richmond

A couple of weeks ago, about 50 City of New Richmond residents descended upon the fire department for a kickoff meeting of a year-long process to incorporate ideas and develop a comprehensive plan that will be utilized for the coming years.

To get to a rewrite of the city's comprehensive plan, several initial steps were taken to ensure there was plenty of guidance, as well as enough resident involvement to lend credibility to the final document that will be unveiled at the end of the year.

The first thing was to hire a consultant to guide the process — that was done a little over a month ago when the services of Weber Community Planning, St. Louis Park, Minn., was hired by the city.

From that step, New Richmond Community Development Director Beth Thompson worked to develop a city resident advisory committee to work with Weber in helping to forge a new comprehensive plan that takes many factors into account.

That's what brought the citizens to the fire hall for the kickoff meeting.

The advisory committee was designed to include an eclectic membership — among them being a stay-at-home mom, contractors, a chiropractor and school officials.

The wide ranging perspectives of those brought together should help the city and Weber develop an all-inclusive document that will serve the city well over the course of the next decade.

Bill Smith, of Weber, told those gathered that the "city advisory [members] are to serve as advisors throughout development of the city's comprehensive plan. Visioning and issue identification are what we will be doing."

To get to this point required a lot of leg work on the part of Thompson, who reached out to more than 30 city residents to explain the process and to see who might be interested in participating.

Once the list was generated and residents committed, then the planning for the first meeting was carried out and the meeting held.

The first phase, according to Smith, was to get a handle on the existing conditions in the city and get a jump on the direction and the issues that the committee feels are important to address and include in the comprehensive plan.

At that first meeting, Weber officials led the advisory committee members through what they felt are "keepers" and "changes," in other words what the citizens felt were things worth keeping and others they felt needed changing.

"You want to be considering things like land use, housing, transportation, economic development, the downtown and parks and trails, among other things," Smith said.

"You have a beautiful city and what do you want to do to keep this a beautiful city?" Smith asked.

With those questions in hand, the residents then worked together to begin drilling down into the issues they felt important, placing those issues on paper and providing Weber and city officials with a starting list of issues to focus upon.

For Thompson, she felt that this first meeting was production.

"I think this group is diverse enough to give us a run for the money. There are opinions on both sides of the fence and to come to agreements that are in the best interest of the future of New Richmond will be an interesting process," Thompson said.

"I thought this first meeting went really well. I received a few emails from some people who were part of the first meeting who said 'good meeting. We're really excited to get going on this.' People are ready to dig in and get going."

Though Thompson said she was hoping for more residents during the second half of the meeting (when the public at-large was invited). But in the end, things turned out for the best.

"I thought we would have a few more during the citizens engagement part of the meeting, but I wouldn't say we were disappointed. I thought that with all the publicity that we did — we had three different videos online, postings all around town and we asked each committee member to invite a friend — I thought it would be a little bigger turnout. But I thought in the end for the [size of the] room we had, it ended up being perfect."

City Administrator Mike Darrow said the city also presented ideas and received feedback on the issues pertaining to the comprehensive plan during recent public meetings. "It's an ongoing process ... and before it's all said and done, we'll have about 450-500 ideas coming out of the meeting," he said.

While the comments are still being evaluated and tabulated, Thompson said one of the overriding issues brought to the forefront by the citizens was the development of the downtown.

"If there were themes ... one of the biggest was the downtown. There were lots of citizens who said that it was important to keep schools, the library, parks and trails," Thompson said. "But when it came to the changes, it was the downtown where the idea for change was the most prominent."

The committee will meet monthly, with the next meeting of the body set to be held Tuesday, March 21, 4-6 p.m., in WITC's Cashman Conference Center in New Richmond.