Photos & Story by Dave Warner
Early Wednesday evening, the Planning Board voted unanimously to approve the current City of Little Falls Draft Comprehensive Plan 2018 and move it forward in the process to the next council meeting for an adoption vote. A small but vocal group of individuals were in attendance during the public hearing portion of the meeting and the board listened to their concerns and comments.
At every turn, the people in attendance praised the board for the work they had put into preparing the document. According to Christine Van Meter it answered the question “what do we want our city to be?”
Some concerns were voiced as well. David Dardzinski with Preserve Our Past stated “the plan should have zoning in it. I’m suggesting that the thing should have some teeth and some direction.”
And, according to Main Street First President Judy Wolf “I just got it and didn’t have time to read it. I wanted to be able to provide intelligent input.”
Jeffrey Gressler, President of the Little Falls Historical Society stated “two people came up to me and told me they needed more time to review the plan.”
The consensus from the board was that there had been a significant number of public meetings, focus groups and input from citizens. David Van Meter stated “we’ve heard from the community for 14 months. We beat the bushes for input. However, this is going to be a living document and a living process.”
Board members also stated that the charter from the very beginning was to make sure that they heard from everyone. As for changes, the state guidelines mandate a review of the plan every five years.
The previous plan was more than 40 years old and it was time for a revision that more closely aligns with where the city is now and where it needs to go. When you read the previous plan, it’s clear that Little Falls was a much different place. According to Mayor Blask “questions surrounded what they were going to do about two hospitals, the schools, and it really didn’t envision Little Falls 2018. So much has changed in this age of technology and who we’re trying to draw here….the different types of business. It’s no longer going to be a large scale paper company.”
The plan seeks to draw technology types who can work from home, who want to feel safe in a small town atmosphere. “It’s just so different now in 2018,” said Blask.
The plan focuses on four main areas: business, community services, arts & culture and safe neighborhoods. Blask said “those are the areas we wanted to start with and drill down from.”
“It’s not the planning boards plan, or Mark Blask’s plan, it’s going to be the people who live here – their plan,” said Blask.
Over 500 survey responses were received gathering peoples thoughts on the plan. “This means 1 out of every 10 people took the time to say what they liked or didn’t like and how it could be better,” stated Blask.
There were different focus groups that also provided input for the plan. “And they really appreciated that and their insight was invaluable,” Blask said.
The Master Plan was also taken on the road where someone from the planning board would go out to different groups and just engage them. Blask stated “We always asked about the canopy, one way streets, parking and then really opened it up. We went to Rotary, Main Street First, Preserve Our Past, and Rock City, where we had 30 seniors citizens sit in a room and sort of go through this. Their stories and input were just so interesting.”
Planning board members and the Mayor looked at additional locations that might be good for citizen input. Blask said “We set up at the polling places and handed out surveys and got 300 back. Think of it – 300 people stopped what they were doing and took the time to fill out the survey. That’s important…taking that time out of their day to do that. It was that important to them.”
David Van Meter has been one of the key drivers of the plan. “He and his son Luke took so much data and compiled it and spit out results, based on real input from real people,” said Blask.
Students and teachers from Little Falls High School were also involved in helping get input on the plan. “Once they are part of this process and they see the positives, maybe they decide to move back after college…maybe this is where they put down roots thinking Little Falls is forward leaning thinking about the future,” said Blask.
“The planning board was central to this, but Jim Palmer did so much work on this master plan and his passing on the 4th of July was so unexpected,” stated Blask. “He was head of the planning board, he ran all the meetings, he did yeoman’s work and he was such a nice guy…it was a tragedy his passing.”
With tonights thumbs up from the planning board, the plan moves to the Common Council. “This will be on the agenda in October. It will go to all members on the council and they’ll have plenty of time to review it, and then they will vote on the Plan,” said Blask.
The mayor thinks there are two huge benefits to having this updated plan. “It got a lot of people talking and thinking about Little Falls and the direction we’re going in. They got an opportunity to own this. They got to be a part of this living document.”
“It’s also a roadmap. We said we are going to try and attract these kinds of businesses….we are going to make a concerted effort to keep neighborhoods beautiful. It’s guiding principles for the decision makers and city hall,” said Blask.
You can click on this link Master Plan Final to download a copy of the final approved plan