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A Year in America

A Place to Live, Work, and Play

A Year in America graphicAt first glance, Sartell is a small (population of 16,000) and rather unassuming community located in Central Minnesota. Some consider Sartell to be a suburb of St. Cloud, which is a small metropolitan area of almost 150,000 people.

Once a bedroom community, Sartell has grown into a community that is rich with pride in its schools, beautiful homes, groomed streets, a growing medical and office park, and bustling commercial areas.

Rotary Park in Sartell borders the Mississippi River
Rotary Park in Sartell borders the Mississippi River.

Growth has not always happened easily. There have been issues of undesirable land use practices, continued federal and state mandates, conflict between property rights and collective rights, case and state law changes and evolution of what residents expect out of their community.

This community with an abundance of green spaces and the magnificent Mississippi River running right through the middle did not just turn up overnight. It took decades of progressive land use decisions by the Planning Commission and City Council members, a leap of faith by some developers and property owners, and an exceptionally accepting and understanding constituency.

Biking trail in Sartell

Over the coming months, I will be filling you in on some of the planning-related issues we’ve been facing in our small city:

— Creating a plan that can bolster business sustainability in a neighborhood setting. I’ll touch on the deliverables of this type of plan and how to find and support private/public partnerships for developing a stronger community.

— Thinking outside the zoning box in solving issues. So often, as planners or planning commissioners, we get stuck in the “model ordinance” way of addressing issues — using model ordinances for our parking requirements, shoreland regulations (if not mandated), environmental reviews, and other pressing issues that need to be addressed. But is there a better way?

— Being candid. A topic some may find amusing is the exploration and need for planning commissioners (and city council members) to feel comfortable in being brutally honest with their planning directors regarding policy and ordinance decisions. Why? You will have to read the article to find out!

— The impact of closing a major industrial use. A significant issue that Sartell is currently grappling with concerns the recent closure of a 107-year-old paper mill in the middle of our community.

The Verso Paper Mill seen in a 1990s photo.
The Verso Paper Mill seen in a 1990s photo.

The closure not only affected lives due to the loss of jobs, but also left the community with a 66-acre site, containing 750,000 square feet of building that is poised for demolition. Adjacent to the Mississippi River, the property also contains hydroelectric operations (dam) and has been a historic community icon for over a century. The feelings on this property run deep. In the months ahead, I’ll update you on the demolition process and review, redevelopment planning, and (hopefully) a ribbon-cutting announcement for redevelopment on the site.

Anita RasmussenAnita Rasmussen has been a City Planner for three different communities and worked within the private sector as a consulting planner for nearly 16 years. She holds a master’s degree in Urban Planning, and is also starting her third year of study for a doctoral degree in Public Administration. As Anita writes: “I may suggest I know everything there is to know about a topic, but I know I do not. That is where I am hoping you as the readers come into play. I welcome debate, polite criticism, and new ideas. We are creative people and learning from each other will produce better communities!”
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