Downtown Pelican Rapids has been the subject of debate and discussion over the past two weeks.

At issue was a plan to create a higher density apartment unit on the north side, in the so-called “Card Brokers” building.

In a nutshell, the plan called for an extended stay apartment for up to eight tenants. Extended stay translated into “boarding house” or “dormitory” to some city officials. The idea of six to eight tenants, in two large sleeping rooms–with shared bathroom and kitchen–sounded a lot like a military barracks. That’s why the project was opposed by many.

In terms of the long range plan for the downtown business district: Is dormitory style housing in the heart of the commercial district a good “fit?”

Others believed that the proposal was one partial solution to the city’s need for housing. Also, many were pleased that a developer was prepared to invest in the community by buying a downtown building and making improvements.

The fact that the city is having these discussions is, in a sense, a good thing. We’re thinking about the future. We’re openly discussing it; and not everybody agrees.

A bigger concern is that, just because some are opposed a particular project, the city is unfairly labeled “anti-business,” or “anti-development.”

That label tends to stick to a community–and more often than not, it is undeserved.

Opponents are raising legitimate concerns.

  • Should a large commercial building be developed for high-density residential?
  • Is a boarding house, with the associated vehicle, traffic and parking congestion, logical at this location?
  • The building is within a few dozen paces of two churches; an assisted living complex; and a city park that bustles with activity for much of the summer.
  • Even with additional parking, which the developer planned to provide by buying a vacant lot next door, the neighborhood is already congested and the alley serves as the main access to the park and the rear entrances to a line of commercial buildings.
  • On a recent late evening, I drove past the building and through the alley. Virtually every parking space nearby was occupied–on the public street and in the alley.

Planning and zoning can be a cumbersome process. But it is a necessary– and democratic–process that thoughtful, forward-thinking communities engage in to plan orderly growth and development.

An honest disagreement over long range planning and zoning issues can be an indicator of a community’s health and progress–even though it may be contentious and difficult in the short term.