Nancy Edmonds Hanson
It has been “design week” for Moorhead’s future – at least the next 10 years of it.
On Monday, the city invited residents to share their ideas and concerns about what should be included in the city’s next comprehensive plan. These long-term plans are a tradition in many communities, usually focused on the score of years ahead. Given the pace of change, however, city planner Robin Huston says the local plan – dubbed Onward Moorhead – is intended to encompass the 2020s. When complete in early 2022, the road map for the city’s growth and development will go to the council for approval.
Monday’s event was dubbed the kick-off for several days of on-the-ground public engagement. It was followed on Tuesday by walking tours of the areas on which the plan concentrates its attention: Viking Ship Park, downtown Moorhead, the EasTen mall and surrounding corridor along Highway 10, the historic neighborhoods in the Comstock district, and the MCCARA industrial park south of Interstate 94 and east of 34th Street.
Those who attended could explore aspects of the plan already hashed out through several months of meeting with committees of city employees, elected leaders and residents with guidance by the city’s consultants from Stantec, the national urban planning agency engaged to put together the plan. Two online surveys have already been conducted to gauge the interests of city residents; a third is currently online, along with a summary of all that’s been drafted so far, at cityofmoorhead.com/onwardmoorhead.
“The evening went well,” Huston observed. “We heard a lot of comments on the draft proposals we’ve done so far. People seem to be telling us we’re on the right track.” About 40 residents took part. Attendees wandered among nine stations exploring different aspects of the city’s future, from their assessment of its needs (more parks and activities came in high on the scale) to ideas to preserve its charm and add more connections between the downtown, parks and residential areas.
The highlight of the event was an opportunity to dunk Mayor Shelly Carlson out in the center’s parking lot. Those who spent time at all nine stations were eligible to pitch a ball at the spot that would trigger her splash into a tank of water. When the adults who’d qualified had exhausted their throws – with the mayor still sitting high and dry – the youngest attendee, little Ezrael Spitzer – got to manually push the trigger.
Moorhead developed its current comprehensive plan in 2004. An update was added in 2009. “It’s overdue,” Huston said.
According to the Onward Moorhead website, “city departments use the goals and visions of the plan to identify strategies and resources to make the needs and visons of the community come to fruition. It also provides a framework for decisions on property changes and development, zoning changes, and how to prioritize spending in the capital budget. Property owners, community organizations and developers can also use the plan to help bring different elements of the plan to life with a level of confidence for the guided direction of the city.”
If the format of public engagement events this week seemed rather familiar, there’s a reason for that: Stantec led the city through the same process in 2018 and 2019 as part of the city’s downtown development plan. The final plan was released last December. “We were very impressed with the results of Stantec’s process for Downtown Moorhead Inc.,” the city planner said. “The public engagement was so successful that we’ve been excited about doing it again for the whole city. This is a pretty hefty project.”
The city’s contract for the project, which was bid in November 2019, totals $270,000.