BY SUSAN VAN CLEAF
Independence residents spoke up strongly for open space as the most important feature for ensuring quality of life in their city during a recent city survey — a finding that city officials will take into account as they work on Independence’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan.
Independence officials surveyed residents as a beginning step towards meeting a requirement of the Metropolitan Council. By the end of 2018, Met Council area cities must submit for council approval their visions of what they want their cities to look like in 2040, in the form of comprehensive plans. Currently cities are operating under their 2030 comp plans.
Comprehensive plans are thick documents with chapters on housing, commercial and retail development, transportation, roads, water, sanitary and storm sewers, parks, demographics and much more. Preparing a comp plan is a community effort rather than a simple undertaking of government officials. This is one reason why Independence surveyed its residents, businesses and property owners at the outset of the effort.
Independence had a population of 3,500 in 2010, according to federal census results. The city’s comp plan survey prompted 421 people to respond. Here is how respondents answered some of the questions.
• Why they live in Independence — 306 respondents (72.7 percent) said open space. Rural character attracted 297 votes (70.5 percent). Other top answers were location (188 votes, 44.7 percent) and schools (165 votes, 39.2 percent).
• What is most important to ensure quality of life in Independence — 340 respondents (81.3 percent) said open space, 212 (50.7 percent) said quality schools, 183 said parks and trails (43.8 percent), and 91 (21.8 percent) said city services. Towards the bottom of the list were commercial development (51 votes, 12.2 percent) and job opportunities (27 votes, 6.5 percent).
• What the city should focus on developing or securing — 222 respondents (65.5 percent) said parks, 155 (45.7 percent) said dining, 96 (28.3 percent said shopping) and 78 (23 percent) said athletic fields.
Asked what type of growth the city should focus on developing in the future, 204 (50.7 percent) of respondents spoke up for no growth. Residential growth came in second (135 votes, 33.6 percent), retail came in third (121 votes, 30.1 percent), commercial came in fourth (105 votes, 26.1 percent) and industrial come in fifth (73 votes, 18.2 percent).
A significant 295 respondents (70.6 percent) said they strongly agreed, somewhat agreed or agreed with the statement “Independence should continue to rely on its neighbors to provide commercial/ retail services.”
RESIDENTS NIX SEWER EXPANSION
In another significant finding, 258 (61.5 percent) of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “It is important for the city of Independence to pursue the expansion of sewer to provide new housing and commercial options.”
In contrast, 232 (55.3 percent) of respondents said they strongly agreed, somewhat agreed or agreed with the statement, “Independence should consider expansion of commercial zoning along the Highway 12 corridor.”
The 22 page summary of survey results is followed by six pages of thoughtful, open ended comments from respondents.
RESIDENTS OFFER IDEAS
One writer said, “The number one issue surrounding development (of any kind) in Independence is the future routing of Hwy. 12. The current route through Maple Plain is not sustainable for growth (nor safe for travel). The idea of putting in a roundabout at County 92 is not a good one. There is far too much traffic on Hwy. 12 to support that. A four-lane expansion from Long Lake to Montrose should be strongly considered.”
A second author said, “The city should focus on developing and/or securing good roads and the police department.”
Another writer said, “Focus on keeping Independence rural – no business or housing development.”
In another comment, the author said, “The biggest frustration is consistent access to high-speed internet, impactful to our jobs/ quality of life.”
Another author said, “City should ban hunting east of hobby farm line – it is getting too developed now.”
The survey results also included a variety of other comments from various community members. Below are some of the comments left from Independence community members.
“Getting to know and working with people in the community. Right now you don’t know neighbors.”
“The city should clean up Lake Sarah.”
“Please keep Independence a rural place. We moved out here to have space and want to live here our whole lives. We are in the younger generation so we will be the people here for a long time and so will our kids. Please do not develop it into suburbs that would be so sad.”
“Keep out the big box retail. I strongly oppose big retail, with its big parking lots and lighting, and detriment to Independence’s character and beauty. There is no shortage of suburbs with bland stores and restaurants on many intersections. Independence is unique and will become increasingly sought after for its unusual beauty so close to the Cities.”
“Would be nice to have a bigger tax base from commercial/retail development although rural is nice the taxes are no longer affordable for many residents. Traffic has gotten very bad, improved roads are needed.”
“5th generation since homesteading 1854. The big city is on our doorsteps. Better make plans now for the next 20 years.”
Complete survey results are on the Independence city website at http://independence.govoffice.com.