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Engagement study reveals Cottage Grove residents want retail, recreation

Futurist and economist Rebecca Ryan leads a My Future Cottage Grove visioning session Dec. 1 in Cottage Grove. Bulletin file photo by William Loeffler

After nearly a year of gathering and analyzing community input, the results of the My Future Cottage Grove engagement study are in.

Over 3,700 community comments that showed retail, recreation and housing were the top priorities to residents. Next Generation Consulting, the company leading the engagement process, gave the city seven recommendations for moving forward at the Sept. 20 city council meeting.

One of the top recommendations was starting a new task force for a community center. Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting said said the biggest question at this point is whether the community wants a community center with or without a pool.

"Among every group we talked to, a community center is favored," Ryan said.

Another recreation priority must be setting sail on Settler's Island, the study found, by adding a park with benches, water fountains and river access via canoe or kayak launches along the Mississippi River.

Next Generation also suggested increasing walkability and safety for walkers by increasing connections to city parks and safe right-of-way designations for pedestrians and cyclists.

One recommendation came from conversations with high school students. Ryan said high schoolers felt that the diversity they see in the schools should be reflected in the community.

The solution recommended is starting a "food and fun festival" to help demonstrate some of the diversity present in the city.

Next Generation also suggested creating a housing plan to include not just for single-family homes, but also higher density housing for seniors and smaller homes or rentals for young married or single people.

Creating a housing plan will help prepare for the 12,000 new residents the Metropolitan Council has estimated will move to Cottage Grove by 2040.

Continuing to digitally engage with Cottage Grove residents online or over social media will be essential as growth continues in Cottage Grove, Ryan said.

During the engagement process, Ryan said Cottage Grove's digital engagement was "exceptionally high."

To make some of residents' restaurants and retail dreams come true, Cottage Grove needs more residents, the study found.

Many retailers don't consider moving into communities until they reach 50,000 residents. To build its commercial base, Ryan said, the city should create a retail plan, talk to St. Paul retailers and assist people trying to open brick and mortars in the city.

The study also noted that many long-time residents will likely be unhappy with some of the growth, as families moving into the city are hoping for more amenities and business.

Many of those newer residents and young families continue to push for more stores and eateries in their city, even at the cost of increased traffic.

"Are (residents) willing to trade more traffic for more retail? ... They said yes," Ryan said.

The city council accepted the report 5-0.

"For me it was reaffirming certain things that we already knew," Mayor Myron Bailey said. "But then there were things in there that helped us understand some different ways that we can go about getting the things that we want."