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My Future Cottage Grove commissions take flight

Phil Carlson with Stantec Consulting gave a presentation to the Housing Focus Group Feb. 26. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
The Housing Focus Group first met Feb. 26. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
Many of the My Future Cottage Grove commissions implement interactive elements into their meetings and work. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

COTTAGE GROVE — The My Future Cottage Grove recommendations announced last September have now formed into resident-staffed working groups.

Six committees — celebrating diversity, the community center task force, Settler's Island programming, the retail and restaurants, the parks connections and the housing focus group — started meeting this winter.

Retail and restaurants, celebrating diversity and the Settler's Island committees are looking for more members.

Celebrating diversity

Celebrating diversity, originally launched as the Food and Fun Festival committee, has taken on a slightly different flavor.

Management Assistant Becky Ahlvin, who oversees the committee, said the new name is "a bit more encompassing of what that is."

The committee, currently three meetings in, is still working to shape the direction it will go.

The Food and Fun Festival will still be the biggest event, but the committee may organize others as well.

"The role of the committee is really to celebrate diversity ... and one of those ways is to have a Food and Fun Festival," she said.

Ahlvin said they are talking with the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce to promote diversity and are looking to partner with the Arts Commission for some community events.

They are seeking more committee members, especially youth members, she said. The original Food and Fun Festival idea stemmed from conversations with teenagers at Park High School during the My Future Cottage Grove study.

"We really want this to be reflective of the community and to celebrate the diversity in the community," Ahlvin said.

Community center

The community center task force was easy to relaunch, Parks and Recreation Director Zac Dockter said, because they still have resources available from from the 2011 task force.

A 2011 referendum on a community center failed at the time, but residents have been clamoring for the city to build one for the last few years.

During the first two meetings, task force members looked over the 2011 report and discussed what the community center needs are.

Dockter said that 7-year-old information was helped the members brainstorm the city's current needs. He said there may need to be more studies completed at some point to see which direction to continue.

So far task force members have identified primary needs for the new building, including an indoor playground, an indoor swimming pool and a teen area. Secondary needs include a fitness area, youth activity room, performing arts area, birthday room, multipurpose room and an outdoor pool.

The My Future Cottage Grove study asked residents whether or not they wanted a community center with a pool. Once it was determined that they did, the question turned to whether to build an indoor or outdoor one.

Not all of these areas will necessarily be in the final community center. Task force members will begin narrowing the needs and thinking about the financial impact in their upcoming meetings. They will be discussing whether they will build a YMCA or a city-run facility.

The task force is working with Washington County to identify opportunities for partnership between the two new facilities. Members will discuss location options during a meeting in May.

The task force has continued to grow each month as new members join, but Dockter said the longer a person waits to hop on, the harder it will be to catch up.

Dockter said they aim to have a recommendation to the City Council in a year.

Retail and restaurants

New stores and eateries have often topped residents' wishlists. With the retail and restaurants commission, residents are assisting the Economic Development Department and Economic Development Authority attract new businesses.

Though still finding its direction, the committee has met twice. In the first meeting committee members discussed the rise of online retail and what it may mean for brick and mortar in Cottage Grove.

The committee hosted managers from Culvers and Junction 70 at their next meeting. Wolf said members discussed how they make business decisions and were especially interested in why they chose to start their business in Cottage Grove.

Economic Development staff Matt Wolf and Christine Costello are presiding over the committee and connecting them with the Economic Development Authority.

Wolf said so far the committee members have discovered that for Cottage Grove to take the "next step" for restaurants, they need to secure more of a daytime population for a Monday through Thursday lunch crowd.

Settler's Island

Cottage Grove has mile-per-mile the most Mississippi River shoreline of any Minnesota city, and a committee has decided to take public river access for residents to task.

The nearly 12-person committee has had two meetings this winter to think about spring and summertime recreation on the river.

Joseph La Bathe Settler's Island was recommended for a park and increased canoe access in the My Future Cottage Grove results.

The city has contracted with Friends of the Mississippi River to determine what plant and animal life is on the island. Staff will use the study to create a natural resources plan for the area which will include restoring the island's natural vegetation.

The study will go the the Parks and Natural Resources Commission this month, and they will help decide the best use of the island.

Dockter is the staff point person for this committee, and said so far members have come up with an extensive list of ideas to get residents to the river.

In future meetings they will narrow the list and get some of them off the ground this summer.

Members are also creating a map of existing riverside opportunities, as well as a canoeing and kayaking map showing what can be seen or done from the river.

The committee may host a canoe and kayak event or some family-friendly events to start getting people on the water.

Housing focus group

Over the next decade the city will need over 1,000 new units of housing, and the housing focus group was set up to help figure out how and where those need to be added.

"Where will they go and what will they look like ... is going to be the key," Phil Carlson of Stantec Consulting said at the group's first meeting.

At that meeting, members used blocks to map out the density appropriate in parts of the city and answered questions on housing needs and priorities. At the next meeting the group held a forum with a home builder.

Feedback from the group will be implemented for future growth planning and the city's comprehensive plan.

Park connections

With one of the highest ratios of parkland to residents in the state, the city has decided to dive into making sure people have paths and accessibility to those parks.

City Engineers Jennifer Levitt and Ryan Burfeind head up the commission, and are looking for any gaps in trail and park connections. They are seeking input online from residents by mapping barriers or needed future connections.

The committee work is likely to wrap up in June, once they have everything mapped.

Levitt said they are hoping to add the necessary trail connections to the comprehensive plan. They may be able to look into larger projects, such as regional trails or county connections.

Their next priority will be pedestrian safety, likely working with the public safety department and the public services commission. Staff is also working on making all the city trails meet Americans with Disabilities or ADA guidelines.

Digital engagement

The last My Future Cottage Grove recommendation was to keep up with the digital engagement efforts that the city used during throughout the study.

Communication Coordinator Sharon Madsen heads up the digital efforts.

There isn't a formal committee as part of the process, but the initiative remains active.

Madsen has created surveys and materials for the other groups, including the current survey on the city website asking residents where city parks and trails should be connected.

Other committees have also used information gathered from digital surveys to help make decisions about their own initiatives.