Downtown place for pedestrian amenities, not North Kelsey
MONROE - The city is closing in on final drafts for both the North Kelsey and downtown development plans that will guide future growth in those locations, and some business leaders who spoke with the Tribune support these changes.
The focus of the amendments is on keeping downtown as the place for public events and pedestrian amenities, and loosening up the guidelines for North Kelsey to allow market forces to determine the type of development there.
Kim Probst, manager of the 280-member Monroe Chamber of Commerce, said the city is wise to reassess the priorities outlined in North Kelsey’s original development plan, created in 2003 and adopted in 2004 to require high-quality development with a village green for community events and a mixture of office, retail and residential buildings.
“We are in historic times and what worked 5-10 years ago does not apply today. We need to make changes to move ahead,” Probst wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune. “Focusing on revitalizing Historic Downtown or ‘The Urban Core’ with an events platform and parking is a good start. We have some wonderful and unique businesses in Monroe.”
She said the changes should encourage progress both for existing businesses and future development.
“The North Kelsey area needs changes to facilitate the sale of smaller parcels to relieve the debt associated with the property. I would rather see businesses there than empty unkept lots,” Probst said.
The city owns land in North Kelsey and still has about $11 million to pay off. The city argues the plan for North Kelsey is preventing it from selling the land and asked the City Council to amend the plan.
Last week, the Planning Commission looked at city staff’s suggestion to remove language from the city’s comprehensive plan that required
extensive accommodations for pedestrians in North Kelsey.
Instead of “pedestrian-friendly” designs, developers would only need to plan “pedestrian accessible” developments.
Whereas the first North Kelsey plan outlined public open space, with trails and pedestrian features, the amended plan “gives a pedestrian a means of getting from the automobile to the store,” planning and permitting manager Paul Popelka said.
The North Kelsey area is developing into a car-centric shopping area rather than the 2003 vision for a mixed-use, park-like development that would complement the downtown shopping experience.
“We kind of severed that link because in reality they are two different places that exist not because of each other but almost in spite of each other,” Popelka said.
The original plan “was almost trying to replicate downtown in North Kelsey, which is not the case” for what has been built there and what is in the works for future development, Popelka said.
Popelka shared the draft plans with the Downtown Revitalization and Enhancement Association of Monroe two weeks ago.
DREAM president Jayne Morse said the changes should allow the city to focus more on downtown.
“Unfortunately, I think downtown has been neglected because of the North Kelsey situation,” Morse said. “It is time for the core of Monroe, downtown Monroe, to be cared for.”
Morse owns an antique store downtown, and said as a business owner, she is not happy with the city’s decision to approve a Walmart in North Kelsey.
Construction of the Walmart supercenter is on hold until a legal dispute is resolved. Friends of North Kelsey has filed an appeal with the state Court of Appeals.
Morse’s opinion on Walmart is her personal opinion and doesn’t represent DREAM.
DREAM is “not there to oppose things like that,” she said. “We’re there to enhance the historical downtown aspect” of town, which she said is a big asset for Monroe.
“As with any town, the main street is the hub, the heartbeat, it’s the center and the core of the town. Main Street was here before we even thought of North Kelsey or Highway 2 or McDonald’s or (Lake Tye) Park,” she said, adding it’s important for city leaders to see downtown as such.
Jack Packard, owner of the UPS Store on North Kelsey Street, said although he was sad to see the “North Kelsey vision” fall by the wayside, the support wasn’t there from the development community, so
he supports the city’s decision.
“They need to do what they need to do to get businesses in here and it makes sense,” Packard said. “Times have changed, the economy’s changed — everything — since that plan was put together.”
Though North Kelsey would no longer have to be developed with as much character and civic open space as originally planned, “the intent of this (plan) is to get something better than barebones minimum form and function, to set the standard just a little bit higher, and do a little more ... because there is a return there,” Popelka said.
The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the City Council on both plans. A public hearing on both plan amendments is scheduled for Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m.
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Published April 18, 2012