Punching numbers on electronic voting keypads, about 30 Lakeville residents and business owners weighed in on how they like their city — and how they’d like it to be in the decades to come.
As the moderator asked questions about quality of life, priorities for city services and other issues, real-time results of the voting popped up on the screen, and community values and beliefs began to surface.
The public forum on Monday was the first of four in which Lakeville residents — or those with ties to the area — could give their two cents as the city moves forward with its “Envision Lakeville” process. The remaining two forums will be held Tuesday and Thursday. They are open to any Lakeville resident or business owner.
Such a visioning process “hasn’t really been done at all” in Lakeville, said Allyn Kuennen, associate planner for the city. The last community survey was done in 1998, when a strategic plan was created. It was designed to lay out the next five to 15 years.
“This is meant to capture a higher, 30,000-foot view of Lakeville, ” Kuennen said. “We want to find out how [residents] want to see property growth, demographics, housing styles, development techniques, technology, the aging population — what does that mean to us, and what do we need to change to be able to sustain Lakeville for the next 25 years?”
The city hired a consultant, Craig Rapp, in December to lead the “visioning” process. The forums were his idea. Rapp also put together seven focus groups, a citywide survey of 1,200 randomly selected residents, and an internal survey of city staff and boards. All the findings will be fed back to a 14-member task force made up of a spectrum of community members, who will prepare a long-term vision.
“The city of Lakeville is a very visionary community, and they are taking on a task that not a lot of communities do,” Rapp said. “The values and beliefs of the community — that’s the rock [city leaders] will depend on when making decisions in the future.”
Law enforcement and street maintenance came out as the top two city services the majority of participants valued “if higher quality meant higher cost.” Looking forward, attendees thought Lakeville should pursue quality economic development, bring in technology-based businesses and maintain the downtown area — all items the participants brainstormed.
The greatest challenges for the city, according to attendees on Monday, included accommodating an aging population while keeping government affordable and maintaining residential property values.
Willing to drive
Community members put a high priority on having a safe city, an economically strong city, an aesthetically pleasing community and a great place for all ages and stages of life.
“It’s kind of ironic that we want to have low taxes but a strong economy, ” Mary Christensen, a resident of Lakeville for more than 40 years, said to the group. “Taxes are a way we have a strong economy.”
Kyle Robinson, 30, who moved to Lakeville with his family because of the quality of the schools, thinks Lakeville can be sustained by creating jobs. With its proximity to several higher education institutions around Minneapolis and St. Paul, along with its ample space, Lakeville is uniquely positioned for start-up businesses, he said.
“It’s an opportunity to foster greater diversity — immigrants are twice as likely as others to open a business, ” Robinson said. “It would help the community create sustainable solutions for itself and not solely rely on increasing taxes.”
Culture, arts and being a community that attracts diversity were all values that ranked low according to the participant votes — residents don’t mind the drive to Minneapolis for those amenities and experiences, they said.
Former Lakeville city administrator and current Lakeville school board member Bob Erickson attended the forum, and he said he was not surprised by the results.
“The community really appreciates the safety and security of the city we live in, and that really adds to the quality of life,” Erickson said.
Lisa Schneegans, who has lived in Lakeville for more than 15 years, went to the forum to learn about city spending, but mainly to make sure her voice was heard.
“I want to see us [as a city] living within our means, supporting the business community and creating a business-friendly environment,” Schneegans said in an interview.
Kuennen and Rapp hope more residents come to the next forums.
“It’s difficult to see out as far as 25 years, but we have a duty to look forward more than just a few years, ” Kuennen said. “When you look back at 25 years ago and realize all that has changed, the tough part is getting your head around how much it could change in the next 25 years.”