Whether it’s because of the schools, general safety or quiet streets, everyone who lives there seems to like Prior Lake.
In a community survey of 400 residents, not a single person rated Prior Lake’s quality of life as “poor.” In fact, almost everybody — 96 percent — rated it as “excellent” or “good.”
Peter Leatherman, a consultant with the Morris Leatherman Company, said that ranking is noteworthy considering that Minnesotans are traditionally difficult graders.
“There really are no major issues here. People are looking to fine tune, perhaps, their quality of life,” said Leatherman, who presented the survey results at last month’s 2040 Vision and Strategic Planning workshop. “People are enthusiastic about the sense of community.”
And data show that enthusiasm has grown alongside its population.
Residents in the affluent suburb — located about 30 miles southwest of the Twin Cities — see the community as a safe haven for growing families, where crime is low and children can get a high-quality education.
When polled about what’s missing, one-third of those interviewed said, “Nothing.”
The city of 25,500 takes pride in its small-town feel, natural amenities and friendly neighbors, respondents said.
Rapid growth can sometimes cause division and erode a town’s character. Yet, Prior Lake “has maintained — and even maybe enhanced — their identity at this time,” Leatherman said.
Lloyd Erbaugh, chair of the city’s business engagement committee, attributes much of Prior Lake’s good reputation to slow but steady growth.
Since 1970, the town has grown by an average of 4,500 residents every 10 years, according to census data. Meanwhile, neighboring cities like Shakopee have had to accommodate sudden population shifts that doubled the number of residents in 15 years.
Erbaugh says Prior Lake has made deliberate steps to attract more developers and foster economic growth in recent years.
City staffers began a broader approach to long term planning in 2002. Their feedback would later act as “a guiding light” for 2020, said former Mayor Jack Haugen. “Then it became a broader vision, not just what’s convenient.”
Now, the 2040 strategic plan, in conjunction with the city’s comprehensive plan, helps chart the goals for Prior Lake’s next 20 years. Elected officials may come and go, said Mayor Kirt Briggs, but the script remains to guide future leaders.
“It becomes the course-correction document for all of our decisions,” Briggs said.
During a lengthy meeting last month, more than 100 residents, business and civic leaders brainstormed what the city does well and what issues it should tackle moving forward.
Survey results showed that respondents raised minor concerns, such as increased traffic congestion and a desire to attract more independent restaurants. When it comes to public safety, citizens were more worried about distracted driving in town than about property damage or violent crime.
“This really is an oasis of safety,” Leatherman said, as he recited data supporting his point.
More than 60 percent of respondents want more affordable housing; over half approved of building starter homes for younger adults.
Breakout sessions solicited feedback, which will be evaluated by consultants and city staff. A draft of the preliminary results will be sent to participants.