by HANNAH BROADBENT
By 2040 the City of Watertown is projected to have a population of 7,200 people, up from the 4,286 it has now.
To plan for this the city has comprehensive plan. According to city administrator Shane Fineran a comprehensive plan is one that depicts the future growth and land use to a point in time. These plans are written every ten years and now the city is starting work for the year 2040.
“It’s a road map for how we’re going to develop,” Fineran said. “Looking at residential, commercial and industrial development and where it will go.”
The plan is set to finish March of 2018, the first step is the community survey. According to council member Lindsay Guetzkow the survey is coming out shortly. She says it is focused on what Watertown is missing and the city is looking to identify the needs in the community.
“We think most people think we need to grow some,” said Mayor Steve Washburn. “But we want to make sure that’s the intent.”
Washburn said that the city did a lot of the heavy lifting about 20 years ago so this plan will keep those same goals.
“We want that small town feel, we want to continue to emphasize our downtown business district, we want to continue doing trails connecting all neighborhoods,” Washburn said. “Open spaces, we think that’s going to be an important part.”
“Housing is a key component to that,” Guetzkow said.
Washburn said that a lot of planners have indicated that millennials want to live in a fast-paced, urban environment.
“There’s a lot of people that want that, but there’s a lot of people that want what we have,” he said. “Good schools, open spaces and the small town feel.”
Fineran said that housing is at the top of the list because it is seeing a lot of activity. He says the market is strong in Watertown and anything that comes on the market is quickly snatched up.
Guetzkow said that a lot of the new construction in Watertown is aimed at younger families, but she, Fineran and Washburn all agree that a lot of their focus is on older residents in Watertown.
“There is a concern and focus of how do we also meet the needs of our aging residents who have to look elsewhere to meet their needs” Fineran said.
He said that is one reasoning for Watertown for Life, a grant program available to homeowners who are looking to do a major remodel of their home. There are only two major requirements for the program, the house has to be older than 35 years and the project has to exceed $10k.
The grant is for home projects like, additions, kitchen/bathroom remodels, external updates and what Fineran calls ‘curb appeal’.
Fineran says he hopes aging residents are able to access the program and meet their needs in their home so they are able to stay in watertown. Though he doesn’t want people to forget that the program is for everyone.
“It can be used by anybody, by somebody who wants to make improvements in their home so they can stay there longer, or it can be used by somebody who wants to buy an existing home in watertown and make it their own,” Fineran said.
The program is funded by the Watertown Economic Development Authority and is capped at $50k.
“There’s not a time limit for the project just a money limit,” Fineran said.
Watertown for Life throws in ten percent of the project cost, or up to $5,000.
The first step is to talk to Fineran and see if your vision is on track with the requirements, next an application and then a two-hour consultation with an architect provided by the city, in which residents only pay $25.
“As we’re meeting housing needs, commercial development will come,” Guetzkow said.
Fineran said local business is in an expansion mode so other programs the city offers like the Building Facade Improvement Program and Revolving Loan Fund, are once again seeing some use.
The building facade program is for reinvestment in commercial and industrial properties. The loan fund is to assist in start ups, with loans up to $25k.
Washburn said these things are important because Watertown is competing with neighboring communities like Waconia and Delano. He said it’s important to have good services, good amenities and things that attract people.
“It makes us stand out from our neighbors, these aren’t programs they have in other cities around here,” Fineran said.