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Residents opt for trees vs. fence, house to screen new city parking lot

DETROIT LAKES -- Having received the Detroit Lakes City Council's blessing at the end of 2007, Becker County is going to build a parking lot at the Berean Baptist Church site.

Now, the question remains of how to screen it from the rest of the neighborhood.

Before the decision to go forward with the parking lot last year, city and county officials heard several times from neighbors and other community members that they were not in favor of a parking lot in their neighborhood. Since it will be built, though, the county wants input on how to keep it aesthetically pleasing to those next door.

The county proposed leaving a one-house buffer and some green space between the existing neighborhood and the parking lot. There have been several other suggestions including strictly green space, fencing and shrubs.

County and city officials met with neighbors recently to determine a plan for the screening.

"The first item we would like to establish is should this house stay or go," asked County Administrator Brian Berg to about half a dozen citizens who came to the meeting held in the library.

Greg Buckley said if the county was to rent out the house, it might go to a great renter, but it could also go to partiers or someone else unwanted. Also, he added, the house may not be kept up and become dilapidated and an eye sore.

"My initial thought was to leave the house," Corrine Frank said, because of housing shortages in Detroit Lakes. But, she said, she has since changed her mind and would rather have a "park," not just impersonal "green space."

Neighbor Barb Olson suggested putting the veterans' memorials that were moved for the courthouse expansion in that park area.

"It's a good opportunity to get that back in place," she said.

Berg said it's up to the veterans' groups where the monuments will go, not the county.

In agreement about tearing down the house, the next step is determining what will be used to screen the area from the rest of the neighborhood.

"I thought a fence in the beginning. I hear the pros and cons, and I've never done this before," Ruth Buckley said. She will be affected the most, with her property adjacent to the property in question.

There was discussion of different types of fences that could be put in place and different plantings that could be used to shield the area as well.

"This isn't an open checkbook. We feel that's practical," Berg said of a decision to have mounds of earth throughout the park with fast-growing trees like maple, evergreen and ash planted on them. The county has also agreed to save as many already mature trees on the properties as possible.

There was also discussion at the meeting about what type of park it would be, meaning whether there would be playground equipment, benches, etc.

"If you put benches in there, people are going to sit there. Do you want that?" asked County Commissioner Barry Nelson. That opens the door for people being there late at night, and possibly cigarette butts or other litter.

Berg said the parking lot will be monitored by cameras, and with the help of local law enforcement, there hopefully won't be issues in the parking lot at night.

"It's legitimate for people to come and sit in the park at 10 p.m. in the summer. Do you want that?" echoed Mayor Larry Buboltz.

He added that it's important to him to hear the citizen feedback to avoid going through another predicament similar to the TS Recreational property last year.

Frank said while she is happy the officials are asking for feedback on screening, she's also disappointed with the course of action in approving the parking lot in the first place. She said she felt the citizens were not listened to at all, since no one was in favor of the parking lot and the petition against the parking lot was dismissed.

Buboltz noted that each official seriously considered all angles of the issue and that just because a decision was made that the citizens didn't agree with, that doesn't mean they weren't listened to.

Although the county can't promise the buffer zone won't some day be turned into more parking, for now there are no plans for that. And if that proposal should arise in the future, it would need to come before the city council first.

"I think this will be very nice if it's done properly," Greg Buckley said of the green space.

In six to eight weeks, the county will hold another meeting to show residents a design plan for the area.