About 40 out of the roughly 5,000 total residents showed up to hear the latest information about the Thomson Township Comprehensive Plan at the Thomson Township Town Hall on Oct. 9.
Information gathered during Esko’s National Night Out and Esko Days events was presented, first to Thomson Township board members, then to the general public Oct. 9.
The comprehensive plan is a guide to help town board members and residents decide what they want for the future of the area: Do they want to grow the population? Do the 64.83 miles of roads need work? Should more multi-family dwellings be built?
Or maybe Thomson Township is fine the way it is and no changes need to be made to the small community.
Thomson Township encompasses 39.9 square miles of wooded areas, rivers, wetlands and family farms, as well as the unincorporated community of Esko.
The area has grown substantially since Carlton County was organized in 1857. Generations of families have passed through Winterquist Elementary, built in 1920, and Lincoln High School.
Parents seek safe walking routes
The school buildings receive regular maintenance and upkeep to keep them in good shape and safe for today's students to attend. However, a safe walking route for students only comes in from two directions of the school.
Parents said they would like to see safe walking routes to include areas south and east of the school.
More stores in demand
Many stores and businesses have opened and closed in the township over the last 160 years or so. Some residents said they would like to see more local stores available. The Esko Self Service (formerly the Esko Spur) offered greeting cards, a limited number of groceries and a selection of gifts as well as holiday decorations.
After almost 50 years in business, they closed in September due to falling sales. The gas pumps are gone and the building is for sale. No business in the area offers what ESS did.
The building across the street has held several different businesses over the years. The old A-frame building housed restaurants, an ice cream shop, a hair salon and a trading card business over the last 20 or more years. It sat empty for years between some of the businesses. A few years ago, the building underwent a long-needed facelift and a tax preparation business currently calls the corner home.
Peggy Meseroll remembers when there were two grocery stores and a meat market in Esko as well as a bus stop and several restaurants. Then the interstate was built.
“When I-35 went through a lot of things changed," Meseroll said.
Residents want parks, trails, public transportation
Christopher Janson, team leader with Duluth's MSA Professional Services, Inc. and the comprehensive plan project manager, broke down the findings gathered from residents in the last few months and explained what the boards around the room represented. The information was presented on a feedback board, where the categories were broken down.
Janson explained the comprehensive plan is a process and constantly changing to help meet the residents needs and goals. The plan helps keep communication open between residents and township board members and their vision for the community.
Under the heading "beautification," strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats were listed with about 25 ideas from the earlier events.
Residents would like to see more businesses, parks, trails and funding for projects, according to the board.
Mobility and development ideas/opinions were also listed, including lack of public transportation options, poor river access for the Midway and St. Louis rivers, lack of senior housing and escalating property taxes.
Any new construction projects such as housing and offices will help spread the tax burden and lower taxes as long as none of the area levies increase, including township, county and school taxes.
Residents said some of the township's strengths include safe walking and biking paths, easy access to I-35 and community participating at community and athletic events.
Some of the opportunities residents would like to see expanded include one-level housing and township water service.
Housing, zoning debated
A list of four goals was listed on one of the boards set up around the room. They include community infrastructure, housing, recreation and transportation.
Two other boards contained options of housing and commercial style preference. A twinhome and a multi-generational home scored highest, according to the number of green dots residents stuck next to their favorite options. None of the apartment styles won a green dot that night.
Chris Heikes, a resident of 27 years, lives on Nynas Road on the south side of Minnesota Highway 61. He said he attended out of concern about a similar outcome as the last comprehensive plan 20 years ago. He said at the time, the township wanted to change his agricultural neighborhood to business park zoning. He has 20 acres of land and enjoys the privacy.
Peggy Meseroll attended out of concern about property issues. She lives on land that has been in her Maki family since the 1940s, including over 200 acres in two areas of Thomson Township. The property began as a dairy farm, but when dairy wasn't profitable, the family switched to raising beef cattle. Finally, her father decided to start planting trees and it has become an extensive tree farm.
The family divided the property and sold a piece to a family member. Meseroll is frustrated because the family can't sell another piece of the property until five years after the sale. They would like to divide several parcels off one of the properties without the wait. She said several other area property owners are in a similar situation.
Janson explained there is a minor subdivision ordinance in place that allows a property owner to sell more than one parcel without the wait. The ordinance is for dividing up property, not just for building a subdivision.
“The ordinance is to avoid piecemeal pieces of property that have odd shapes or causes other pieces of property to become inaccessible,” Janson said.
For more information about the minor subdivision ordinance, call Dan Stangle with Zoning Official and Ordinance Enforcement at 218-879-9719.
For more results from the public meeting and to take the next survey for the Thomson Township comprehensive plan, visit thomsonesko2040.wordpress.com.
Paper copies of the survey are available in the Thomson Town Office.