Residents of Preston convened last Wednesday evening at a workshop to assist the city in determining what it should plan to pursue in its 2014 comprehensive plan - be it infrastructure for new roads, a family restaurant or another motel - and make the process a little less overwhelming as the city council sets goals for housing, resource sustainability, business and industry, land use and infrastructure and public service.

Molly Patterson-Lundgren of the engineering firm WSB & Associates shared the results of an initial goal-setting workshop, pointing out that Preston lacks housing options for young adults, for the elderly, young families and those who wish to purchase or build higher-priced homes, that the residents are particularly concerned about the sustainability of local natural resources in relation to tourism and business as well as to the resources' intrinsic value, and that citizens feel certain public services and infrastructure could be improved in various areas.

"I heard a lot about resource sustainability. I heard a lot about natural resources and how they provide a sense of community. What about them? How can you use them to grow in the future? You've got industrial, commercial and housing all in the floodplain," she said.

Regarding business and industry, or in this case, tourism, she asked the participants to identify transportation goals, including what trails and services make Preston attractive to visitors, as well as how cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDoT) might be helpful in assisting residents with daily routines to encourage business growth.

Land use was next on her list, as she inquired, "What are your goals for the development of the land? Do you want to keep them separate from business and industry, or do you want a mixture? You seem to lack industrial land in Preston."

Finally, she related that she wanted participants to consider what public services and infrastructure might be important. "Are there utility capabilities that can be improved in the plan? Is keeping up street maintenance important? What about efficient use of the infrastructure?"

Workshop participants then broke into three groups, each taking with them the lists of suggested goals for the respective categories.

The group working to identify Preston's housing needs discussed what value conducting a housing study might have, especially with the advent of Rochester's Destination Medical Center (DMC) bringing the prospect of new medical workers to southeast Minnesota. Group members crossed out the item citing a nursing home as a goal since they determined that establishing such would be very difficult, but acknowledged the dearth of housing available to young professionals such as teachers.

Another group studied what land use, business and industry changes might benefit Preston. Kay Spangler observed that with the state veteran's cemetery opening, the city might wish to examine the services available to cemetery visitors. "It really is in our back yard, and if we don't have it, they'll find it somewhere, so how do we keep them in Preston?"

Preston City Administrator Joe Hoffman said, "We've seen movement out of the courthouse square and seen the windows fill up again with new businesses, but what businesses will thrive downtown?"

Spangler stated, "We could use a new restaurant downtown, another eating establishment that caters to tourists. I'm thinking in terms of an all-purpose family restaurant and some more retail stores."

Her husband, George, questioned whether the existing historic buildings are the right venues for new businesses, or whether most new business owners would want to build their own structures to accommodate business needs. "Most buildings downtown are old...could we make the decision early on to keep the storefronts' appearance as a reminder of Preston's history and use them for modern purposes? Create a historic district? Maybe the way to do downtown renewal is through historic preservation."

Transportation discussions involved working with MNDoT to provide regional transportation and building a roundabout at the intersection of highways 52 and 16, studying the feasibility of building a walking path across Highway 52 to encourage walkability, expanding camping opportunities near the city's borders and finding ways for the trails and tourism infrastructure to encourage visitors to extend their stay. The land use group examined transforming residential land in flood zones to green space, making riverbanks more accessible for recreation, and working to post signage that would point travelers downtown toward the business sector.

Patterson-Lundgren shared - after the groups colored their land use suggestions onto Preston city maps she provided -that the participants had done "a lot of really good work," and that she would be taking the ideas back to the engineering firm, prioritizing them and developing strategies with the city for land use ideas and infrastructure goals.

"I'll work with Joe and put a document together...it'll probably be mid-March when I'll have a document to pass around for you to look at with all the goals on it," she said.