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Thursday, May 5, 2016

State Park planning heats up in SL

Monday, September 8, 2003

Minority residents give input

As an architect, landscape expert, park planner and land use specialist, David Ciaccio has a lot of tools in his visionary bag to draw upon. The most important one, he says, is his ears.

He is the consultant in charge of planning for a proposed State Park for Storm Lake. "We're right in the heat of it now," he said of the project.

Ciaccio has spent his share of time wandering the lakefront and parks system in Storm Lake in the evenings to draw his own conclusions, but the most important part of the project is simply listening to people, he said.

"I have absolutely no pre-conceived notions of what this destination park should be," he said. "It is what the people of Storm Lake want it to be. To succeed, it has to be a real public, grassroots project, and my first job is to listen to the people before I ever draw the first line of a development."

The planner is already deep into meetings with various groups in the community, the local state park committee that was recently formed, and officials of the Department of Natural Resources. Thursday night, he met with the Diversity Task Force. "I can see that people of diverse backgrounds are heavily using the parks, so they shoud have a say in what is developed," he said.

In fact, the group hurled many ideas at the planner, from a need for more shelters to the lack of a large playground.

He will soon be huddling with the county conservation board. He plans to spend about six weeks gathering opinions that he will formulate into the plan.

A few of the elements that keep coming up are trails and the need for an aquatic center. Other ideas have ranged up to a large destination hotel and recycling existing landmarks such as the vacant Cobblestone Inn and the former Harbor House for community uses within the park's span. "I've never seen the existing recreation trail not being used, and expansion of a trails system is one possibility. The situation with the pool is also something everyone is talking about," he said.

At first blush, Ciaccio's personal reflection is that the city's natural resources, especially the lake itself, are underused.

"The lake is an amazing resource for this community, and the existing parks along Lakeshore Drive are in excellent condition. My feeling is that people in this community really want to be near the water as much as possible, and they use the small beaches that we have, but the question is how do we increase accessibility to the water and make the best possible use of that spirit that people have?"

He also notes that his "gut feeling" is that the area of the municipal golf course to the existing pool will be the "heart" of the parks system and the new development. He also suggests that a new beach area, more playground, an expanded campground and visual improvements to the community entranceways may be priority needs.

Compared to other cities the architect has worked with, Storm Lake starts with a much more impressive resource base, he said, not just along the lakefront, but out into the Buffalo Ridge area with its environmentally-friendly wind farm, and through the widespread lake region watershed. "Not a lot of communities have anything like what Storm Lake has, and there is plenty of potential there for developments and tourism, but there is a need to better educate people across the state and beyond to what we have here."

In the people he has spoken to so far, Ciaccio sees an almost universal desire to "put Storm Lake on the map" in terms of recognition for its positive features. "They want Storm Lake to be thought of in terms of a great place to visit, a place of recreation and tourism."

Don't expect the plan to start on the modest side.

"I'm going to start with the big fish, the grand vision of what we want to become. We can figure out from there how to do it in reasonable phases," Ciaccio said. "The plan has to be visionary as well as practical."

To make sure of the project's viability, an economist with Economic Research Associates out of Chicago has been retained to make sure the cost of the proposed project will be possible for the community to meet.

While state funding is a question mark, the DNR is proving cooperative on the idea of making a state park in Storm Lake, one of the most obvious natural resources sites in the state not to boast a state destination site.

"I get the feeling the the state, the city, the people are all pulling in the same direction," Ciaccio said.

The architect said that he will keep searching out opinions until themes begin to repeat themselves. "That's when I know I will have me arms around public opinion, and only then will I feel comfortable in starting to draw up a plan."

Early next month, he hopes to review his findings for the local committee and the DNR, as a final check to make sure he hasn't missed anything.

Then the consultant's firm, Ciaccio Dennell Group out of Omaha, will develop the preliminary plan, which should be ready to present to the public around the end of October. The finalized project is targeted toward the end of November, and Ciaccio said he will be available to meet with civic and other groups as that process moves forward.

The process is not simple - as well as public desires, it must take into account land stewardship, economics, environmental impact such as filtering urban runoff and protecting lake views, and possible future direction of the community. "There's just no recipe to it," she said.

"This is long-range planning. This won't be done in one or two years, but perhaps five or ten years. The unique thing about planning parks and landscapes is that I won't be around to see the project in the mature stages that I imagine it. What we are building will only truly be appreciated by the next generation or the one after that. Just as the planners of this community had the foresight to save all of this lakefront parkland for public use, we will need to look far into the future as we plan for a destination park."

While the plan will no doubt see some adjustments after it is complete, Ciaccio said his track record is "99 percent right on track" for what is eventually developed. "That's only because I take all of this time up front to hear what people really want."

Editor's note: Public opinions are welcome, and can be sent to Storm Lake city hall or to state park committee head Gary Lalone. These will be forwarded to Ciaccio for consideration.

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