SA, City Council discuss merging communities

Jordan Smith

The SDSU Students’ Association is working with the Brookings City Council to create a “campus town” on the south side of the university.

Jeff Weldon, Brookings City Manager, said the City Council is planning to eventually examine a 12-block area located south of SDSU extending to Highway 14 and possibly convert it into a retail and commercial area that will offer services for the community and campus.

“Change takes time to put the moving parts together,” York said. “Communication is key. People on the board at SDSU, the mayor and business don’t always talk — they are too busy. Communication needs to happen for everyone to get together and plan.”

Jacob Vukovich, a freshman early childhood education major from Brookings, said it would take both Brookings residents and SDSU working together to make it happen.

“Growing up in Brookings, I can see how [residents] may not like it because they might have to move, or if the homeowners chose not to, something they own in the area of development could be affected by all of the new businesses coming in,” he said.

The area from Taco Johns to Wal-Mart is what will potentially be zoned for commercial use in the long run. To start to implement the idea in the community, four and a half blocks between Medary and an alley right behind 14th Avenue and south between 7th and 6th streets are being considered first. In order for developers to turn the rental properties into commercial properties, they may have to adhere to specific guidelines.

“Things such as the businesses being set back a certain distance from the street, a specific sidewalk width, certain amounts of trees being planted and the developers will not be able to buy less than a half a block,” said York. “We are going for a big scale change here.”

Homeowners can keep their lot a house, or allow developers to buy it.

“It could take 10 years for someone to buy a lot and develop it,” York said. “This will take time and cooperation from the community.”

The Brookings City Planning Commission presented its recommendation at the March 27 City Council meeting. The commission only recommended that one block east of Medary Avenue be re-zoned, falling far short of what both the Council and SA wanted. The council voted three for the changes and three against creating a deadlock that will to be decided when council member Jael Thorpe will be present at the next meeting.

Both people from SDSU, as well as people from the community, are supportive of the proposal so far.

“The campus town will bring in more things to do for young college students, make the town and campus more attractive, offer opportunities for students to socialize, keep students in town on the weekends, heighten recruitment and help with retention rates. It will also be profitable for the business owners so everyone wins,” York said. Weldon said transitioning toward a campus town is a “good thing.”

“In the long run this will be good for the city as well as the university. It will bring in more commercial businesses in a good location,” Weldon said.

“By changing rental properties to commercial use and allowing developers to come in and buy property, it could be very beneficial to the city in the long run,” Weldon said. “It will be very expensive and require small steps to convert [the residential area] into a town campus environment.”

Brookings needs to continue changing to keep up with SDSU’s growing campus, said Students’ Association President Mark York.

“The area around campus was zoned as residential in 1966. This was before many of the dorms were even built, and now as the campus is being updated, the town zoning hasn’t been updated in almost 50 years,” he said.

The area targeted for development has been up for discussion for about a year and a half. Up to 62 percent of the properties in the area are rental homes, while the other 38 percent are owned by their residents, this could mean a very long transition to a campus town.

Many campuses around the country already have a campus town community nearby. Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, is one example. The area and campus are twice the size of Brookings and SDSU, but it is one of the models SA is looking at for examples of how to incorporate a campus town environment into Brookings.

“Iowa State’s campus town has clubs, restaurants, businesses and an underage pub,” York said. “Dinkytown at the University of Minnesota has a wide sidewalk for pedestrians and lofted apartments above the shops. We want to bring something like this to Brookings.”

According to York, both students and the city of Brookings will benefit by bringing businesses closer to campus. The hope is to keep students in Brookings over the weekends.

“The idea is that many students won’t go downtown and the mall is far away,” he said. “Students have to get into their car to go to Village Square and it is just easier to go to Sioux Falls because it offers more to do for students age 18 to 20 anyway.”

Eileen Kokesh, sophomore biology major from Minnetonka, Minn., said she would enjoy not having to travel very far for a good place to hang out.

“I think it would be nice to have somewhere for the students to go and hang out, which we really don’t have much of right now,” she said. “I think it would also be a great way for the community to become more involved in campus life as well.”

If the city does zone the residential properties as commercial, letters will be sent out to homeowners and another public hearing would be held. Then each individual property owner would have to agree to sell their property to business owners.