Change is difficult, for people and for communities. It’s especially true in small towns, where, too often, nothing seems to change.
That’s been the rap on Tower for a long time even as folks here have struggled against the forces of inertia to convert this little diamond in the rough into the kind of community it could be. Picture Tower, if you will, as a lively place, with a healthy business district, a growing and diverse population, cultural amenities, and outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities.
For many, it’s an appealing vision, one that heralds prosperity and a sustainable future for this former mining town. For others, however, it reflects unwelcome change, and a potential threat to the quiet, small town living that many residents thought was a guarantee when they came to town.
We’ve seen the clash of these two visions in the controversy over a proposal to convert several acres of riverfront property along the East Two River into the Tower Harbor Zone district. The impetus for the change is a proposal by Dave and Diane Rose to construct a small RV park near the river on land, currently zoned residential, that they recently purchased. The RV park is not allowed under current zoning, but would be allowed, by conditional use, if the land and two other adjacent parcels are added to the harbor district.
The proposal has property owners on nearby Mill Point upset and speaking out in opposition. At several recent meetings, they have argued that the new facility would lower property values, increase traffic and noise, and generally undermine their peaceful, semi-rural existence. Mill Point homeowners pay plenty of taxes to the city and their concerns can’t be readily dismissed.
Yet as one member of the planning commission noted this week, bringing more people to town has been the centerpiece of the city’s development strategy for decades. The new state park, the new harbor, Main Street redevelopment, plans for town homes and, hopefully, much more, are all part of this vision. And if all, or even most, goes according to plan, it will change the character of Tower. It will mean more traffic, more noise, more people, but it will also mean a healthier Main Street, a bigger tax base, new services, and new amenities. Tower will be a different place, but potentially a better and more interesting place to live. At least, that’s the hope.
Nobody knows whether the proposed RV park will actually happen. Even if the rezoning is approved, and we hope that it is, the proposal would still need a conditional use permit that could address many of the concerns raised by residents. Given the inherent limitations of the site, which is dominated by wetlands, it remains to be seen if an RV park can even be permitted there.
In a sense, though, this debate isn’t about an RV park— it’s about two competing visions for the community. Some people have been attracted to Tower simply because very little seems to change. As many Mill Point residents have stated in recent meetings, that’s what drew them to the area in the first place. Now, their idea of Tower as a sleepy town that time forgot is under threat. Had they realized that things could change, and the town might grow, and that growth might happen near their backyard, they may have moved somewhere else. It’s a common argument, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling.
Unfortunately, even towns that time has forgotten inevitably change, though usually not for the better. Without growth, communities like Tower wither on the vine. New residents, like many of those who’ve spoken out at Mill Point, may not appreciate the changes on Main Street over the decades— like the business closures and the spread of vacant and deteriorating storefronts. Longtime residents, who have witnessed this kind of change, can hardly be blamed for trying to reverse the decline.
No single project can do that, of course. But each proposed project, at least those in keeping with the city’s development strategy, is another, much needed, step forward.