Council Aims To Focus On Cleaning Up Benson

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

Driving into Benson from the west on Minnesota Highway 9 your first impression is that of a vibrant smaller community with expanding industry. Benson Power LLC and the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, with their plumes of steam rising into the air, the Glacial Plains grain facility, and the other businesses in the area all are evidence of recent growth.

Then you go by Ambush Park, the Benson swimming pool with its tall water slide and then the 18-hole Benson Golf Course behind its decorative stone wall. Across the street from the clubhouse is the Benson Dairy Queen where kids coming from the pool are lined up for a treat.

Pretty good first impression as you pull into town.

But as you get into town a little farther, that first impression changes.

You see a car parked in a front yard with tarp over it and a block later three cars are parked in a front yard. Down a couple more blocks is a house that has been badly in need of a paint job for years. Welcome to Benson.

Drive around some more in the community and you will see a surprising number of residential neighborhoods with cars parked in yards. We don’t remember it being quite as prevalent as it is today. Maybe people used to take more pride in what their yards looked like in the past. Maybe they knew their neighbors better and were more respectful of not being the one responsible for making a neat and well-cared-for block look junky.

But cars aren’t the only problem. These days people are pulling large campers into residential yards and leaving them. You will see pickup campers, some with old tarps over them, some not, dropped in a yard. Some yards have dilapidated sheds with holes in them and broken doors providing great habitat for feral cats and rodents. Others yards are strewn with a wide assortment of junk.

The problem of broken down, dilapidated buildings isn’t a one isolated to residential areas. There are a few in the downtown area as well. Buildings needing paint, a building with the metal roof caving in, and others just simply in need of some attention to take them from looking run down to passable are a few of the problems that need correcting.

“Don’t Paint” is the title of Chapter 6 in Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer’s book 13 Ways to Kill Your Community.

“If you want to ensure that your community fails, then you have to make sure you don’t paint. Of course, painting isn’t the only factor included in this concept – it encompasses anything that may beautify your community such as sweeping, cleaning, planting flowers, mowing grass, picking up garbage...” they write.

We are struggling as a city, county and region to attract people to come and live here. But while we will go to extraordinary lengths to get a new business land, buildings and financing to help them get started or expand, we need to do a much better job of making this a community that makes them say, “This looks like a really nice place to live.”

Communities are often judged by first impressions, Griffiths and Clemmer write. As people drive around your town, they make judgments not just about what it has to offer, but also about how it looks. It doesn’t take many rundown homes, yards full of junk, or cars parked in yards for the people driving around to say, “I wouldn’t want to live next door to that!”

At that point, you have likely blown your opportunity to maybe bring a young family of four to town. The employer who was hoping to fill a vacancy with a well-qualified person has lost him or her to another community. They won’t be buying or renting a home; they won’t be going to the local grocery story; they won’t be buying goods at the local hardware store; they won’t be visiting the local medical clinic; or helping the local school district out with the $7,000 in state funding each of their children represents –funding that helps maintain classroom teachers and a wide variety of educational opportunities for all the district’s children.

Benson’s City Council is talking about getting serious in its enforcement of nuisance laws. It wants to see the community cleaned up. In the coming weeks and months it is likely that those who have let their yards become an eyesore to their neighbors and community are going to be getting ticketed. If that doesn’t get their attention, further action is likely.

If our current ordinances don’t address the problem of cars parked in yards, then we hope they pass one similar to the laws that already exist in dozens of other Minnesota communities. This law can also address campers.

Not everyone is going to be happy with the city council’s efforts. Some are going to be down right angry about it. Some think that local government has no business telling them to clean up their yard or where to park their vehicles.

But Benson’s council does have an interest in ensuring property owners meet a minimum standard for cleanliness and appearance. Health issues, protecting the value of properties in a neighborhood, as well as helping spur economic development are all good reasons to enforce these standards.

We certainly support and appreciate the direction the council is taking on making the community a more attractive place to live.

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