NEW ULM – After growing up in New Ulm, City Planner John Knisley left the city to pursue a career in environmental policy and planning at the federal level.
After learning that his impact on local communities was minimal, Knisley returned home.
“The actual amount of impact you can have locally is more apparent when you work for local government” he said. “With an environmental background, I started working for Brown County as a forage officer and solid waste and recycling worker. I was an assistant zoning administrator there and that became where I am today.
Knisley returned to New Ulm in 2006. He said he chose New Ulm to make an impact because the city and its people feel like a close-knit community.
“When I walk around or talk to people, I never feel like there’s a group of people all living in the same area.” Knisley said. “It seems to me that everyone has the same view of the city. One of the easiest ways to see this is while driving or walking. Everyone keeps their yard clean. It’s a pretty clean community.”
Knisley began her role as city planner in 2018. He said he gained a lot of planning experience in previous roles in Brown County. This would be necessary, because at that time the city was doing a great deal.
“One of the biggest things we had to start right away was working on updating the city’s zoning ordinance.” Knisley said. “This ordinance had not been substantially updated since 1968, so it was a big deal. We started working on it almost immediately.”
In the more than five years Knisley has been a city planner, she and her co-workers have come together as a fully formed team, she said. Even so, Knisley admits there is always room for improvement. Communication with the people of New Ulm is an area he would like to work on, he said.
“One thing I want readers to contact me with is, what’s the best way to communicate with them?” Knisley said. “Whenever we develop new policies or regulations, what’s the best way to communicate them? I think it can bring a lot of different perspectives to what we’re doing here. They are important prospects.”
Knisley said the city planning department has several plans in the works. In the next six months, he identified finding grant funds for the restoration of the Hermann monument as a priority task that he wanted to accomplish. He said they are also looking at downtown parking and any improvements that could be made to improve the downtown area.
In addition to his work with urban planning, Knisley also runs Alternative Roots Farm and operates Tallgrass Cider. The farm and business came while working desk jobs with his future wife, Brooke, and looking for a change.
“We both sat at desks for 40 hours a week” Knisley said. “Our influence was not like that. We decided that if it is going to have an effect, we should start getting our hands dirty.”
An initial 10-year plan to find a farm and start a business turned into 10 months, as an offer to become the assistant zoning manager for Brown County allowed them to start a farm in 2011.
Knisley said he learned a lot from business/farming to planning and vice versa. He said his experience as a businessman has helped him better understand entrepreneurs when they request changes and modifications to city code, or when they have ideas they want to act on.
As a planner, Knisley said she learned how to focus her energy while working on a task.
“Helps you look long-term” he said. “You set your goals and approach them in a meaningful way instead of trying to do them all at once. It gives you some direction and a process to follow.”
As the future gets brighter and brighter for New Ulm, Knisley said he’s excited to be a part of the growth and change expected in the near and future.
“I think we can see some things here in the city making it more vibrant than before.” he said. “Make it feel more like a community than it already is. “With that alone, we’re going to see some big changes in the city, and that could be more people and families moving here.”
To contact John Knisley for city planning information, call 507-233-2121, email [email protected] or visit the engineering and inspection department on the second floor of city hall.
Visit https://alternativerootsfarm.blogspot.com/ and https://www.tallgrasscider.com/ for business information.