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June 19, 2019

6/6/2019 3:25:00 PM
Mayor challenges solar code amendments

An amended ordinance that would have ended Chisago  City’s six-month moratorium on solar energy construction failed to gain passage at the May 28 Chisago City Council meeting when Mayor Bob Gustafson put on the brakes.

On Dec. 20, 2018, the city placed a six-month moratorium on processing applications for solar energy  project construction. Since that time, Council members Mark Anderson, Jeremy Dresel and City Administrator John Pechman have worked on a revised ordinance that mandates screening and fencing of solar arrays, commonly known as “solar gardens,” and increases setback requirements from public streets and amounts held in escrow for decommissioning sites after 20 years.  After a May 2 public hearing on the amended ordinance, the city planning commission voted 6 to 0 to recommend passage by the city council. But Mayor Gustafson didn’t agree.

Gustafson, who has said he considers solar arrays unsightly, said the proposed 750-foot setback from Highway 8 wasn’t enough. “I’d rather see the setback as 1,000 feet,” said the mayor. “The proposed ordinanc says fences are required, but what kind of fences? I want full screening from view from streets and neighbors.  I do not want people driving through Chisago to look at a whole bunch of solar panels.”

After raising a variety of other concerns, Gustafson said, “I would like to see us extend this moratorium until we work out these bugs or until the county possibly revises its solar ordinances.”

A solar developer in the audience told the mayor, “We would meet the requirements of this ordinance and probably any other ordinance you might come up with.

“We’d like to move forward as soon as possible. It doesn’t sound like any of these changes or additional changes would be likely to affect our projects in any way.” He added that there had been no action by the county to change its ordinance. “We don’t know that the county is going to be making any changes.”

The mayor countered, “We can’t go ahead with it until we get done with our moratorium.”

City Attorney Tom Miller then advised the council that a public hearing would be required to extend the moratorium another six months. And, only this one six-month extension is allowed. After that the ordinance original form is in effect.

As an alternate to extending the moratorium, Councilmember Marie Rivers suggested holding a work session to “fine tune” the amended ordinance.

“I don’t think we’re that far off,” agreed Councilmember Dresel. “We (planning commission) think we did a god job on this. We met multiple times. I’d rather get it right.”

The council then took two actions:
- A public hearing on extending the solar energy moratorium will be held at 6:30 p.m. June 18. On the advice of the city attorney, the published notice of hearing is to include a statement that the council may elect to pass the amended solar energy ordinance that same evening. The notice is necessary as June 18 is not a regularly scheduled council meeting.

Council scheduled a workshop meeting for 7 p.m. June 12 to try to work out details of the amended ordinance. If they can agree on the amended ordinance, an extension of the moratorium would not be necessary. Attorney Miller advised that if the moratorium is extended, it can be revoked by council at any time within the six month period.

In other business:
- Christi Wellman, supervisor of the Fairview Adolescent Recovery Program located in the former Chisago Lakes Hospital Building in Chisago City, appeared before the council during the audience participation portion of the meeting. She explained that the program provides outpatient intensive care and day treatment to young people ages 12 to 19. The day program operates from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the school year with students attending school for part of that time and taking part in treatment programs for the remainder. The 24-hour residential treatment program at the site offers 14 beds.

Wellman explained, “We do serve clients with mental health disorders as well as chemical use issues. A psychiatrist is onsite twice a week, and nurses provide care almost seven days a week.” Council Member Marie RIvers said, “It’s good to hear you have mental health counseling. That’s a hard thing to find.”

“There’s been talk of moving our program closer to the metro,” said Wellman, “but we would much rather stay out here. We’ll be here at least another year and maybe longer.”

Inquiries can be directed to Wellman on her direct line, 651-213-8051.  The centralized intake phone number for the adolescent program is 612-672-2736.
“We also do adolescent substantive disorder evaluations,” she said. “Anyone can come to us for an evaluation.”

- On behalf of adjoining residents, Chisago City resident Phil Demunck asked the council to vacate an unused section of 295th St. Although it is not developed or used, the short segment of street had been retained for possible inclusion in the Swedish Immigrant Trail. The path of the Swedish Immigrant Regional Bike Trail has since been changed to go through the new elementary school property.

 “Adjoining residents agree that vacating that 30-foot section of street that doesn’t go anywhere would be preferable,” DeMunck told the council.  

Attorney Miller advised the council that a pubic hearing would be required to vacate the unused section of street. City Administrator John Pechman recommended the council wait until the comprehensive plan is done before vacating the street “to be sure where the bike trail goes.”

“The other question is the snowmobile trail that might end up having to go that way,” Pechman said.

-Council approved an off-sale liquor license and cigarette license for MGM Wine & Spirits of Chisago City, Victor Shevchuk, president. The new business will be located in the former gas and convenience building, 10575 Wyoming, Ave.  Shevchuk also operates MGM Wine & Spirits in Forest Lake and Hugo under a different company name, KSIALL. Shevchuk said he will rent out part of the former Co-op building not used by the liquor operation.

- Shawn Dunne, also known as Captain Shawn, was granted a peddler’s license to erect a dock and operate a summer boat rental business on public right of way at the end of Aldrid Avenue for a fee of $100 a month. The permit must be renewed annually. The location is adjacent to the property that once housed Channel Boats on the channel between Chisago and South Lindstrom lakes.

Dunne said his dock will accommodate two pontoon boats and two small fishing boats. Canoes and kayaks will be stored on a rack. Dunne said the seasonal business, previously located at Meredee’s (Dinnerbel) in Lindstrom, operates from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday throughout the summer.

Mayor Gustafson termed the business “a welcome addition to the city” and asked if Dunne planned to stay in Chisago City. Dunne, who lives nearby, responded, “If I get this permission, I will stay here.”

Councilwoman Marie Rivers wondered if the city should be requesting more rent for use of the right of way, but her concerns drew no support from fellow council members.

The council reminded Dunne that motor-powered-boats would have to be launched at the public boat launch on South Lindstrom Lake before being moored at his dock. Only non-powered craft (canoes and kayaks) can be launched from the Aldrid location. The city felt adequate on-street parking was available, and Dunne said he would provide garbage cans and trash disposal for the operation.

- The council authorized use of $7,500 from the $70,000 Ojiketa Park reserve fund to reroof four small buildings at Ojiketa.

- The council approved hiring Kal Stokes for the city public works department. Stokes, who was the top candidate among 14 applicants, has eight years experience with the City of St. Paul.

In other matters:
- The council unanimously approved an update of the Standard Plates. The weighty and detailed document provides developers with specifications on all elements of construction projects. The update was completed with the assistance of city engineers Bolton & Menk.

- The council decided to schedule a closed meeting after the next regular meeting to discuss possible sale of 5.2 acres city-owned land on County Road 19 and Mattson Lane. The city purchased the tax-forfeited property for $50,700 and is considering selling it and setting aside the proceeds for future street improvements.

- Developers are notified that the amounts the city holds in escrow for various improvements have been increased. This includes driveways, seed, sod, sidewalks, curb stops, trees and silt fence restoration.


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