March 2, 2006 at 6:43 a.m.
Council voted unanimously Monday night in support of a resolution securing the city’s commitment to providing a site for a multi-purpose arena and the promise that municipal services would be extended to whatever arena location is chosen.
Shade Tree Communities, Inc. exited the meeting with council orders to reconfigure its plat to meet wetland law requirements and not reduce the size of an open space buffer strip.
First-- the arena issue. The chamber was packed with youth hockey players in jerseys and adult hockey boosters.
A hockey association spokesperson reminded the council the action this night was only allowing the group to continue its private efforts at getting an arena built. “The city is not out one red cent,” the spokesperson told council. If the association is unable to gather enough support the arena does not get built. “We just want the opportunity to make this dream a reality,” he concluded.
Council member Amy Oehlers made the motion and a friendly amendment from Mayor Gloria Karsky clarified there must first be a mutually acceptable agreement between the city and association before the city spends any money. Still at issue are items like who operates the facility, uses of the arena during times when the ice sheet is off, and operational questions like concessions.
Council member Kathy Blomquist also cautioned the crowd that council has to consider the long range budgetary implications. “A lot will hinge, for me, on whether we get a bond issue (to fund recreational needs.” Blomquist said park dedication fees alone aren’t going to fund the city’s needs. “It’s taken us five years of (developer-paid) park fees just to build two fields,” she explained. Blomquist asked the city staff and association to identify a “revenue stream” outside of property taxes to support this effort.
On the Green Acres housing plat matter...the wetland conservation act requires there be a review of plats that impact wetlands by the Technical Evaluation Panel or TEP.
Ordinarily this gets done before any preliminary plats are even considered by a zoning jurisdiction. For whatever reason the “Lucht’s Crossing” plat created by Shade Tree Communities wasn’t reviewed by the TEP until well through the city’s review process.
The TEP did finally look over the plat only recently and two TEP members, Army Corps of Engineers region manager Dan Seemon and the county wetland act administrator Jeff Fertig, explained the TEP’s findings to the council.
The TEP is charged under state and federal laws so wetlands are protected and whenever useable “upland” for a development is present the wetland areas must be protected.
Seemon said in the case of Lucht’s Crossing there exists a “viable upland alternative” and it must be utilized. The reconfiguring of the lots to protect the wetlands, however, resulted in losing almost all of a buffer open space strip the North Branch council worked hard to preserve.
Seemon said the reconfiguration of lots resulted in adding three to the plat, but the buffer that was at seven acres went down to a 20 foot wide strip. Seemon said the developer told him the project couldn’t go below 138 lots, or it wouldn’t be feasible.
Fertig explained that if the TEP had seen the plat earlier this re-working at the last minute could have been avoided.
Blomquist explained that she wouldn’t support losing that much of the buffer. Oehlers asked why the city couldn’t follow TEP rules and retain the buffer acreage. “We had this at 15 acres originally, then it went to seven and now you want to go down to almost nothing. Why is that good for the city?”
Council member Larry Erickson also stated, “We spent way too much time on this” in negotiations with Shade Tree to retain the open space and he also would not support increasing the number of lots by using that strip.
The direction from council given to Shade Tree was to re-work the lots to meet the TEP preservation needs and not reduce the buffer area.
On the matter of the EAW for Lucht’s Crossing council approved a negative declaration for an EIS, on a 3-2 vote. Oehlers and Theresa Furman voted no.
The negative declaration means the Environmental Impact Statement, a more costly and in depth review of environmental aspects of the project, isn’t warranted.
Planner Al Cottingham told council the EAW may need some tweaking if the plat reconfiguration results in “substantial” changes affecting the findings. “We’ll look at this again if there’s a significant change” in the plat,” he assured council.
In other matters-- council voted 4-1 to let public works buy a skidsteer. Erickson was the no vote.
Council approved the voting equipment machine process with the county auditor. The city will allow the county to trade-in its existing election machines which are several years old.
The Board of Appeal and Equalization was set for April 12 at 7 p.m. at city hall.
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