February 22, 2019 at 10:23 a.m.

Review of first concepts for Lakeside School, Fairview properties raises environmental, density concerns

Review of first concepts for Lakeside School, Fairview properties raises  environmental, density concerns
Review of first concepts for Lakeside School, Fairview properties raises environmental, density concerns

Members of the Chisago City Park Board, Economic Development Commission and Planning Commission gathered in the city council chamber Feb. 12 to review a high-level concept plan for potential future development of the Lakeside School property on the west end of the city, and the former Chisago Lakes Hospital site on the east. In addition to city officials, more than 25 citizens, many of them residents around Little Green Lake, packed the council chamber for what was billed as a workshop meeting.    

Both properties are currently zoned public use and are for sale, which means the zoning designations will change to accommodate any future development. The concepts were prepared and presented by Planner Jane Kampfer, Landscape Architect John Nelson and Ryan Goodman, city engineer with Bolton and Menk. The engineering firm was hired to look at the sites and draw a conceptual picture of what future development could look like. “We didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about setbacks and other details,” said the planners. “We just wanted to talk about possibilities and what you might want to see go there.”

Lakeside School site
The Chisago Lakes Area School District is nearing completion of an elementary school on Karmel Avenue. The new school will replace Lakeside School,  on Little Green Lake, which is set for demolition later this year. The school district plans to sell the lakeshore property and, according to City Administrator John Pechman, has issued a request for proposals from realtors. The 11-acre school site is viewed as a gateway the entire Chisago Lakes area, he added.

The city’s concepts for this site included a long-planned-for welcome monument and preservation of a “view corridor” to Little Green Lake for travelers as they enter the city.

The concept plan also includes two large condo/apartment buildings on six acres of the site, 36 units on the west side and 94 units on the east. The remainder of the concept plan included a lakeshore restaurant and marina,  a 12-unit townhouse development, and space for possible commercial development along Highway 8. Planners emphasized the plan was conceptual only and had not taken into account any storm water or zoning requirements. The marina does not propose a public access/boat launch.

Mayor Bob Gustafson invited comments from the Economic Development Commission, park board and planning commission members; however, the first person to speak was a Green Lake resident who cited concern about the proposed marina saying, “Little Green Lake is a small lake. I wouldn’t like to make this little lake become like Lake Minnetonka. How do we keep development, but prevent it from becoming a zoo?”

Dan Lydon, who serves on the park board and Chisago-Lindstrom Lake Association, asked if the proposed plan subscribes to Minimal Impact Design Standards (MIDS) - the Minnesota stormwater manual. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s MIDS and stormwater manual have been adopted by Lindstrom and Center City but were never adopted by Chisago City.

Planners responded saying that any development that goes on the lake would have to meet standards for run off, marina size and things that would impact lake quality.
Lydon asked whether Chisago City would adopt the MIDS/storm water runoff standards previously adopted by Lindstrom and Center City, but did not receive a response.

Park Board member Bill Mack pointed out that there is a 25-foot elevation change in the area between the front part of the proposed apartment structure and lakeside restaurant shown in the concept plan. City Administrator John Pechman responded, “That is not characterized as a bluff.” Planners indicated, “We would need to work with the existing grade…it’s a kind of terraced situation.”

Mack also asked about  a dedicated easement to the lake on the property. “If so, we’d like to keep that element there for the Chisago Lakes Water Trail.” Pechman said he was not aware of such an easement, but added, “We would like people to be able to get in there with kayaks and canoes.”

Jason Gamble, of the EDA, spoke. “The market is going to drive buyers here. This is clearly going to be developed. I believe a mixed-use concept like this is right for the corridor to our city, and I also appreciate the concerns that have been raised. We need to find some kind of balance.” Alluding to the recent controversy around the proposed Northland Development in Lindstrom, Gamble said, “I appreciate the angle you’re coming from; we all know what can happen if you don’t do some advance planning. Thank you for the foresight and effort.”

Cynthia Carlson-Paetznick, of the park board, commented, “I love that we’re going proactive. That said, we need to be stewards of the land. I would love to see a sidewalk/bike path incorporated along the lakeshore with benches along the way.”  She emphasized that once the property is developed,a trail cannot be added.

“My concern with including commercial sites is that, while it’s nice to have variety, we have a lot of vacant buildings in the city now. Will adding commercial here result in more buildings for rent, for lease and for sale uptown?”

Council Member Marie Rivers responded, saying, “It would be a great place for a daycare or a nice place for a coffee shop or a deli.”

Park Board Member Trish Curtis expressed concern about the extensive impervious surface shown for parking lots and roofs. She strongly encouraged underground or “same footprint” parking to mitigate impact on the land.

Kyle Peterson, who serves on the EDA and whose family has lived in the area for four generations, drew applause from the audience when he described the proposed plan as too aggressive. “It’s a lot to put on this few acres, and there’s not been a lot of thought put into the elevation of this land. Rather than have bulldozers come in and take down old growth trees, I would ask that we try to be environmental stewards and not try to do too much. This is too much for this property. Half as many buildings would be too many. The condominium shown is coming all the way down to the lake.”

Mayor Gustafson told Peterson, “Remember this is just a concept.”

Planners said the concept presented calculated at about 22 housing units per acre.

Josh Dresel of the planning commission, said they would be looking at environmental impact and parking. “We want growth, and we want to invite people into our community.” Dresel spoke in favor of creating a small public use area where the public could  view the lake.

City Parks Superintedent Doris Zacho liked the mixed use concept but strongly advocated maintaining a lake view and creating a bike/walking trail system.

After park board, EDA and planning commission members had voiced their views, Mayor Gustafson opened the discussion to the audience. Questions were about timing and also whether the plan had taken into account possible future Highway 8 construction. Mayor Gustafson said that the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s current plan for the expansion of Highway 8 extends from Forest Lake to Karmel Avenue. “That’s their plan, creating a double lane all the way to Forest Lake, but it’s going to stop at Karmel,” said Gustafson. That reconstruction plan is years away, meanwhile MNDot has maintenance funds allocated for an overlay of the existing highway in 2023.

Shelly Sprain, who lives next to the existing Lakeside School, expressed concern about increased traffic and then said, “Part of the beauty of our area is the beauty of the trees. All of us on Little Green want to appreciate the beauty of the shoreline. We want to see trees, not huge apartment buildings.”

Another resident expressed concern for the high density housing shown, and the lack of infrastructure to support it, as well as the proposed marina and its impact on the channel between Big and Little Green lakes.

“This marina is located on the smallest lake of the two and is going to be a magnet. The proposed lakeside restaurant will also draw boaters. The boat traffic through the channelway is something you have to consider. The channel is not big enough now,” he said. “To have all that boat traffic is going to be a detriment to all the people who live on the lake.”

Concern was also expressed about possible noise from the proposed lakeside restaurant. “We need to look at noise limitations as noise really carries over the water,” he said.

“One of the reasons we have a house on Little Green is because it is more quiet,” said Mark Meyer. “We really like it here, but we like that quiet.”

“This looks like Forest Lake to me,” said another resident, encouraging the city to think about more ideas for the land than residences and apartments. “Look at the successful things (being done elsewhere) that are bringing in money to the community.”

Bill Mack pointed out that the proposed holding pond area shown on the concept plan was described as a park. “If you brought it to the planning commission and put that holding pond there, the surrounding green area would not be large enough for a park.”

The city acknowledged that the density of more than 20 units per acre proposed in the concept plans is not allowed under existing city code.  To accommodate growth, the city will need to modify those codes. “We need to add more options or adjust those options,” Administrator Pechman said.

New comprehensive plan in the works
Chisago City is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan and hopes to accomplish that before these two sites are developed.

Green Lake resident Curt Stock asked whether the city would be rezoning before someone takes over the property.

“That is our plan,” said Pechman. “We are on a timeline to get a zoning designation (before September).”    Residents were assured that there would be public hearings scheduled during the zoning process.

Residents also wanted to know if their real estate taxes would increase as a result of these projects. City officials responded that while property values might rise there would also be more tax revenue to share the cost of city services.

Dan Lydon expressed disappointment that the concept plans as shown sent the wrong message to potential developers. “It kind of sends the message that setbacks and runoff aren’t important.”

Many residents expressed concern that the proposed density of the project was too much for a small lake like Little Green.

Resident Mike Arndt said, “I think this has more to do with the character of the lakes. People want to come here and enjoy the lakes. The picture that people want is a tree-lined lakeshore, not something that looks like Minneapolis. I understand there is going to have to be some density and multifamily housing, but a large marina doesn’t fit here. The basin of Little Green is small, and your concept shows a big marina. If you tried to put that marina on one of the bays of Lake Minnetonka they’d laugh you out of the room. We’re not against housing, but its the character of what it looks like.”

A 75-year-Little Green resident added, “You’re proposing doubling the density of what is now on the lake. That is the last wooded area on our little lake. If you bulldoze that area you’ll never get that back again. If we destroy it, it will never ever come back.”

Green Lake resident Christine Kugel stated that Little Green’s water quality isn’t good, adding. “When you put a marina and 22 units per acre on that site, what is that going to do to the lake?”

Discussion then moved on to the concept for the larger Fairview property on the east.

Former Chisago Lakes Hospital/Fairview site concept
Proposals for the Fairview-owned site reflected a different market concept. This concept proposed 20 higher end condos and a marina on the lakefront portion of the property, and villa style housing and single family triplexes that look like a single-family home  in the area away from the lake. Mixed medical/commercial use was proposed for the land closest to the present Fairview Medical Clinic.

Planners explained that the idea behind this development concept was to create an active living area with adjacent services—the Chisago Lakes Area Library, the existing medical clinic and perhaps some other health care services. The residential buildings off the lake would be sized for empty nesters and first-time home buyers.
Jason Gamble urged the city to consider and communicate to the public what positive impact these developments have on the city tax rolls.    

Bill Mack liked the proposed placement of a playground near the present library but wanted to insure there would be sidewalks allowing safe access to the park.

Doris Zacho supported the housing concept and the inclusion of affordable housing but wondered about the possibility of  rental housing as a recent housing study showed a significant need for rental housing in the area.

Citizens again expressed concern about the size of the proposed marinas in both plans, saying they were too large for area lakes.

The city was urged to “get the soil and water, and lake improvement districts involved in these plans at the beginning and not at the end. The said agencies have money for rain gardens and other things” that can enhance the environmental quality of these developments.

This portion of the evening closed with the audience thanking the city for answering their questions and asking to be notified of future meetings.

Solar Energy Moratorium and Ordinance
The Feb. 12 workshop meeting ended with a discussion of the city’s ongoing six-month solar energy project moratorium and possible revisions to the ordinance.
The EDA, park board and planning commission were invited to express their thoughts regarding the ordinance. Issues discussed included: city requirements from a solar garden developer in the form of a letter of credit, restricting solar gardens to certain zoning districts, providing screening and buffers from adjoining properties, and the 25-year term of most solar energy contracts.

The council was told that people are putting solar gardens close to substations that have capacity and access to the grid.

Administrator Pechman reported that there are 500 megawatts of solar being generated in the area now and that Xcel Energy says it has requests for 300 megawatts more.

Council members wondered if the city should zone for solar gardens based on land use type or by proximity to Xcel facilities, or both.

Pechman told that council that it appears most landowners are inquiring about placing solar gardens along transmission lines themselves, but not necessarily near a substation or transformer.

Mayor Gustafson said his primary concern is that solar arrays are screened from public view. Currently solar gardens must be at least 500 feet from Highway 8. The planning commission had discussed requiring 200 feet from local streets and county roads and 750 feet from Highway 8.

Loren Peterson, rural Chisago City, has farmed around a 350 KV line that crossed his land for the past 50 years.

“Right now I’m selling crops for less than my cost of production. I’d like to use solar garden for my retirement. Putting a solar garden on it is the only way I can extract any value from that property,” said Peterson, who has been affected by the city moratorium.

He suggested the city review one of the 52-age solar garden contracts which he said were very thorough. He said solar  developers are willing to invest $1.2 million to produce 1 megawatt of energy and will pay  additional taxes.

Peterson said the city’s moratorium has “thrown a monkey wrench” into documents he had already signed with US Solar. “We’re already down the road,” said Peterson. “I’m worried that by the time the moratorium’s done I’ll be sitting here feeling like I’m getting dumped on again.”

An adjacent landowner in the audience told the council that she would rather see a properly bermed solar garden than an apartment building or a lot of other developed land uses. “Personally I’m not a big fan of (solar gardens), but the fact is they’re here, and we’ve got to somewhat accept them,” she concluded.

The council will make its decision on the solar garden ordinance revisions at a future council meeting.

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