December 22, 2022 at 2:37 p.m.
Proposed Lake Martha development sparks debate; city tax rate will go down in 2023
High Pointe is the same company that developed the former Lakeside School site on Little Green Lake, known as Green Lake Villas. The Department of Natural Resources filed a lawsuit for exceeding shoreland zoning requirements relative to the number of docks that was settled out of court.
The Lake Martha Overlook, will be built on six acres of land bordering Lake Martha with access from Karmel Avenue. The land is zoned for a park but is currently in agricultural use. The city’s 2021 comprehensive plan calls for future high density residential housing in that vicinity, but shows parkland along the lake. High Pointe’s proposed planned unit development would be zoned medium density residential with 13 of the 24 townhomes on the lakeshore.
Chisago City resident Jonathon Dodge, who lives nearby, was the first to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Dodge voiced concern that no sidewalks were planned in the area despite the considerable expansion now taking place and likely to continue in the future. He said Karmel Avenue has very little right of way, and he was concerned for the safety of children and adults walking in the area.
“Millions of dollars of development is going on out there,” said Dodge, “It’s disappointing that there is no sidewalk planned. I urge you to walk it and have cars whizzing by you on the two feet of shoulder at 40 miles per hour. If you look anywhere else in town there are sidewalks on both sides of the street.” Dodge also voiced concern that developers were not being asked to provide sidewalks in their projects.
Council member Rivers later commented, “I kind of agree with Jonathan about a sidewalk. I’ve walked that road, and there isn’t a lot of room to walk. It is really a feeling that something is missing when there is no sidewalk.”
When the preliminary plat for “Lake Martha Overlook Recreational Development Lake” came up for discussion later in the meeting, two residents in the audience were also given the opportunity to come to the microphone. Both expressed significant concerns about the proposed project, and challenged the proposed use of Lake Martha as a recreational lake for fishing and boating, which they viewed as unrealistic.
Don Skelly of High Pointe told the council that, in the proposed plat, High Pointe has dedicated an easement back to the city along the entire lakefront, suggesting it could be used for some type of boardwalk or walking trail. High Pointe is also proposing dockage for 13 boats. City staff has recommended a dock for no more than seven boats based on the size of the lake.
Skelly told the council that High Pointe is considering offering a 10-foot flat bottom boat with a small engine as an incentive to buyers to purchase a lot.
In response to concerns about sidewalks, Skelly said he didn’t foresee a lot of young families occupying the development, which he characterized as being for older adults moving.
“I can’t guarantee this is going to be a 55+ community, but I don’t think these are going to be homes for young families,” Skelly said.
“Our goal is that they will be somewhat similar to Green Lake Villas in that there will be conformity in design, adding that in order to meet the planning commissions concerns about side-yard setbacks High Pointe would need to eliminate one entrance to the project. He also added that instead of the three two-inch trees per lot called for in this type of development, High Point is proposing one larger tree (size to be determined) between every two lots.
Resident Nils Shaffer told the council, “I live on that lake. As far as fishing I wouldn’t see any reason why anyone would put a boat in there. You have to go out 75 feet to get past the muck. I sold all of my boats. There are no fish in there. The kids that live down the street go out in a kayak. They found a few bullheads but no sunfish, no crappies.”
He also viewed vacating a strip property along the lakeshore (as a possible walkway) as unwise. “You are never going to be able to build a walkway there. All the people in my neighborhood say it’s never going to happen.” He also suggested that people don’t want strangers walking along the edge of their property between their house and the lake.
Shaffer was also concerned about the width and condition of Karmel Avenue. He advised the city to involve the fire department in their discussions about the project, since the city fire department is located nearby.
“I was a firefighter in the Twin Cities. When people park along these narrow roads, you can’t get an emergency vehicle down there,” he said.
Shaffer reinforced Dodge’s concerns about pedestrians using Karmel, adding, “He (Skelly) wants the townhouses built for people who have grandchildren. When my grandchildren visit and have to go out there I make them use Liberty Lane, because I don’t want them walking on Karmel.”
Dodge also pointed out that older people also need sidewalks, not only children.
Rebecca Shaffer then came forward saying that she had no problem with building houses there but wanted to maintain the lake as a scenic wildlife area. “We have the best view on the lake,” she said.
“The lake is getting more and more weedy,” she continued. “This gentleman (Skelly) keeps comparing this project to Green Lake Villas. There is no comparison (between Little Green Lake and Lake Martha); it’s not apples-to-apples.
“I just ask that you take your time and think about what it’s going to look like,” she said. “I haven’t seen any renderings. [In my previous job], I worked with a lot of city councils, and there were always renderings provided of what was being proposed.”
No architects renderings of the proposed townhomes had been provided by High Pointe as part of the preliminary plat request.
At a Dec. 1 public hearing on the preliminary plat, the city planning commission had voted 3 to 2 against a motion to recommend preliminary plat approval to the city council with a number of staff recommendations. Concerns included the large number of variances requested and the amount of impervious surface for the size of the project.
Some of the variances requested by High Pointe for the Lake Martha Overlook project include: 33.89 percent impervious surface rather than the 25 percent maximum allowed; smaller than required front yard setbacks on three lots, and smaller than required side yard setbacks on all lots, lot widths of 43 to 60 feet rather than the required 75 feet, lot sizes of 6,000-13,500 sq. ft. rather than the required 15,000 sq. ft, and one larger tree between every two lots rather than the “three quality two-inch trees” required for a planned unit development in a shoreland overlay district. Skelly had also requested the city waive $10,800 in trail fees in lieu of the proposed trail easement, but reportedly later withdrew that request.
The city council voted to send the preliminary plat proposal back to the city planning commission and indicated they may also talk about it at the joint council/planning commission workshop meeting on Jan. 24.
In other business, the council:
- approved its 2023 budget and a final 2023 tax levy of $3.51 million. This will result in a tax rate of 35.35 percent, which is 11.3 percent lower than the tax rate in 2022. The final levy was unchanged from the preliminary levy sent to the county auditor on Sept. 30. No public comment was received during the meeting regarding the budget or levy.
- identified two polling places for future elections to avoid the long lines and congestion that occurred at the 2022 mid-term election. While Chisago City has no scheduled elections in 2023, it is required by state law to designate official polling places annually. The Chisago Lakes Library had been the official polling place since the community center was sold, but voter turnout at the last election overwhelmed the site, resulting in long lines, parking problems and traffic congestion.
Council approved Lord of the Lakes Church on Itasca Ave. and the Chisago Lakes Baptist Church on Wyoming Trail as polling places for any city run-elections in 2023 (although none are scheduled). Establishing two polling places means that the city must create two voting precincts. City Administrator John Pechman said they will consult with Chisago County before establishing the boundaries of the two precincts.
- set Tuesday, Jan. 10, as the date of the first council meeting in 2023, and Tuesday, Jan. 24, as the date of a workshop meeting to discuss city standards for lot splits. Planning commission members will also be invited to participate in the Jan. 24 workshop meeting.
-agreed to remove no parking signs from Kenwood Way as requested by 22 property owners of the Green Lake Villas Homeowners Association. The no parking signs had only recently been installed, but the homeowners have asked that they be removed. After first seeking input from the fire chief and the city maintenance staff, the council agreed to the request.
- transferred $49,638 from the General Fund to the Capital Street Fund for use in 2023. The funds were originally earmarked for 2-22 projects that have been rescheduled for 2023. This includes $35,000 to $40,000 for ditch cleaning, drainage and reconstruction, and $9,161 for a ditch reclaimer ordered in 2022 but which won’t be delivered until 2023.
- Approved a request by Finance Director Cassie Gemuenden to transfer $4,100 from the charitable gambling fund to cover: a $2,900 shortfall in the 2022 lighting festival budget, an increase in the number of people attending the annual volunteer Recognition Party (held Dec. 9), and a $600 shortfall in the 2022 Music in the Park budget. The charitable gambling fund has a balance of $33,817.
- approved its annual agreement designating the Minnesota Department of Transportation as its agent to accept federal aid funds for eligible transportation projects, and authorizing the mayor and city administrator to execute agreements with the Commissioner of Transportation.
- bid farewell and expressed thanks to outgoing Councilmember Mark Anderson for his years of service to the city. Anderson chose not to run for reelection in November.