Preview of coming attractions

previewsignOn this week’s Council agenda there’s a little new stuff and a lot of old stuff.

Old stuff:

  • 2nd reading of wind turbine ordinance.  I’ve said enough about it here and here and here.
  • Approval of the final plat for Bridgewater commons: this property is on Highway 3 across from Target.  Three issues here:  access from Highway 3, a big tree, and a bike trail – more about this when I have the time.
  • 1st reading of the outdoor dining ordinance (to make it a permanent ordinance after last year’s 1 year trial – with a few modifications to the law).

New stuff:

  • Grace Whittier Grant recipients: The Grace Whittier Fund provides funding for programs providing recreational opportunities for youth and children.   I’m happy to report that the TOPSoccer program I posted about here, has been awarded $1000 toward establishing this program.
  • Babcock Park/Rodeo Ground truck parking discussion: You know, the parking lot just north of the new Culvers where the city lets trucks park?  We’ll be talking about this practice (not sure it rises to the level of policy) on Monday and whether some “higher and better” use of this area should be contemplated now.

Other new stuff not on the Council agenda: I’ve got the 275 pages of the new Land Development Code on my desk now.  I’ve been waiting a long time for this (8 years), so I’m both excited and apprehensive.  I’m thrilled there’s a draft and I’m worried that it’s going to need a lot of work.  Prior partial drafts did not inspire confidence, but I’m ready to dive in and make these regulations carry forward the goals of the Comprehensive Plan as clearly and forcefully as possible.

Coming up this week: Ames Park and fiber optics

skate-plazaAmes Park and the skate plaza top Monday’s Council worksession agenda.    Back at the February 23 worksession, the Council reviewed several concept plans for Ames Park which I discussed here.   In February, the Council directed staff to review these concerns:

  • Access through Malt-O-Meal property: staff report says: M-O-M will work to prevent this by building a fence.  Fair enough, they’ve got liability issues and apparently they are also concerned with food contamination.
  • Pick-up/Drop Off Lanes: staff says another request to MNDot on this issues was “not met favorably.”
  • Parking: Water Street parking improvements mean more parking is available.
  • 5th Street Bridge Safety: Staff report indicates a 10′ wide sidewalk with a railing between the sidewalk and travel lane is possible – a big improvement.

Since I’m generally in favor of the skate plaza in this location, I keep trying to test my position by anticipating the unintended (bad) consequences of putting a skate plaza in Ames Park.  Check out the revised plans for Ames Park and a rendering of a skate plaza design

Safety: I’m not an uncaring person who throws children under the wheels of cars, but I do think safety is, if you will, a 2 way street.  We should make the facility as safe as possible and (especially) work to improve the pedestrian access in this area.   Providing safe (and obvious) ways for walkers, skateboarders and cyclists cross Highway 3 should be a priority for not just for a skate plaza but for linking the west side to downtown – the skate plaza and improved park could be a great catalyst for doing this.  However, skateboarders and others need to know how to cross streets and play as safely as possible under the circumstances and the city is not primarily responsible for teaching these skills.

Impact on local businesses: While campaigning, I talked to one downtown business person who was convinced Ames Park is a poor location for a skate plaza because kids would also just hang around downtown and cause problems for local businesses.   I’m still thinking about this one.    I can imagine problems with unsupervised kids (with or without skateboards), but would the skatepark in Ames Park make this worse?    And, what is the city  responsibility for teaching kids good behavior?  What is the proper law enforcement/public safety role here?

Long term success of Ames Park:  Ames Park has a central, but not particularly peaceful location in the center Northfield (Compare Central Park or Way Park and their surroundings).    I really like the idea of a dynamic, well-designed skate plaza in Ames Park – fun to watch from the new Water Street promenade and easy to walk to once improvements have been made to the 5th Street bridge.   I like the idea of providing places for kids downtown – a park, The Key, the library.     I’m imagining Ames Park as a kind of crossroads linking the east and west sides of downtown and the city (I am looking ahead to that improved Highway 3 crossing in this dream).    There are still questions: what about the site of the current Safety Center?   How can Ames Park serve to guide people to the Mill Towns bike trail?  Should skateboarding lose its appeal, how can this part of the park be redeveloped?

My bottom line: how can we make this work?

Beyond the work session

Fiber Optics: the fiber optic working group meets for the first time on Tuesday.  I’m still reading the complete report from CCG and supporting materials.  Stay tuned…

Council roles and responsibilities session 6:30 to 8:30 at City Hall: This is a chance to discuss the best way to perform our policy-making functions in relation to the staff responsibility to carry out our recommendations.  More after the session.

The Council next week

Yup, the Black Binder is back again and here’s what’s up:

Monday, March 16: Regular Council Meeting @ 7 pm @ City Hall. Highlights of this week’s agenda include

Approval of a library management agreement with Lonsdale: The City Council action is the culmination of much planning and work by Northfield’s library director, Lynne Young, City Administrator Joel Walinski, and Lonsdale city staff.  The short version is that Lonsdale is constructing a library in its new assisted living facility, Villages of Lonsdale (run by Three Links Care Center) which will be managed by Northfield.  Management includes selecting and cataloging materials, hiring staff and planning events; Lonsdale will pay an administrative fee of 10% of the new library’s annual budget (about $5500) to Northfield for management services. The net effect will be,  I think, a slight redistribution of library services and funding around Rice County with small anticipated decreases in use of the Northfield library and in County funding of Northfield’s library.    Will it be one of those win-win situations we all seek?   I think we’ll have to see how much of an administrative cost this agreement will impose on Northfield and what the funding impact will be.

Carletons wind turbine
Carleton's wind turbine

First reading of the wind turbine ordinance. I’ve said enough about this here and hereBut here’s what I think should have happened on this issue. The Council should have consulted the Comprehensive Plan and Energy Task Force Plan (we would have found support for wind energy in both, but neither has been referenced in any of the process so far) and then formed a  task force to consider the issue which would have included members of the Planning Commission (since it’s a zoning issue), Environmental Quality Commission (since it is an environmental issue), Former Energy Task Force (since they looked at this issue in their report), representatives of both colleges, plus Council, staff and public.   The Task Force could have been charged with (1) recommending whether “big wind” is desirable within the city limits,  (2) where the best locations would be (based on wind data, current and proposed/possible land uses), (3) researched ordinances and provided a draft.   The Planning Commission held the required public hearing and reviewed the ordinance, but all questions about desirable legal language were answered by the party which wants approval (am I the only one who thinks this is fishy?).   So now it’s back to the Council.

Second reading of an ordinance amending the City’s annexation ordinance to require applicants requesting annexation into the City provide notice to the township rather than the current requirement that township approval be obtained.  This is on the consent agenda, but I’d look for someone to request it be moved to the regular agenda because the e-mails and phone calls have been rolling in on this issue, mostly from residents of surrounding townships.   I support this change, although I agree with some of the writers/callers that it does give more power to the city (or really to the applicant).  But, if the City is doing its job right, then it has identified what its land needs are and will be, has a good working relationship with townships, and certainly isn’t annexing just because it can.   This statement is unlikely to mollify folks who have had bad experiences with Northfield city government in the past, but I really really support our Comprehensive Plan goals of growing compactly and using infill and redevelopment as first choice development tools which should mean Northfield’s appetite for annexation is not great.

Don’t forget, you can access the Council agenda and packet (see pictures of all the Councilmembers!), the Administrator’s Friday memo, as well as see what meetings are scheduled on Northfield’s website.

Tuesday, March 17 (Happy St. Patrick’s Day): Library Board meeting and retreat.  I don’t have the agenda yet, but I’m sure the proposed library expansion will be on the list and I’ll update this later.

It’s back already

Black binder returnsI haven’t even finished following up on items from last week’s meetings, but the Black Binder reappeared on my doorstep in the dead of night.

It’s a light week for city meetings next week for me

Monday, March 2:  Regular City Council Meeting. Highlights include several items related to the annexation of 530 acres in the NW corner of the city (the annexation agreement was approved at last week’s meeting – there’s more to say on that soon) including a public hearing and 1st reading of an ordinance to amend the Rural Service district ordinance (this sets tax rates for land in the annexation area based on its undeveloped character; the tax rate will change when the area is developed).  Also related to annexation more generally is the 1st reading of an amendment to our annexation ordinance changing the requirements for annexation applications so that townships  no longer must approve proposed annexation, but must only be notified of the proposed annexation.

Saturday, March 7, 10:30 am at City Hall: the continuation of the Council’s goal-setting process which begins tomorrow at 8:00 am at the 1st National Bank South meeting room (yes, it is a public meeting if you’d like to attend).

And that’s all.

The Black Binder returns


I tripped over the Black Binder when I stepped outside to get the newspaper this morning – another one of those odd occupational hazards of the City Council member.

Coming up next week on the Northfield City calendar for me:

Monday, February 23:  Council Meeting and Work Session. It’s a short agenda, but includes considering approval of the annexation agreement with Greenvale Township for the  NW business park development as well as an agreement with the landowners.

‘Tis a good thing the Council agenda is short becuase although the worksession agenda looks short, it includes a joint session with the EDA on their 2009 Workplan, prioritizing items in the CIP, discussing the street improvement assessment policy (that is, how much taxpayers pay when improvements are made to their street) AND an update on the Ames Park Master Plan (which includes the Skate Plaza).

The decision-making template my subcommittee developed has been used for all the staff reports for the first time…

Tuesday, February 24: Planning Commission.   The wind turbine ordinance returns.

Friday, February 27, 2009, 8 am @ 1st National Bank South: City Council Goal Setting Meeting.  We’ve been working on our decision-making and public input processes, now we’re meeting to set substantive goals.  Some of last year’s (randomly chosen) goals were  “Improve the conditions of the city’s aging buildings and facililties and park infrastructure” and “complete the update, adoption and implementation of the Comprehensive Plan”.   My highest priority is the completion and adoption of the new Land Development Regulations and continuing to work toward a “real” CIP.

Another noteworthy event: don’t forget to celebrate the 206th anniversary of Marbury v Madison on Tuesday, Feb. 24.