Back to work on the Council: Fees and taxes

I didn’t exactly stop working on City issues over the summer, but my interest in blogging about them evaporated entirely.  Why sit at a computer when I could tend my green roof (planted some little bluestem grass up there today), run with my dog, pick tomatoes, go to the State Fair or do just about anything else outside?

But now it’s September, school has started, the leaves are turning, the preliminary tax levies has been set so I’m back…

By law, the Council must approve the preliminary tax levy by September 15 – that means the Council must act at its regular meeting Monday night.  Given the governor’s unallotment tactics and the recession’s impact, the City needs to make up the shortfall by cutting spending (and services) and/or raising taxes and fees.

So far, we’ve been doing pretty traditional budgeting starting with last year’s numbers and reducing spending across the board by freezing wage and step increases (See the News), cutting staff by attrition and layoffs, asking each department to cut 10% and now figuring how much revenue we can raise via the general fund levy, HRA and EDA levies.  Our direction to staff was to attempt to keep the tax dollar amount paid by homeowners the same as last year.  This recommendation isn’t perfect – as the News reported, the impact is greater for commercial property owners (who are also burdened by a state property tax which residential property owners do not pay).

We’ve also raised some fees and added a few new ones (such as a $10 fee for proctoring exams at the Library and $200 for a 2 AM closing liquor license).  And, we are considering created a street light utility which has attracted a bit of attention in the local media here and here.    We already have water, stormwater, garbage and wastewater utilities – by creating a utility, we add an itemized fee on monthly utility bills for each of these services which goes to a separate fund for maintaining and improving that service’s infrastructure.  The advantage is to remove street light funding from the General Fund and be able to calibrate utility fees based on usage and infrastructure needs more accurately rather than simply sweeping this cost into the General Fund and into the tax levy.

An interesting discussion bubbled up at last Monday’s meeting in the context of the HRA levy.  Some Councilors were interested in raising the HRA levy beyond the requested amount and up to the allowed levy limit on the theory that, in the current economy, the City should help meet basic needs like housing.  The alternate argument was that we should stick to our plan of holding the levy to last year’s dollar amount and respect the City wide budget cutting that has been necessary, rather than trying to address this social need in particular.    More on all these another time along with some thoughts about budgeting for outcomes.

Land development code update

Lately, I’ve been attending many meetings about the land development code update – so many meetings, in fact, that blogging about land development is about the last thing I feel like doing when I get home (especially when my green roof project is much more fun).   Just in case you haven’t read it yet, the land development code draft is available on the city website and the “satellite” website for the land development code and YOUR comments is up and running and you can find the  the draft zoning map and notices of meetings and updates on the process there, too.

According to the timeline the City Council adopted, city boards and commissions were to submit their comments to the Planning Commission by July 31...and it’s August now and the EQC, EDA, HRA, and PRAB have all been busy (the EDA had a special meeting just today) although I don’t know if official comments have been turned in.    The Planning Commission has also been reviewing the draft regulations and, as they did with the Comp Plan, holding extra work sessions, attending other board and commission meetings and generally doing more than what Planning Commission members are expected to do.  If you see a PC member, give him or her a pat on the back or better yet.

But let’s take a step back and remember what we’re supposed to be doing.

1. Comprehensive Plan: The Council adopted a new Comprehensive Plan in 2008 after a big kickoff at the Armory and a couple years of work by the Planning Commission.  Northfield’s Charter requires that we adopt no ordinance in conflict with the Comp Plan – so that’s one indication of the importance this plan should have.   The Comp Plan’s main role is to capture the city’s vision for its future in order to guide the writing of our “official controls.”   In other words, the Comp Plan is not just a pretty picture of Northfield, but is the foundation for what we regulate and how we do it so we actually get development which matches the pretty picture.  The Comp Plan guides, the land development code regulates.  So, any attempt to draft land use ordinances not only cannot (by Charter) conflict with the Comp Plan, but should also result in regulations which make the Comp Plan happen.

2. Comp plan in brief: The best summary of the Comp Plan is the 12 Land Use principles which guided the writing of the Plan.   You can read the Goals, objectives and strategies which came from these principles in the Implementation chapter of the Comp Plan.

3. From plan to ordinance: Unfortunately, the draft has homed in on “enhance small town character” -a statement so general as to be almost vacuous from a regulatory point of view-and to use the example of our commercial zoning districts-has flattened “enhance small town character” into “make more stuff look like Division Street” by expanding regulations which currently apply only in the heart of downtown to west of Highway 3 and south.    The draft regulations do not yet do much to consider the other principles which seek to prioritize infill and redevelopment, make development more sustainable/environmentally conscious, and create better pedestrian and bicycle connections (and to do all this in ways which are achievable and sustainable in economic terms).

4. The problem as I see it: I have heard, repeatedly, that this code is supposed to tell developers “what Northfield wants.”     So far, though, the draft regulations make pretty timid statements about what “Northfield wants.”   When I read some cities’ regulations, it really is clear what that city wants (see Burlington, VT or the Arlington, VA Columbia Pike Revitalization Project if you like to read land use codes).  I’m proud of the Council for including broad input from city boards and commissions, the NDDC, local builders, and the Chamber as part of the review process despite city staff’s recommendation not to do so.  These groups are asking invaluable questions, making excellent suggestions  and helping frame “what Northfield wants.”   The Planning Commission has much work to do this Fall and I’m counting on them to bring the draft code much closer to stating what Northfield wants as well as flag those policy issues which the Council needs to decide.

6. So, what next? You can get a peek at the regulations on August 18 @ the Armory.    You can always watch the sausage being made at any of the meetings listed on the land development code website.  Or comment here or on the land development code website.

Land development developments

CompPlanCoverOh my have I been busy with the draft of the land development code…I attended at least 6 meetings focused on the regulations this past week with many more to come.  You can look at the draft regulations, make comments, read others’ comments and find out who’s meeting to discuss the code here.

I am still not convinced the city knows what sort of development it wants to happen (or where it wants it to happen), nor how and to what extent it would like to regulate development.   To be fair, it is no small task to get from a Big Picture Comprehensive Plan to the minutiae of ordinance language.  If you want to know how to do it, read on.  If you just want the pretty picture, well, wait a few months and see what comes out the other end of the process.

Review: The 2008 Comprehensive Plan is the basis for the land development regulations.   The 2008 Comprehensive Plan (adopted by the City Council in November 2008) established Northfield’s goals and objectives for future development.  But a Comp Plan only guides development; it is not a land use control – ordinances are official controls.   So, Northfield must adopt a new land use ordinance to implement the Comp Plan’s goals.

Comp Plan in a nutshell: 12 Land Use Principles which guided the development of the Comp Plan:

1. The small town character will be enhanced.

2. The natural environment will be protected, enhanced and better integrated into the community.

3. The preference for accommodating future growth is in infill locations, then redevelopment/land intensification opportunities, and then on the edge of existing developed areas.

4. New and redeveloped residential communities (areas) will have strong neighborhood qualities.

5. Environmentally-sensitive and sustainable practices will be integrated into new developments and redeveloped areas.

6. Places with a mix of uses that are distinctive and contribute to increasing the city’s overall vitality are preferred.

7. Neighborhood-serving commercial will be small scale and integrated with the residential context.

8. A wider range of housing choices will be encouraged – in the community as well as in neighborhoods.

9. Rural character of certain areas of the community will be protected.

10. Streets will create an attractive public realm and be exceptional places for people.

11. Places will be better connected, in part to improve the function of the street network and also to better serve neighborhoods.

12. Opportunities will be created to walk and bike throughout the community.

and the Comp Plan’s land use goal: An efficient use of land resources that emphasizes strategic development, redevelopment, and land intensification, preserves environmentally significant areas and agricultural resources, preserves a strong and vibrant downtown, preserves of a sense of place, and promotes sustainable planning practices.

So now we need to write development regulations which will require or encourage (that’s 1 issue) land development which promotes small-towniness and pedestrian friendliness in an environmentally sustainable way.

Land development codes (can) regulate

  • uses: What sort of activity is allowed a particular piece of land?  Typical uses are residential (subdivided by the type of structure – single family, two-family, multi-family), commercial (retail, offices of various sorts, service businesses…this can be broken up into a near infinite array of possible uses as well as by size), industrial, and “mixed use” (of which more later).
  • physical form: This includes lot sizes (length, width and area), setbacks and build-to lines (regulating where on a lot a building is situated), building size (area, height, number of floors, etc.), building orientation (parallel to street, requiring buildings on the Cannon River to have “front” facades on both the street and river side), relation to other buildings (principal vs. accessory structures, relative size and shape)
  • appearance: architectural features (windows, materials, roof pitch, and much much more), landscaping, screening undesirable features
  • connectivity: parking, street design/width, sidewalks or not, bike parking, trails
  • location: where in Northfield can homes be built?  large retail?  industrial facilities?
  • review process: who decides whether you can build that addition on your home, new residential subdivision, franchise on Highway 3 or new building in the downtown historic district?  Can you put a medical clinic there?  What about a veterinary clinic?  And what procedural steps are required?

It shouldn’t be too hard to see that translating “small town” (for example) into these categories is not particularly intuitive.  Add in other interests such as promoting economic development, transportation improvements and parks and the task becomes even more difficult.  So let’s tackle these things one or two at a time…

Stay tuned for location and the zoning map…

Also on the agenda: EDA & Master Plan for new Business Park

Not much information on this in the packet, but I’m looking forward to the discussion between the EDA and Council.  I listened to Locally Grown‘s podcast with Rick Estenson, EDA President and one of the leaders on the business plan project.

After the podcast, I have new questions. I’ve always had land use questions about the NW annexation site, and transportation questions, and environmental questions.  Now I have money questions.   Mr Estenson along with 2/3’s of the Locally Grown triumvirate talked about bonding for business park development and where on the city priority list this project would fall.  Given that $10+ million price tag for the Safety Center and the Library expansion which is in the works, where SHOULD this one be?  Yes, it has the possibility of generating tax dollars and other dollars for the City while the other projects do not.   What weight does that give?  Does everything I write have to end in a question mark?

And of course, the usual policy problem of how do we prioritize our decisions in Northfield at all? Do we prioritize or do we keep using the simming pool model – wait for facilities to absolutely fail before we act to replace what just broke?  How should we compare spending on facilities vs economic development initiatives?

Skateboards, the process continues

No rehash of Council discussion here (Read and listen to the coverage of the Council discussion over on Locally Grown here and here); instead I’ve tried to gather facts and questions about skateboards, skateparks and skaters to help those of us on the Council who aren’t skaters (that would be all of us) consider the issue thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Skateboard industry statistics: So, how many skaters are there and what other quantitative information is there about skaters, skateparks and skateboards?

From Skaters for Public Skateparks Skater Census:

In any given community, roughly 4.6% [of the population] will be casual skateboarders and half of those will be weekly skaters.

From the International Association of Skateboard Companies Nov/Dec 2008 newsletter:

The NSGA [National Sporting Goods Association] 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report shows skateboarding participation increased by 5.2% from 2005-2006. In 2006 there were 11.1 Million Total Skateboarders compared to 10.5 Million in 2005.

From Shop Eat Surf:

Skateboarding has 11.08 million participants and is a $4.8 billion market. The size of market has declined 2 percent since 2007.  The market is aging, with fewer skateboarders saying they skate everyday. In 2008, 71 percent of participants were 12 to 17 years old. In 2006, 45 percent fit that age range…The current decrease in key 10 to 14 year old demographic is impacting the primary skateboard audience…The growth in the 5-to-9 year old age segment since 2002 may cause another surge in board sports participation by 2010.

Assuming the Skater Census [from 2007] is reliable, 4.6% of 20,000 people would be 920 skaters; 4.6% of 15,000 would be 690 skaters. Compare: the Northfield Soccer Association has between 600 and 700 players (from age 4 through 17) registered in its programs in 2009 (down by about 100 players from 2008) and has an arrangement with the City for scheduling and maintaining the soccer fields on City owned land at Spring Creek Soccer Complex. With the decline noted above, would numbers in this range be sufficient to consider moving ahead with a skatepark?

What do skatepark advocates say? They say quite a lot…  Skaters for Public Skateparks is a non-profit skatepark advocacy organization “dedicated to providing the informatioin necessary to ensure safe, rewarding, freely-accessible skateparks are available to all skateboarders”  which also has a step by step guide to public skatepark development.  Take a look.

Are we asking the right questions? So far, we’ve heard about perceived problems with skater behavior, questions about noise, speculation about safety, and statements about why one park or another is the wrong place, but I’m just not convinced we’ve asked some of the relevant questions and even though it’s pretty late in the game to be asking them now, here are some questions and some possible considerations pro and con but not necessarily coming out with a recommendation at the end.

1.   Should Northfield support development of a skatepark at this time and why? A pretty basic question and we’ve been presuming the answer is yes, but the “why” part has been a bit elusive.

Skaters would like a place to skate which is fun (and legal) and/or we’d like to get skaters off the street

  • Skating is big business; there are economic development possibilities for a skatepark
  • There has been a slight drop off in skateboard numbers; is this cause for concern about the longevity of the sport?
  • A skateplaza, by providing a good place to skate, could be a community builder for the youth who skate there
  • Would a skateplaza solve the problem or perceived problem of youth, skateboards and poor behavior?  Would skaters use it?

Northfield provides support for facilities for “organized” sports of hockey, soccer, baseball.

  • Skating, viewed as a sport, should receive equitable treatment.
  • Skating is different from other youth sports in that it does not have an official season, a managing organization which collects fees, oversees operations, etc.

Northfield should support its youth

  • Northfield city government is not the entity centrally responsible for youth sports/recreation programs in the city; private groups (sports associations,YMCA) and school district/community education missions are more narrowly targeted for these facilities and services.
  • For those sports and other activities which the city does support in its parks and facilities, there are also agreements with private entities for maintenance and upkeep
  • Supporting youth may mean offering technical assistance, leading collaborative efforts, and other actions which do not entail dedicating public land or ongoing financial support to a skateplaza
  • Supporting youth may also mean thinking more broadly about youth in Northfield rather than expending many resources for one group
  • Are we moving ahead with the skateplaza because we didn’t know how to say “no” to youth earlier in the process.

Northfield city government must make wise financial decisions for the short and long term

  • What resources (land, staff resources, and dollars) should city government responsibility allocate for this activity?
  • What’s the best projection of costs for development and maintenance?
  • Are there examples of other skateparks which could guide our cost/benefit planning?

2.   Is a single location skateplaza the best way to provide space to skate?

  • Concentration of benefits? A skatepark provides one place for skaters to meet, skate together and socialize.  As a single facility, it could be a destination for skaters in the region as well as the city.  The skatepark would have symbolic value showing support for youth, non-traditional sports, and an achievement by the Skateboard Coalition in advocating for, developing and helping fund the facility.
  • Concentration of problems? One location also forces issues of safety for many skaters, parking, restrooms, trash, maintenance, concerns about noise, trash, behavior (real or perceived) etc. connected with a facility.
  • What’s the best analogy? Is a skateplaza more like the pool or ice arena (limited access, supervised, possible to impose membership requirements and fees, etc.), soccer or baseball fields (scheduled and maintained by an association, but still available for pick up games and informal play when not in use by the official group), or a playground (has equipment for play whenever someone wants to play, supervision, if provided, is by parents, friends, neighbors or passersby).  Is skating a sport which needs a single facility?
  • What would happen if Northfield became a more skateable city, rather than building a single skateplaza? What would happen if we had skateable “equipment” in multiple parks and along trails?  What if skateable elements were a part of park development more generally in the same way we consider playground equipment and benches?  This model would make skateboard facilities expandable and would make smaller incremental investment possible.  There’s the danger that after the first investment, no more would be made.

Did you want a conclusion down here at the bottom? Still thinking about both outcome and strategy, time and money.

Draft of new land development regualtions is now available

For those of you who have been anxious to get your hands and/or eyes on the latest draft of the land development regulations, the draft is available on the Planning Commission page (and it’s on their agenda, too).  It now weighs in at 291 pages and you’ll be reading more about it here as the days, weeks, and months go by.  It would seem that the only thing taking longer than the Comp Plan/update regulations process is the skateboard park planning process…but I am not giving up hope on either one yet.

Dreaming of zoning

‘Tis true, I have been dreaming about zoning regulations.  My dream was about a development of new buildings and whether each one fit the regulations.  There were hideous structures which clearly met the requirements of the code and there were thoughtfully designed and intelligently sited structures which didn’t including one which did not meet the requirement of having the front facade parallel to the street because the front facade was at a 30 degree angle (but fulfilled all pedestrian-friendly requirements and was highly compatible with its neighborhood).

I view dreams as sophisticated brain farts rather than Freudian, but even random escapes of mental gas can be useful.  I see two things here – one personal and the rest policy-related (the personal one has policy implications, too).

First, the personal. This is my house.  DSC00958House snow vertical

The colors are not typical, although in the context of my older neighborhood of homes of varied sizes, styles and colors it is compatible.  Then there’s the addition at a 45 degree angle (designed by Peter Schmelzer over at Vivus).  I would like to ensure that any regulations allow for innovation and individality as property is used and reused to meet changing needs.  I ask: would the regulations allow my house?

Policy: One of the big questions when it comes to zoning and land development regulations is: how much regulation do we want?  Northfield has sort of headed in the direction of a form-based code and toward more regulation of how buildings are placed on their site, how big they can be, and what architectural features are appropriate.  The Council, as policymakers, needs to decide how far down this road they would like to go.

On the design regulation side, I’m a little nervous about how many architectural details we should specify.  The current draft stipulates that for large multifamily dwellings (aparments or townhomes) the developer is shall to “provide a minimum of three of the following design features for each  residential unit facing the street” and lists recessed entrance, covered porch, several window styles…I’ve been trying to imagine what the worst combination of features I can concoct.

For building location and massing, I’m completely on-board however.   Downtown looks and feels the way it does because the buildings abut the sidewalk (we call that zero lot line development), the entrances are obvious and prominent, there are windows to look into and out of, street trees, benches, and it is at a scale which is walkable.  Compare River Park Mall which close to downtown, but with a very different feel.  The parking is most prominent with the 1 story building set back from the street.  Pedestrians walk around the outside of the parking lot reaching stores by cutting across the parking lot or going all the way around.  The entrances are tucked under a porch of sorts and the facade is just flat We can also complain that there is no attention to the river side of the mall.  If, when River Park Mall is redeveloped, Northfield required a more downtown development pattern (zero lot line development, parking at the side, multi-story and mixed uses, focus on the river) we’d see something different and better.  For residential areas, ensuring that houses face parks and streets with garages set back from front facades would effect similar changes in our more suburban developments.

Another policy consideration: by stipulating site and design requirements in great detail in the regulations themselves, the burden of decision-making shifts away from the model of Planning Commission recommendation followed by City Council decision-making (which is typical now), to more administrative (city staff or city staff with add’l assistance from what we’re calling the Design Review Committee) approvals.  Does the City want to give decision-making power to city staff without oversight or input from appointed or elected officials.  On the plus side, administrative approvals are quicker and supposed to be easier – this makes developers happy and makes the city easier to do business with.  On the other hand, the process becomes less transparent and accountable.   I’m cautiously in favor of more administrative approvals, although I think Council needs to be involved in bigger projects…but I’m not quite sure how.  Still thinking here (perhaps another dream or two is needed).

Yet another policy consideration: form based regulation vs. use-based regulation.  Right now, the city has established zoning districts and there are uses for structures which are permitted in each one with the presumption that if a use is not listed, then it is not permitted.  Form-based codes rely more on the size and placement of the building – the form of development – and less on use (the shift would be that if a use is not explicitly prohibited it is allowed).  I’m in favor of de-emphasizing uses.  Some of the most torturous decision-making I’ve been involved with or witmessed in Northfield has been related to whether or not a particular business fit into a use category.  Some uses (say whose selling pornography or guns) should be strictly regulated in terms of where they can locate.  The much broader range of businesses are probably better located by their impacts in terms of parking, pollution (air, noise or light), traffic, etc. than by caring whether it is a clinic for animals or humans or a general office or a medical office.   Council needs to weigh in on how much it wants to control uses vs. size/shape/impact.

Picking battles

Picking one’s battles is different from picking a fight – the former is the judicious selection of which issues to champion and the latter is looking for trouble. I feel like I am picking both a battle and a fight now that the land development regulations are moving slowly toward final review and adoption.

Battle: Yes, land development regulations are important. We adopted a new Comprehensive Plan in 2008 which takes a bold position about how and where Northfield should grow.   Northfield should grow like the north part of “my” Ward 2 with its grid pattern of streets, sidewalks, homes close to and oriented toward the street, etc. and less like the south part of Ward 2 with its culs de sac, homes set back from street, with the rear of houses facing parks and streets.  Northfield should grow more like downtown than Highway 3.   The city should concentrate on infill and redevelopment not growth at the edges of town (with the NW annexation area being an exception I still question).  Getting this development pattern to happen means the zoning and land development regulations have to encourage or require building placement which faces streets, limits and camouflages parking lots, narrows streets, allows mixing uses (housing with commercial/retail uses in the same building/development – again, think “Downtown Northfield”), and fosters the creation of public spaces and walkable neighborhoods.  AND does it without imposing a large procedural or monetary cost on developers to accomplish these goals.   See the links about land use and smart growth on my Interesting Links page for additional background)

The Land Use Advisory Group which was formed to provide input for writing the regulations had its last meeting yesterday.  This group included representatives from city boards and commissions, local builders, architects, and engineers as well as city staff and a Council representative – first Dixon Bond and then me.    The developer and architect input was very helpful – these folks are the ones who could say: “Well, if you have that regulation, this is what I’ll have to do to meet it in terms of my cash flow, time line, etc. and here’s what the outcome will be.”   (For those who may be worrying that we are bending over backwards to serve developers, you are partially right.  My goal is to establish clear standards for the kind of development Northfield wants and then make it as easy, predictable and quick for developers to do what we want).

I’ve wanted to rewrite the land development regulations since 2001 when I joined the Planning Commission.  We adopted a 2001 Comp Plan and…did nothing about the regulations which actually make a Plan reality (and made a lot of iffy decisions engendered by the mismatch between Plan and Code).    Now we’ve adopted the 2008 Comp Plan – a much better plan than the 2001 model – and it is crucial to bring the goals and vision down to earth with regulations.  This is a battle worth fighting.

Fight:  Now that we have a draft of new regulations from the Consultant Wendy Moeller of  McBride Dale Clarion out of Cincinnati – a very rough draft – and the Land Use Advisory Group has finished its meetings, what happens next? [the draft is not available on-line that I know of]

City Planner Dan Olson is recommending (in the report for this week’s worksession) that the Planning Commission review the draft, that we hold a few public/community meetings, hold the legally required public meeting, Planning Commission recommends adoption and the Council adopts the regulations by October.   Boards and Commissions such as the EQC, HRA and EDA would be explicitly excluded on the grounds that these boards already had buy-in via the Land Use Advisory Group.

I think this recommendation should be ignored.

The Land Use Advisory Group did not systematically review the draft to determine how well it carries out the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, they were still discussing other Big Issues in the regulations yesterday.

We need our boards and commissions to carefully review the regulations for how well they implement the Comp Plan goals related to that board’s expertise – for the HRA, how do the regulations “ensure opportunities for development of alternative housing types and styles”  or “encourage developments with a mix of housing price ranges”?

We could also ask the NDDC and Chamber to review them.  The Colleges are already slated to get a look at them.

I don’t want to pick a fight with staff or other Council members, but this is an important enough battle that I will fight (diplomatically, I hope).  We’re at that point in this project when I think pretty much everyone, me included, would like to see it Done.   The Comp Plan/Regulation process has been going on for almost 3 years now.    But it’s Not Done Yet.

Blog vs. slog – or, how to think about the new Land Development regulations

I have the 275 page draft of the new Land Development Regulations on my desk and I’ve been thinking about how best to read this tome, how (as the Planning Commission liaison) to provide some concise policy guidance to the Council, how to ensure the regulations really do further the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, and how to write about the regulations here.

Unfortunately, this is a crucially important issue which does not lend itself well to little bloggy bites, but requires rather slow slogging through the big issues and the small details.

My plan for my own review looks something like this:

  1. Identify new policy issues Council must consider (there are regulations for small wind turnbines in residential neighborhoods, and significant changes to the development review policy, for example).
  2. Compare key provisions to Comprehensive Plan goals and objectives
  3. Read for consistency and clarity
  4. Check development review process for simplicity and predictability.

Slow and steady – I’d love to have this ordinance in place with hare-like speed, but slower more careful work is needed.

City Council stuff this week

moviesignIt’s the 4th Monday which often means the Council gets a meetingless evening.  Not this week, however. There is a special Council meeting (“special” incidentally, does not mean that there is something special or ‘specially important or ‘specially controversial on the agenda but only that the meeting is not a “regular” meeting happening on the 1st or 3rd Monday and requires public notice, etc.   Sometimes special meetings are really special, but often the business is routine but out of synch with the regular calendar).

On the agenda this week: consider approving an outdoor dining permit for the Hideaway on Division Street (we approved changes to the ordinance at our last meeting to continue to permit these uses) and consider a grant proposal put forward by the Environmental Quality Commission to fund an energy coordinator and several energy conservation initiatives.   As with the wind ordinance, this another backwards policy decision – that is, the previous Council accepted (but did not adopt) the Energy Task Force report and its recommendations are not (yet) the policy of the City.  I’m particularly dubious about funding staff on “soft money” because the sustainablility of this practice is questionable.   Opposing the manner in which decisons are made tends to make folks think I’m opposed to the subject matter, but this isn’t so –  I am in favor of moving ahead with good energy and resource management, but we’re putting the cart before the horse again.

Then we adjouorn to a worksession where we consider the skateboard park again after the Council sent the issue back to the Park Board, a proposal for allowing administrative citations which was postponed from a previous worksession, and a discussion of the NDDC‘s Community Expectations policy.