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Northfield City Council Work Session - November 27, 2012

November 29, 2012 at 11:18 am
By Jane McWilliams

Skateboard Park Recommendation:  Members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board presented for council consideration their November 15 recommendation, which came from the 6-month study by a PRAB subcommittee (Grace Clark, David Hvistendahl and Neil Lutsky). (http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/p/Packet261.pdf)

With Ms Clark (who prepared an extensive minority report) dissenting, the PRAB recommended permanent placement of a skateboard park on the west side of Riverside Park. The back-up recommendation was Old Memorial Park. (Ms Clark favored Babcock.) The PRAB also recommended that $30,000 be allocated for construction of the 8,000 sq. ft. park.

Mr. Lutsky noted that safety and sound have been concerns of citizens and they deserve respect. He said if these prove problematic with the siting of the park at Riverside, “let’s try to engineer solutions.” In the short term, there may be ways to mitigate the sound of the present equipment. In the long term, concrete equipment would be less noisy. The walking and bicycling paths in the area already present challenges, but “we don’t want to keep people out of the parks,” Mr. Lutsky added.

Ms Clark said the noise in a residential setting is a key factor in her support of Babcock Park. That location could be a “possible palate for planning for a wonderful recreational area.” Mr. Hvistendahl noted that the River Corridor study is still under consideration in response to Councilor Susie Nakasian’s question about how Babcock Park site fits in the discussion.

Responding to Councilor Erica Zweifel’s suggestion, Mr. Knutson said it would be appropriate for the PRAB to take a leadership role in the design. Mayor Mary Rossing asked about timing of construction and Mr. Knutson said they hadn’t discussed this, but it depends on having the funding on hand. He added that he personally would be willing to be involved in the effort to raise funds. Mr. Hvistendahl noted that the Skateboard Coalition can’t raise money until there is a decision on the site and construction.

The council will take up this issue again at their December 4 meeting.

Transit Hub:  City staff recommends selection of the Q-Block as the highest rated of three sites under consideration for a transit hub. (Babcock Park and Laurel Court were the other options.) The city is in the process of preparing a final plan in compliance with requirements of the federal earmark grant awarded in 2006.  The funds must be used for correcting soil conditions and the site must be selected by December 31 or the funds will be forfeited. 

Consultant Don Sterna of WSB Engineering, presented an analysis of the three options from which the staff drew its recommendation.  Maps depicting the design of each option, including location of a shelter and parking areas were included. A letter from the Save the Northfield Depot organization (STND) in the packet supported the Q-Block site and noted that concerns expressed in the report can be “resolved and/or mitigated through collaboration between the city, STND, the state of Minnesota and the Federal Department of Transportation.” A letter from Peggy Prowe, Secretary of Friends of the Mill Towns State Trail, supported a multimodal transit hub at the Babcock Park location.

Mr. Sterna noted that the money could be used only for cleanup. The property, which has been under discussion as a site for the relocated depot, would need to be split and the depot located further north. If the city sells the cleaned up area, the new owners would need to repay the grant. It probably can be made to work for a combined project, according to Mr. Sterna, but the site of the relocated depot would be altered.  

Should the money be granted, the city may then apply for additional funds for construction of a transit facility. According to Finance Director Kathleen McBride, it also may be possible for the project to meet requirements for TIF funding.

It would be a lot easier if MNDOT were more flexible, according to Councilor Betsey Buckheit who suggested that by accepting the money “we’re just wedging ourselves into a corner.” Councilor Zweifel agreed that the federal funding “fell out of the sky – and the city didn’t plan for it” which explains the protracted discussion.  But she said the project serves a dual purpose: a transit hub with parking available for high volume weekends, and it keeps open the depot placement.

Police building Construction Update:  Mike Clark and Wayne Jones, DLR Group consultants, presented schematic designs for the safety facility to be constructed on the Gleason property on Riverview Drive. The full build-out design showed both the police and fire facilities. Other drawings illustrated only the police facility on the site, and a more detailed rendering of the building itself.

Unforeseen storm water issues on the site are not a major concern, but will add to the cost. Savings from an Xcel rebate for HVAC design may offset this. DRL has talked with the Planning Commission to determine how the design fits with the land use code and will discuss with that group the storm water and erosion control.

There is some flexibility in the cost depending on the size of the police car garage. Originally, a 19 or 20-car garage project cost $7.2 million.

The staff plans to bring the newly elected councilors and mayor together for an information session in December so they will be ready to make decisions in early 2013, including project design in early January.  Mr. Clark emphasized it is important to keep on schedule because construction must begin in May.

Budget – Final Review:  This was the last in a series of sessions and covered recommended changes to the final budget which the council will adopt at their December 4 meeting. At that meeting, there will be a hearing on the budget and on the property tax levies, which the council will also adopt at that time. For information on recommended changes to the levies and the budget, consult Item #5 in the packet (http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/p/Packet261.pdf)  The full budget document will be available on the city’s website.

River Study Update:  The council discussed how much preparation this council should make toward a comprehensive study of the Cannon River in the Northfield Area or whether to defer this to the next council. The 2013 budget contains $22,000 for costs related to the study.  The consensus was that the new council should take up the planning for the process and scope of this in the creation of their 2013 work plan.

Observer Comment regarding "Skateboard Park Recommendation": In my conversation with Public Works Department staff member, TJ Heinricy, I learned that once the decision is made and funds are available, construction of a concrete pad for the park would take” a matter of days”. He said that it is possible to add concrete ramps at a later time, should that be necessary. There may be trees available for creating a sound barrier on the east side of the park.

Observer Comment regarding "Transit Hub": At the Transit Hub Stakeholders meeting today (Wednesday), Joe Stapf, Public Works Director, said that if the site is cleaned up with federal dollars an application for construction of a facility will be rated high.  According to Alice Thomas, STND advocate, if the FTA chooses to fund the Q-Block, they, MNDOT, the city and STND could decide what portion goes to which use. The placement of the depot isn’t crucial. It fits better in the southern portion of the area, but it will also work in the northern portion. Once the council takes action, the parties can continue discussion about depot and parking locations as well as how depot planning and FTA/MDOT requirements for a transit facility might be combined. 

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