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Northfield City Council Meeting and Work Session - December 11, 2012

December 12, 2012 at 5:04 pm
By Jane McWilliams

At the reception in honor of retiring members of the council, Mayor Mary Rossing, Betsey Buckheit and Councilor Ivan Imm, City Administrator Tim Madigan presented each with a commemorative plaque and thanked them for their service to the city of Northfield.  Also present was newly elected mayor, Dana Graham. Mayor Rossing said she had made a bet with him that the meeting would adjourn at 9:20. In fact, it did at 9:21!

Parking Issues:  There were two items related to parking: potential creation of an expanded parking lot in the property at 304 Washington Street and improved management of existing downtown parking.  Toward the goal of expanded parking, Born to Run Enterprises owners Brett Reese and Steve Schmidt proposed that they sell the Washington St. property to the city and that they would relocate the apartment on that property to 415 Water Street.

Councilor Jessica Peterson White noted that there are tradeoffs: acquisition of additional downtown parking versus loss of affordable housing downtown. She wondered whether the new site would be appropriate for families. Although the council directed the staff to continue conversations with BTR, at the same time, they noted the importance of consideration of the residents’ welfare.

According to their November 19 memo, BTR has agreed to favorable terms on the purchase of property on Highway 3, commonly known as the Byzantine Property, and will use it for the near term as a parking lot.  For the long term, they suggested several options: that the city purchase and own the Byzantine property, partner with a group as an owner or lease the property for parking in the short term, with the long term goal to redevelop the site to its “highest and best use.”

The Council Parking Committee (Councilors Betsey Buckheit and Suzie Nakasian) proposed a plan for engaging stakeholders in discussions of how best to manage downtown parking. The Northfield Downtown Development Corporation (NDDC), which will also prepare a recommendation based on the input, will organize this process. Use of social media would be part of the process. Under consideration is NDDC’s contracting Wigley and Associates to create and moderate this aspect of the discussion on a web site yet to be determined. The details of the plan still need to be fleshed out, according to Mr. Madigan, but could be a model for other things.  The council approved the plan, with the understanding it would include the wider downtown area.

Contract with NDDC: Related to the foregoing was discussion and approval of the city’s 2013 Consultant Service Contract with NDDC with the understanding that the council would receive and review the NDDC work plan which would include benchmarks for later assessment.

Business Park: Mr. Madigan said the purpose tonight was to reacquaint the council with the January 2011 Business and Industrial Park Master Plan in preparation for discussion with the new council in 2013. Mayor Rossing asked her colleagues what needs to be in the plan in order for the council to adopt it, noting that it is not necessarily a contract. She said the city needs to provide a wide spectrum of business space and to “keep our ear to the ground to anticipate, and not react and not have anything available” for interested businesses. Councilor Buckheit said she opposed the plan because of the expense of implementation. The city needs to evaluate the cost of infrastructure – to decide when and where to move ahead. “We should not assume this plan will happen without better policy guidelines” which should precede adopting the plan. “It is critical to evaluate what the city is willing to do to subsidize business. “ She added that the council had chosen to overlook the area in Bridgwater Townshhip which wouldn’t involve infrastructure costs.

Councilor Peterson White said adopting the plan would indicate that it is seen in the abstract to be a worthwhile use of the city’s resources. Councilor Nakasian added that until we have a cost analysis we can’t move forward.  Councilor Rhonda Pownell said that she hopes the new council can agree on what can be moved forward. “We have a guide for the strategic area near the hospital.”  The plan was started 10 years ago, noted Councilor Erica Zweifel, and the city is in a different place in terms of the economy. A business park may not be the right term any more.

Administrator’s Report:  Have a happy holiday!

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