Economic Development Authority: After a long period during which the Authority operated with only four members, there is now a full group: Jack Hoschouer, President; Fred Rogers, Vice President; Ray Cox, Treasurer; Todd Bornhauser; Dale Gehring. There are two City Council representatives: Rhonda Pownell and David Ludescher. During the same period, the Authority underwent change in staffing. At present, there is a .6 FTE staff position, paid from the tax levy set for funding the Authority. Chris Heineman, Community Planning and Development Director and Community Development Coordinator, Michele Merxbauer, share the position. The EDA also contracts with the Northfield Enterprise Center to assist with the EDA loan program.
The 2013-14 EDA Work Plan was the focus of the discussion. (http://mn-northfield.civicplus.com/archives/36/Packet_RN686.pdf) Mr. Hoschouer reported that communication with other economic development partners, the Chamber of Commerce in particular, has improved. Recently, the EDA contracted the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation to do a parking study. Councilor Dave DeLong asked about collaboration with surrounding townships and the counties to determine their goals, one of the 2012-14 EDA priorities. Staff has met with representatives of regional groups to begin these discussions.
Retention of present businesses, work on infill development and redevelopment, and review of EDA policies and procedures were among the issues in the plan. Councilor Suzie Nakasian asked whether a survey of local businesses to determine their concerns and plans was contemplated. Councilor Pownell suggested that this could be done, working with the Minnesota Extension Office.
Mr. Cox and Councilor Ludescher raised the issue of the burden property taxes put on businesses and emphasized the need to broaden the tax base to alleviate this. Councilor DeLong added that there is a perception that Northfield isn’t business friendly. “Perception is reality,” said Mr. Cox, noting that the EDA is considering a focus group to get feedback on that perception. It is unlikely that there will be massive changes in the state formula, so local development is critical to increased tax base. The council should consider lobbying at state level, suggested Councilor Erica Zweifel.
The group also talked about workforce development, including retaining local graduates as well as attracting them later when they are ready to settle down. Mayor Graham mentioned that Lakeville North High School is creating academies to open in the 2013-14 school year offering hands on experience in business while maintaining their high school course work.
Planning Commission: With Richard Schulte, Chair, as spokesman, Alice Thomas, Vice Chair, Commissioners Steve Rholl, Ivan Imm and Joe Gasior met with the council to discuss the Land Development Code and the Commission’s 2012 work plan. Approved in August 2011, the LDC has undergone further work, and has been amended several times. This work has followed creation and adoption of the city 's Comprehensive Land Use Plan in 2008 and creates regulations for implementing it. City staff also furnished a 9 point list of Comprehensive Plan Residential Land Use Principles at the meeting which are salient to the discussion of the LDC discussion. Perhaps these will be added to the online version of the agenda materials.
Further work on the LDC has included meeting with developers to determine their concerns. Staff recommends dividing pending code changes into “technical” amendments, that can be reviewed and adopted at a reasonable cost, and “structural” amendments that will be more expensive because they affect multiple sections in the LDC. The Commission has designed a path for moving forward, including appropriating $87,000 for contracted services to assist staff in evaluating and improving the LDC. The plan set forth for the LDC revision will include outreach by the Commission to the community in order to gather suggestions for improvement and to communicate their plan for amending the existing Code.
Because this is a new code and city staff has undergone change during its creation, interpreting and applying it has been challenging. The previous code tended to be based on guidelines, while the new one is prescriptive. Mr. Schulte noted that there is a tension between guidelines and prescription. Guidelines may provide flexibility, but prescription can create fairness. It is a balancing act. Mr. Schulte remarked that, “the whole concept of regulation makes Americans squirm, but they are necessary,” and he cited regulation of gas and electric appliances for safety. In this case, if you make the code less prescriptive, you may have the problems again of fairness.
Mr. Gasior suggested that until we understand the problems, we don’t know how to fix the code. Councilor Zweifel said she liked the outline of the process and Councilor Jessica Peterson White agreed, saying she admired their perseverance and appreciated their driving toward the real purpose of the code.
Council Work Plan: Mr. Madigan distributed a large chart documenting about 30 items, suggesting a timeline and the responsible parties. He also distributed a possible schedule for council meetings through May. I did not received copies of these, but they may be available on the city website, once staff puts them there.