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Northfield City Council Work Session - May 14, 2013

May 15, 2013 at 10:01 pm
By Jane McWilliams

Budget Development Discussion:  From now until final adoption in December, the council will work on setting the budget for two-year budget cycle, including consideration of not only expenditures, but also revenue sources. Finance Director Kathleen McBride began the process with: a proposed budget development calendar: an outline of prospects for Local Government Aid, depending on decisions of the current state legislature; and consideration of local property tax levies. 

In each category, she listed discussion points for the council to take up by way of providing guidance for staff in the budget development process.  For example, how should the council balance an increase in LGA with property tax levels? Under what circumstances would they support a higher increase in the General Fund Levy?

Ms McBride noted that there are not only councilors for whom the budget process is new, but staff members as well and this may affect meeting the budget calendar deadlines on schedule.

City Regulations and the Downtown Post Office Building:  Director of Planning and Community Development Chris Heineman reviewed the history of the post office sale. It has been on the market since 2011, for $795,000.00. Although the United States Postal Service has received several offers, none has been accepted, nor have counter offers been made. The city Economic Development Authority had an independent appraisal done in 2012, which reported a market value of $323,000.

The impact of city regulations should the post office be sold to an independent third party was the focus of the presentation. First, the property will need to be rezoned from Public and Institutional (PI-S) to Downtown (CI-B). Because of the historic designation, the any exterior changes to the building must be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. According to Mr. Heineman, there may be covenants placed on the interior renovations as part of the federal regulations. He also listed eight possible city code provisions, which would apply, depending on the use of the building.

An informational item only, the council will not be asked for action at this time. The USPS, should they accept a purchase agreement, will need to complete the federal (Section 104) process in order for the buyer to gain clear title. In the meantime, the Save Our Post Office group and the HPC, in preparation for the Section 106 process, are drafting building covenants which will require council review. He mentioned that there are potential state and federal tax credits for building restoration.

In order for all councilors to have adequate background, City Administrator Tim Madigan said he would prepare a list of actions taken to date on this matter.

Business Parks to become Enterprise Parks: Mr. Madigan sought authorization from the council to prepare a plan to begin to market undeveloped land, as he put it, “in a manner that is in accordance with the community’s values and goals.” The 2010 plan created through a long process and at considerable expense, was not adopted or accepted by the council, partially because of questions as to its fit with the Comprehensive Plan. One concern was the inclusion in the plan of housing and retail, which Mr. Madigan said would be dropped from consideration in the renamed plan and the focus would be on commercial and manufacturing development. He hopes to return to the council with a proposal in August or September, following consultation with the Planning Commission and the Economic Development Authority.

Councilors commented on the proposal. Councilor Erica Zweifel said she hoped that it would not be isolated from other things the city is doing for economic development, that on-site energy generation be encouraged and that the cost of long-term maintenance be taken into consideration. Councilor David Ludescher warned that if we make the development too compact it drives prices up. “We need to make it clear we want industry and then people will come to us with ideas” but they will have to develop their own infrastructure. By isolating it into parcels, and with a “driver which makes others possible”, this can be done in a phased fashion, according to Mr. Madigan. Mayor Dana Graham noted that there are 60 acres with infrastructure, which could be marketed as “shovel ready.” Several councilors underscored the need to engage surrounding townships in the discussion. The city should “travel light, but keep moving” said Mr. Madigan who added that this is a long term issue – five to ten years. 

Comments

  • May 17 2013 at 8:23 am
    kiffi summa

    I find it difficult to understand the discussion about the 530 Acres considering that NF owns NONE of that land, and I believe I am correct in saying that there does not even exist a development agreement... much less a purchase... agreement with any of the current farmers who do still own that acreage. At this point, any of those actual owners could sell to anyone they please... and then development would have to proceed through the city's guidelines with whatever could be negotiated on infrastructure, etc. My question to you, Jane is : was there any discussion of the ownership of the land, or any agreements which might exert any control?

  • May 17 2013 at 8:32 am
    Margit Johnson

    Thanks, Jane. Your wording about the revised concept, which eliminates residential and commercial, focusing on industrial, was clear -and to me, reassuring.

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