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Northfield City Council Work Session - May 28, 2013

May 29, 2013 at 10:12 pm
By Jane McWilliams

303/305 Water Street Proposals:  At their May 7, 2013 meeting, after reviewing his two options generated by the 2011 Request for Proposal for redevelopment of the Water Street property, the council asked developer David Hvistendahl to work with city staff to develop a third option. It should include a public walkway next to Basil’s Pizza with a patio next to Froggy Bottoms River Pub, and connect Water Street to the River Walk.  By the end of the discussion at this meeting, all three of Mr. Hvistendahl’s proposals were effectively tabled until the council could see a staff-created plan which would have the city retain ownership of the two properties, demolish the structures and create an open plaza. City Administrator Tim Madigan proposed this action plan after the five-minute break the council took in order for members to try to conduct a less contentious conversation.

Mr. Hvistendahl’s preferred option would improve the street view of the properties in compliance with Downtown Historic District guidelines. Two code required bathrooms, a bar and seating for 70 patrons would be created in the interior. The wooden deck outside would remain, with steps to the River Walk, provision for sound and light for music, and other amenities. The second option would entail demolishing the buildings and rebuilding the deck. The third plan, a new patio and walkway, would provide deck space and an 8-foot wide walkway, which, because of the slope, would require a small flight of stairs to minimize the incline. The packet included a chart comparing the costs to the city and to the developer of each proposal as well as the future tax value of the properties. Mr. Hvistendahl said outside construction could be accomplished this summer, but the interior work is slower because the state approval process takes time. Use of the decks would be for seasonal use only, while the building, year round.

The developer’s materials documented how the projects support the objectives in the comprehensive plan. Although the council added the walkway component in May, the RFP stated as its purpose: To “encourage redevelopment and intensification in the downtown as a means to maintain and increase the vitality of this area, and (2) generate the type of growth which preserves Northfield's small town character. In addition, given the location of this site adjacent to the Cannon River, the City would like to advance its policies to encourage redevelopment to maximize the advantage the river corridor creates for such opportunities.”

Several councilors seemed to want to add goals for this project. For example, Councilor Jessica Peterson White wondered what would be the highest and best use of the west side of the river. She would like to see other options, including an open space, with a public plaza in that location. Councilor Suzie Nakasian reminded the council of the planning under way for the 3rd Street and Highway 3 crossing which would line up perfectly with such a space and tie it in with the anticipated transit hub on the Q-Block.  Option #3 comes closest, but the council needs to look at another option. Councilor Rhonda Pownell asked, “Is this a good opportunity to put in a whole new building?” She added that she wants to keep the way open to redevelop the west side of the river Suggesting some frustration that his colleagues were adding a 4th option, Councilor David DeLong said he could support either option one or two or three as presented by Mr. Hvistendahl.

Mr. Madigan said if the city maintains ownership and demolished the buildings and develops the plaza it might cost around $100,000, while Mr. Heineman added that it might be closer to $200,000 with the walkway and improvements to the river wall included. Councilor David Ludescher added that that doesn’t figure in the taxes the city would lose by taking ownership.

Mayor Dana Graham suggested that during the two years the Pitsava family was working on their proposal, they didn’t get half the scrutiny the council is giving this one. It is an area of blight, which needs to be taken care of, and it could be an economic benefit to the city. “It is the best deal for the city. We don’t need another walk – we have one 40 feet from this one.” He asked why the council didn’t give the property this kind of scrutiny two years earlier when they created the RFP. He said the conversation underscores Northfield’s well-deserved reputation for being hard to deal with. Councilor Rhonda Pownell said that the council is not being personal in delaying consideration of Mr. Hvistendahl’s proposals.

Convention and Visitors Bureau Contract, Ordinance and Bylaws: In response to the council’s direction, these were created by the CVB by consulting with other communities. Still to be reworked is the obsolete “scope of services” document, which will become a work plan for the CVB’s contract with the city. The composition of the 11 member board was changed, eliminating a chamber member, and designating representation of various stakeholders. The council discussed adding college representatives. Several councilors said an open appointment process should be undertaken. Mr. Madigan said that the CVB would take the council’s suggestions and bring the contract back for a vote.

Proposal for Bridge Square Deck:  The council reviewed a proposal to remove the deck for 11 Bridge Square (the Carlson Capital Management building) the cost of which would be divided between the city and the owner. If approved by the city, a new cantilevered deck would be constructed instead, all costs of which would be the owner’s. Repair to the river wall would be borne by the city.

Utility Rate Discussion: As part of the budget process, the city establishes utility rates (or increases) based on each utility’s financial status and capital needs.

Special Assessment Policy:  The current policy is considered complex and difficult to explain, according to Public Works Director City Engineer Joe Stapf. He would suggest a fixed rate. This is the beginning of a discussion and consideration of this matter.

Fire Service Study:  Could not be discussed, as the study was not yet publicly available. When it is, the council will want to focus in representation, cost sharing and the governance structure according to Councilors Zweifel and Pownell, council representatives on the Study Group.

Land Development Code Plan:  Not discussed at this meeting which was adjourned at 10:10 p.m.


  • June 1 2013 at 8:09 am
    kiffi summa

    Unfortunately, this whole discussion about a public plaza with a legitimate ADA path to the river, is over two years after the same proposal was in the EDA's Infill committee... and it died at that time because the Council decided to tear the EDA apart, and 'reorganize' it, throwing away the good with the bad. The lack of institutional memory is hard to digest: the 'fault' of staff or council? The real issue here is not that the outdoor dining, etc., proposals of Mr. Hvistendahl are either good or bad/insufficient, but is this piece of property better off for now in public or private hands? I also question the presenting of a private plan after the failure of the first RFP proposal granted to Basil's Pizza. Why does the failure of that proposal allow the other applicant to come forward with none of the previous impositions of the RFP; why does the Council not either say ANYONE can now propose a solution, and open it up t the public in general if the RFP restrictions are no longer in place, or set a new RFP in place? The Infill/ EDA proposal was to have a public space, open to the street, with a switchback ADA compliant path running down to the river, and public tables in the areas created by the path, presumably for use by both adjoining restaurants. Sounds just like what the Council wants now; several years and many $$$ later!

  • June 1 2013 at 10:09 pm
    Orick Peterson
    I appreciate this concise and evenhanded account of what must have been a difficult meeting. I also appreciate the comment above, filling me in on background of this discussion. The riverside piece of the property in question seems now to be neglected, not well maintained or much used except for fishing. I hope the Council can find a way to make much better use of it.

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