COUNCIL SET TO REVIEW MISSISSIPPI DUNES EAW JANUARY 19, NOT A PROCESS TO APPROVE OR DENY A PROJECT
by Joseph Back
Meeting December 20 in the St. Croix Room at City Hall, the Cottage Grove Planning Commission held a public hearing on the Mississippi Dunes Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), its only item for the night. Chairman Evan Frazier outlined the public process for those present at the meeting.
“The Planning Commission is a volunteer advisory group to the City Council,” Frazier said. “One of the Commission’s functions is to hold public hearings and make recommendations on land use and zoning matters. The purpose of these public hearings is to provide an opportunity for each applicant and citizens to present information, ask questions, and express opinion. Since these proceedings are televised and recorded for the public record, anyone wishing to speak must step up to the podium and give their name and address before addressing the Commission. Staff reports are prepared and provided to the applicant and Commission in advance of the meeting,” Frazier said.
Going on to state that the first step would be for staff to present a summary of the report followed by an opportunity for the applicant “to briefly explain the proposal and provide additional information or comments. Following this, “anyone wanting to speak in favor or against the proposal will then be heard.” Upon completion of this, the hearing would be closed to public comment, the Planning Commission then providing any comment it has, but without taking a vote on the item as such, Frazier shared.
“Two complete agenda packets are available on the back table for viewing,” Frazier told attendees. “Please do not remove these items.” With the City Council set to act on the item under consideration at its Wednesday January 19, 2022 regular Council meeting at 7 p.m.
With that Frazier turned over the proceedings to Senior City Planner Emily Schmitz, who then turned over the Dunes EAW presentation to Jane Kanzier, a senior planner with Bolton and Menk.
“Thank you Emily. Thank you Mr. Chair, members of the Planing Commission. As Emily mentioned my name is Jane Kansier. I’m a senior planner with Bolton and Menk.” The role of Bolton and Menk, Kansier said, was to review the information provided by the developer and proposer, then working with the city to develop the EAW.
“I think as you all know, Pulte Homes is planning a residential development on the site of the old Mississippi Dunes Golf Course,” Kansier said. “That development is to be called Mississippi Landings.” With 164 acres of land and 499 planned units, the size had triggered a mandatory EAW on the property, as Kansier made known.
“The size of this development is what triggers the Environmental Assessment Worksheet or EAW,” she stated. Citing Minnesota Rules 4410.4300 subparagraph 19, Kansier laid out additional details for the record. “In this case, the rules require that any residential development consisting of more than 250 unattached units or some combination are required to prepare an EAW.” With the threshold met the mandatory EAW was in view.
Kansier went on to say that the EAW had to be completed before any permits “could be issued,” then expanding on this.
“If a preliminary plat allows for the developer to grade the site, the city cannot approve that plat until the EAW is completed,” she said. With no permits applied for at present, the city would continue to review applications through the standard review process, Kansier said.
With the total timeline for an EAW “anywhere from 90 to 120 days,” with the clock starting on the Dunes when the city received “all the data it needed to complete the EAW. Approved November 17 and distributed on November 23, the EAW was then published in the EQB Monitor, a publication of the Environmental Quality Board as recording EAWs. With the public comment period ending December 30, a 30-day period follows in which the Council has to make a decision on whether the need exists for an Environmental Impact Statement as next step on the proposed development.
“That usually has to happen within 30 days of the comment period,’ Kansier said, noting the Council planned to act on January 19. “They do have the opportunity to extend that another 30 days if for some reason they feel they don’t have enough time or need additional information.” The Bolton and Menk representative then went into an explanation of the EAW process. “It’s just one part of a broader development process,” she said. “It is intended to disclose information about potential impacts. It is not intended as a process to approve or deny a development application or project.” The purpose of an EAW, Kansier said, had two functions: • Determine if additional environmental review is needed
• Indicate modifications to lessen potential impacts “The City Council decision will ultimately determine whether or not further environmental review is warranted,” Kansier said of the process moving forward. With that, she moved into the details.
“So an EAW is actually a very specific document prepared by the state,” she said. “Every EAW you look at will pretty much be the same,” she said as to organization and questions. “Not everything applies to every development so as you work through an EAW you might see something that says ‘this is not applicable,” Kansier told the Planning Commission.
Grouping the questions in an EAW into five categories, Kansier listed the following:
• Project Information (questions 1 through 5)
• Project description (questions 6 through 9)
• Specific Environmental Impacts (questions 10 through 18)
• Cumulative Impacts (question 19), and
• Other Potential impacts (question 20), meant to address anything that wasn’t covered previously.
With questions one through five covering general information, the specifics began with questions 6 through nine under “Project description,” including a more detailed description, land cover, permits and approvals required, and land use.”
As to the specific environmental impacts” section, an EAW could touch on Water resources, along with fish and plant life, historic properties, visual effects, air quality, noise, and transportation.
“One of the things I want to mention,” Kansier said. “The City did commission a review of the Herb Fritz House by a company called New History. That review wasn’t included in the EAW, it wasn’t ready at the time,” she said. Nonetheless, it was part of the Planning Commission report for December 20 and would become part of the decision of record.
Of Cumulative Impacts, Kansier said that “the intent of this is to identify any potential further development that may be adjacent to this property or adjoining the property.” The last question, number 20, was more general.
“Are there any other impacts we haven’t addressed?” Kansier gave as the question’s intent. One of the past things that had come up with other EAWs in the past year, was greenhouse gases.
“This one does include a very brief discussion of that,” she said of the Dunes EAW.
Pending Council decision on whether further environmental review is needed at the Dunes, the process will next entail an amendment to the 2040 Comprehensive Plan for the city and incorporation into MUSA, or Metropolitan Urban Service Area.