MOVE WOULD DRAMATICALLY EXPAND CITY POWERS, AWAITS A PUBLIC HEARING AND COUNCIL VOTE Want to vote yourself more power? If that’s you, the first step to succeeding is a relatively compliant public …
MOVE WOULD DRAMATICALLY EXPAND CITY POWERS, AWAITS A PUBLIC HEARING AND COUNCIL VOTE
Want to vote yourself more power? If that’s you, the first step to succeeding is a relatively compliant public sphere—among other factors. Removing frustrating obstacles to said power, is another.
With this in mind, the Cottage Grove Plan Commission received its cast directions in packet notice 6.4 of the September 27 meeting. More specifically, it was told its specific role within the larger Plan for long-term city development, called “positioning for growth” by Council member Steve Dennis. Prepared by Christine Costello as the City’s Community Development Director, the requested TIF expansion recommendation on the part of the Plan Commission would allow the city to continue growing within its current municipal boundaries, it was said. That’s where the Cottage Grove Plan Commission came in, as packet materials made clear.
“The role of the Planning Commission in this process is to provide a recommendation to the City Council that expanding the boundaries (of the Tax Incremental Finance of ‘TIF’ district) would be consistent with the development plans of the City, which are guided by the City’s Comprehensive Plan.” With development already having occurred and an expectation that it “will continue to occur” outside the present development district boundaries, the corresponding recommendation was included with the packet.
“Recommendation The Planning Commission recommends that the City Council modify the development district boundary to be coterminous with the corporate boundary of the City of Cottage Grove,” the packet states, the last amendment as such made in 1986.
Following the recommendation as such, Resolution No. PC2021-001 awaited the signatures of Plan Commission chairman Tony Khambata along with secretary Derek Rasmussen, following prior City consultation with Ehlers as its municipal financial advisor. Costello laid out the rationale for the broader district amendment.
“The City or the EDA may like to provide in the future various financing programs to spur redevelopment or new development in the future,” she said. “And in order to do that, we’re looking to amend our development district boundary.”
For the city or EDA to provide financing programs, loans, tax increment or grants for projects, the City or EDA needed to create a project area or development district and corresponding plan under their specific statutory authority per chapter 469.126 of the Minnesota state statutes. Alongside the TIF powers, however, a check of the stated statute shows that it also provides for the city to acquire land or easement “through negotiation or through powers of eminent domain,” along with acquiring property for the district, among other special powers.
Also included in the expanded allowance of 469.126 is the right on the city’s part to negotiate the sale or lease of property for private development if the development “if the development is consistent with the development program for the district.” The statute states that said power first requires a public hearing published in the city’s official newspaper, which at present is the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minnesota.
When question time came not all the Plan Commission members were buying the City’s official narrative, however, as Costello responded to questioning from Commission member Evan Frazier, among those somewhat skeptical of the need by the city for such an expansive TIF boundary.
“This is probably a bad question, so I’ll rephrase it,” Frazier began, “ but is there a reason why we’re doing the entire city boundary rather than 80th and Keats, or you know a specific corner,” he asked Costello, noting that the expansion of the TIF boundary also gave the city additional statutory powers as well.
“We do want to include the entire city boundary because we don’t know what the future holds,” Costello said, noting a large industrial developer was coming into the city as one example. Costello also noted that with a specific boundary for the TIF it would require coming back and amending it with each use of the special districting power. Most cities the size of Cottage Grove encompassed their entire boundary, she said.
“This just kind of gives us the ability to say, ‘yes we have it, yes we allow it,’ but yet we’re going to look specifically” at each use, Costello said of including the entire city within the TIF boundary. Council member Steve Dennis, meanwhile, was also present for the Council to answer questions from Plan Commission members.
“This is really a structure thing to make sure that we’re set for future opportunities,” Dennis told the Commission, adding one additional point as well.
“The city wants to get the highest and best use,” he said of the reason for including the entire city within a TIF boundary amendment. By giving the necessary recommendation, the Plan Commission could set Cottage Grove on the path to success as such. Costello backed Dennis in his advocacy, although stressing the gravity of the move.
“This is not something we take lightly,” Costello said of the decision to include the entire city in the TIF boundary.
Following question time and a rather difficult sell to the Plan Commission, a motion was made by Commissioner Sarah Bigham to approve the inclusion of the corporate city limits within the TIF district boundary.
“Do we have a second?” Chair Tony Khambata asked to silence, then offering, “I’ll second” as he raised his hand. Chairman Khambata earlier shared that he thought the move was “a smart decision” on the city’s part, in development terms.
Following the second by Chairman Khambata, the move to include the corporate city limits within the TIF district boundary then passed on a voice vote of the Plan Commission, all ayes being given with no objections raised. From there it was on to item 7, approving the Plan Commission meeting minutes for July 26, 2021—back to boring, in other words.
In the meantime and as a side note, the City of Cottage Grove is currently accepting feedback through October 6 on a Mississippi Dunes Master Plan as was presented September 13 to the Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Commission, and city residents are encouraged by the city Facebook page to submit their thoughts via online engagement link to https://gis. isginc.com/storymaps/MississippiDunesMasterPlan/. But might there be limits to acceptable citizen input?
“Now I will state that if the continued desire is for the entire area to be used as a park, that will not be discussed,” Mayor Myron Bailey said via email following the September 1 Council meeting but prior to tree tag photos appearing in the September 16 edition of the Journal. “We have a pending development by a developer for the property,” he wrote from early September. With expanded TIF district boundaries and city powers pending a public hearing and Council vote, that could just prove prophetic, outside the Dunes as well as on them.
Shifting from an uncertain future back to the past, meanwhile, the September 15 regular city council meeting of the Cottage Grove Council covered many topics. Among them was a bill for tree removal on the Bonnie Lund property by reason of “hazardous condition” and made pursuant to state statute. The tree removal cost of $1,156.95 invoiced by the city to the owner, will be due pending a mailed assessment notice and like hearing set for October 6.
With such informal public notice out of the way then it was on to roll call at the September 15 regular Council meeting, with all council members present. Quorum being established, the meeting shifted into adoption of the agenda, motion by Council member Dennis seconded by Dave Thiede. Passing unanimously without a negative voice vote, it was on to the consent agenda, which also passed unanimously, motion being made by Council member Justin Olsen and seconded by Council member Thiede.
On the consent agenda for the night were several items, including Parking restrictions on East Point Douglas Road. Thanks to Resolution 2021117, residents of the Legends can now feel safer when they cross the street, with parking restrictions deemed necessary by the city Engineering Department resulting in a 50 foot “no parking zone” on the crosswalk just north of the development sign.
Also included with the night’s consent agenda, meanwhile, was a DNR Public utility water crossing license that needed to be reapproved by the Council after DNR officials realized they did not include requirements related to the Blanding’s Turtle, considered endangered. Although the city had been aware of the issue due to the Environmental Assessment Worksheet, city staff recommended adoption of the ordinance with more specific language as such. Pursuant to subsection 17 of the city ordinance and in line with state statutes chapter 84.0895 plus associated rules, the licensee” (i.e. City of Cottage Grove) is prohibited from the taking of threatened or endangered species without a permit, along with avoiding and minimizing disturbance of the Blanding’s Turtle, found near the Vermillion River “and unnamed streams,” the revision states. The license, meanwhile, is set to expire in 2071, or fifty years hence.
Third of note (but not exhaustively) for items in the consent agenda for September 15 included a tall weeds assessments, with fines for “noxious weeds” over eight inches on residents property to be set at $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second, and $200 for a third or subsequent violation within a two-year period.
Fourth was housing, with a final plat for Rolling Meadows approved, located in northeast Cottage Grove and to consist of 41-single family homes along with two out lots. The coming single family homes follow an rezoning of the area in question from AG-1 Agricultural Preservation to R-3 Single Family Residential with a Planned Use Development back at the July 21 Council meeting, at which time the Council adopted Resolution 2021-093 (outside of the consent agenda for July 21) approving the preliminary plat.
The final item of note on the consent agenda list, meanwhile, the Council approved submittal of a grant application for $3,000 to purchase fire investigation equipment, including a “fire accelerant” detector, portable scene lights, and other equipment through FM global. Grant decisions will be made three to four months from application submission.
By then, the city’s new powers should be well established, pending citizen pushback, that is.