by Adam Gruenewald
A long-standing potential project got conditional approval from the NYA City Council during their most recent meeting.
During a fairly lengthy meeting on April 24 involving several big decisions, council members approved $80,000 towards the Wilkommen Park restrooms project with the final project details yet to be finalized.
The decision ends an extended process for a restrooms project that council members had originally sought with the goal of completing the project by Stiftungsfest in August of last year. However the lone bid of $165,700 was rejected last June, giving the council the renewed goal of a project this spring.
Three bids were received with the low bid from $119,500 Shanahan Construction tentatively approved by the council, although they also decided to have members of the Park Commission and Pat Shanahan of Shanahan Construction work to lower the cost and negotiate the contract. The $80,000 from the city will come equally from both a capital outlay fund and a park dedication fund.
Council members had some initial discussions with Shanahan at the meeting with regards to delaying or changing the tile floor, but Lori Trocke of the Parks and Recreation Commission said donations will be sought.
“We have prepared to do that already, not knowing what the gap was going to be,” she said, unsure about how much they could acquire from community and civic groups to make up some of the $40,000 difference. “We can find out when we start soliciting.”
Again, council members, including Dick Stolz, expressed hesitation in approval given the significant cost of the restrooms project.
“The council struggled at $80,000 and now we’re at $120,000, this is an expensive bathroom,” said Stolz, adding there are future costs at Wilkommen Park to consider as well. “If I look at that park. You have the gazebo, you have the grandstand, you have the Old Towne, you have the Pavilion and now the bathrooms, if I had to pick where I put the money… the Pavilion needs work and is used all the time.”
Mayor Carol Lagergren agreed.
“It’s the balance between this is something that is really wanted by the community and it’s just a high cost for a bathroom,” she said. “I’m not questioning the cost, it’s just a high cost. We have to balance those two pieces out.”
Council member Mike McPadden stressed the ongoing delays of the project, adding the potential of requests for the city to make up the difference in future costs.
“How long can we wait to get this thing going?” said McPadden. “We went on record and said we’re going to replace the bathroom and I think we have to figure out a way to get this thing done. I’d like to see us approve this tonight so they can start work on it.”
It was agreed to have Shanahan work with Parks and Recreations Commission members to figure out lessening the cost if donations don’t come in as expected.
“We need to have a bathroom or some facility up there,” said Trocke of the Parks and Recreation Commission. “The goal of ours is to have it done as soon as possible so other organizations that are using the park can benefit… At least minimally, having the basic facilities that are needed for the bathroom is what we need to strive for. We’re prepared as commission members to talk through that to get it up and know we can enhance it.
In other news, council members had a rare non-unanimous and disapproval vote in their decision to not allow the rezoning of property at 120 Morse Street North that is owned by Suman Thotakura.
The request for the rezoning of the property from C3 commercial downtown district to R3 residential, which currently functions as a rental apartment and is next to both C3 and R3 properties, was denied 4-1 with council member Craig Heher voting for the change.
Council members considered the positives of seeing a building not remain potential vacant and have other uses, but in the end decided that the owner’s request after knowing that rentals weren’t allowed in the district could set a precedent.
Council member Dick Stolz suggested the idea of changing all C3 commercial downtown districts to R3.
“Having it rented is better than having it vacant,” he said. “It seems to me maybe all C3 should change… the argument is it’s better used than empty.”
Mayor Carol Lagergren hesitated at making that potential change, given what the council has expressed interest in accomplishing in terms of the vacant buildings along the former and separate Norwood and Young America downtowns and main streets.
“If part of our goal is to bring the downtowns back and make historic downtowns, they were not rental properties when the cities were started,” said Lagergren. “The view that having it rented better than empty defeats the idea that we are trying to restore our downtowns to some level of niche businesses or some level of historic downtown designation.”
City Administrator Steve Helget said the owner was first informed in 2015 that it couldn’t be rented out, but the co-owners and subsequent owners went ahead and rented the property out anyways.
While Heher wound up voting in favor of the change following the guidance of the Planning Commission, Mike McPadden summed up the attitude of the remaining council members by not giving retroactive permission in his opposition.
“I just think if we allow this stuff to continue happening we may be sending a wrong signal,” said McPadden. “You can go ahead whatever you want and ask permission and that’s not a good way to do things.”
Following the original notice that was sent to the owner, the owner was granted 90 days from Feb. 28 to vacate the premises of residential uses.
Somewhat related in terms of zoning and revitalizing downtowns, council members approved an ordinance to allow first floor residential uses in the entire C3 downtown district with several requirements.
The request had arisen from Mike Werneke, who had purchased a property at 116 Union Street North last year, unaware that the ongoing use of the rental in the back of the building was a code violation. Werneke added that there is a beauty salon interested in moving into the front of the building and the tenant in the apartment has interest in staying.
Planning consultant Cynthia Smith Strack shared that other cities such as Arlington, Belle Plaine and Glencoe do allow first floor residential and outlined requirements designed by the NYA Planning commission.
Among the requirements in the approved ordinance 287, the residential use shall not compose greater than half of the ground floor, the storefront should be maintained in front of the building adjacent to the street, a separate entry is provided for the residence, off-street parking is provided for the residence and that residential use is not adversely impacted by the commercial use in terms of hours, noise, odor or traffic generation.
Council members also accepted the resignation of public service technician Jason Kloempken, OK’d a street closing request for portions of Franklin Street for a graduation party on May 19, OK’d the vacation of a portion of unimproved Liberty Street and with council member Charlie Storms abstaining, adopted a $19,890.52 contract with Storms Welding and Manufacturing that will be split by the NYA Council and the Norwood Baseball Association for the replacement of the first base dugouts at Zellmann Field with the use of steel panels and the addition of bleachers that will be completed by mid July. The project comes after a preliminary June 10 inspection but before the Minnesota State Men’s Amateur Baseball Tournament held in August.
Council members also approved the purchase of 18 self-contained breathing apparatus for the NYA Fire Department to replace 22 outdated apparatus at the cost of $113,465 from Emergency Response solutions that will be paid for over the next five years through a lease and own agreement and could be paid for fully from a FEMA grant.
Fire Chief Steve Zumberge added that the department is well on their way to over 300 calls for the year, a significant increase from last year’s 248 and the record of 257. He suggested that a large part of those calls, including 16 since March 1, have been from lift assistance at Peace Village, so the department is working with them to potentially acquire a lift assistance device for the growing senior housing development.
“If you call, we’re going,” added Zumberge, clarifying that firefighters are always more than willing to provide assistance.
The NYA City Council will next meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 8. A special meeting planned for April 27 was canceled because of the additional public services technician that will be hired by the city. Notably, there remains open seats on the NYA Planning Commission which now meets the first Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m.
Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald.