In Wednesday’s edition of the Northfield News, three of the decisions that the City Council made at its Monday meeting were criticized on the Opinion page. Those in attendance at the meeting might disagree. You make the call.
The first topic on the Council’s agenda was Chapter 1306 of the Minnesota State Building Code. After 18 months of the issue being raised by downtown stakeholders, it was finally brought before the Council. The NDDC has heard from architects, building owners, contractors, and engineers that comparable levels of fire safety can be achieved through much less expensive and intrusive methods than 1306. The Council had no analysis of the technical details of alternate methods of fire safety and no cost comparisons between the two different, nationally-accepted approaches, only emotional gut reactions based on some of the worst disasters in American history, ranging from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to the Rhode Island night club fire of 2003, unhelpful comparisons of apples and oranges. The City Administrator, seeing that pitch was so low it was almost in the dirt, recommended to the Council that they let it pass. Agree or disagree? You make the call.
The second topic was the Q Block Master Plan. The NDDC has been working for the redevelopment of the site since our birth in 2000. In fact, we view it as perhaps the most important potential development in all of downtown. With the type of development that we envision for the site, we see it contributing to the economic expansion of downtown, adding value to the properties on the West Side, creating an exciting visual gateway to Northfield, critical to increasing the safe crossing of Highway 3, and helping to unify the west and east sides of our community. With a different type of development for this site, we’ll get another strip of highway commercial, with a few one-story buildings surrounded by vast parking lots, a popular and often successful type of development that is available in our other commercial district. We believe the EDA has worked hard to consider the implications of different types of development as they have considered possible plans for the site, and has made progress in the right direction. Not pointing fingers at either side, we have also repeatedly heard that some property owners have not felt included in the planning process. The plans must be considered carefully and the property owners must be included in the process. The Council pointed out that they only had a couple of days to review the many pages of the report on and the many drawings of the development concept and really no time at all to consult with their constituents about the plan. The Council saw that pitch as high and inside, arched back to avoid getting hit in the face, and held their bat in check. Agree of disagree? You make the call.
The third topic was sale of land near the Riverwalk. The NDDC has long advocated for higher and better uses of land near the river, going back at least the previous Council’s decision not to sell the city land used for garbage handling to a developer to build a million dollar building on it. The proposal to create a deck for the restaurant overlooking the river certainly seems to make sense. However, it has been pointed out repeatedly, from an NDDC stakeholder in a wheelchair many years ago, to a MNDOT employee in a wheelchair a few weeks ago, that the city does not have an ADA compliant access to the west side of the Riverwalk. When the Council asked the staff how this sale might affect the City’s ability to create an ADA compliant access to the Riverwalk, it was clear that there is no easy answer to that question because the City really doesn’t have a clear and definite plan for achieving ADA compliant access to the west side of the river. The Council was unwilling to make a decision that might eliminate one possible solution to the accessibility problem without at least doing some further investigation of this issue. Taking a couple of weeks to look into the potential ways to address the accessibility issue, some day, is responsible behavior by the decision-makers. The pitch looked like it was just outside the strike zone to the Council, they let it pass and took the ball. Agree or disagree? You make the call.
But, hey, even the greatest hitters have bad days at the plate. We get along great with the Northfield News. In fact, we like them so much that we’re issuing the staff a personal invitation to the May event in the NDDC’s new performing arts series at the Grand. NDDC founder Bardwell Smith, NHS executive director Mark Fagerwick, and Fighting Apostle slugger Scott Richardson have cooked up a show called “Baseball Stories”. It should be great fun for both baseball fans and tall tale tellers alike. We’ll even buy ’em a beer.