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Kraewood approval on hold pending request for environmental study
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City approval of the proposed Kraewood housing development has been curtailed following a citizen petition for environmental study of the project.

In addition to town homes, the project plan calls for a 100-unit apartment building near Lincoln Parkway. Forty of those units will be available to people making 60 percent of the area median income. Local firms Rebound and Stencil are behind the housing development idea. The entire project is estimated to cost between $17-18 million. The developers are seeking Tax Increment Financing in the amount of about $6.2 million, which is comprised of tax rebates based on the value added to the property by the development over time.

The council was briefed on a citizen petition for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet EAW) about the Kraewood Project. An EAW studies what environmental effects a proposed development project might have. Its completion does not mean a project is approved or denied, but it can be used as a basis for more stringent environmental scrutiny.

City Attorney Chris Hood said he received the petition late Friday, Sept. 17. The city has 30 days to respond, so the council will consider it at the Oct. 5 meeting.

“From a staff standpoint, from an attorney standpoint, we’re really not prepared to discuss it anyway,” Hood said. “It needs to be analyzed.”

Hood warned the council that they would be acting in a quasi-judicial capacity in the matter, meaning they have a similar standard of impartiality as a judge might be expected to live up to. Thus, they should refrain from discussing the EAW unless it was during a public meeting or with city staff such as Hood himself, he said. On Oct. 5, they would decide whether there was a sufficient degree of material evidence that an EAW was necessary, Hood said.

The consequences of officials acting in a biased way when making a quasi-judicial decision can include legal action against them.

Hood summarized the citizen petition by saying it alleged the Kraewood project would be inimical to the rusty patched bumblebee, degrade wetlands and increase road traffic.

Both the decision on whether to grant TIF to Kraewood, as well as platting the property, will both be placed on hold pending the council’s decision on the EAW.

The residents who spoke at the city council meeting earlier included runoff of the list of speakers at a community listening session on the hotly controversial project the day before at Greenvale Park Elementary school.

Mayor Rhonda Pownell said the listening session the night before had reached its time limit, so the nine people who didn’t get to talk were allowed to speak for three minutes at the beginning of the city council meeting rather than the usual two minutes.

In contrast to prior public meetings about Kraewood, the comments were markedly civil and well-reasoned. Several Kraewood opponents brought up their concern that the new building would increase the danger of road traffic on Lincoln Parkway potentially harming children at Greenvale, as well as added pollution.

“Think of the children,” one commenter told the council.

However, another commenter who said he would be a neighbor of the new apartment building on Ivanhoe Drive was in favor of the development going through. He said his old neighbor Reiber Paulson, whose family ran a Christmas tree farm on the property that would become Kraewood, would be sad to see how deeply the project had divided his other neighbors. Although the endangered rusty patched bumblebee is present in the neighborhood, he said, both his family and the new development aim to help preserve the bees’ habitat by putting in pollinator-friendly plants.

“What are we going to do? Plant a couple more trees on our own property, and look forward to welcoming our new neighbors.”

Taylor Truck Line flaunts electric semi for MPCA commissioner
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Taylor Truck Line showed off a new rig Tuesday to state officials in town to highlight ways to combat climate change. This truck is different from the rest of Taylor’s fleet, however: it’s an electrically powered semi tractor trailer.

This particular vehicle is a “yard” or “spotter” truck: its job is to shuttle trailers around the Post Consumer Brands compound all day. However, other varieties of EV trucks are capable of “on-road’ or “over the road” trucking; long cross-country hauls alongside their diesel-powered brethren.

Manufactured by Orange EV in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, it is the first of its kind to operate in Minnesota, according to Taylor General Manager George Brooks. The maintenance costs on the EV are about a fifth of that for a diesel powered yard truck rig, Brooks said. It also means the company is more effective: Taylor’s three diesel yard trucks are so prone to breakdowns that occasionally only one of the three will be operational at a given time, he said.

“It just allows us to be a much better partner for Post, in that we can always do the work that they need done,” Brooks said.

The truck was financed in part through a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Commissioner Peter Tester visited Taylor’s yard Tuesday to see the rig. He said it showed that EVs were viable in Minnesota, especially important since diesel semis are the number one source of emissions in the state.

“It can make money, it can reduce costs and it has the benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Tester said. “It’s pilot programs like this … that allow us to show other people, it really does work.”

According to the MPCA, the EV at Taylor Truck Line alone prevents an annual 112 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted, as well as one ton of particulate matter each year.

Although the EV semi is still loud when it runs, the engine noise is considerably less than a diesel-powered semi, which indicates good news on the horizon for people who hate trucks drowning out conversations as they pass through downtown. The EV looks the same as other yard trucks, white and squat, but with one notable thing missing: the huge diesel exhaust pipe is nowhere to be seen.

Taylor Truck Line has installed a charging station in anticipation of more EV trucks in the fleet, and Brooks said its peers in the shipping industry are also interested in them.

Earlier Tuesday, Tester visited Faribault to discuss climate change that city is seeing and inspected a flood wall and levee project at Faribault’s waste water treatment plant designed to keep flood waters from the nearby Straight River from the facility should an extreme rain event again cause the river to overflow.

Northfield council chooses 15% preliminary levy hike
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The Northfield City Council approved a 15% preliminary increase to the city’s 2022 property tax levy.

A unanimous vote by the council during its Sept. 22 meeting chose the lesser of two options presented it, the other would have been a somewhat higher 15.9% increase.

According to state law, the levy can be reduced after this point for the year, but not increased. Several City Council members said they would search for ways to cut the 15% figure.

City Administrator Ben Martig had previously told the council that a 15% increase would fund most, but not all, of the budget requests put forward by various city departments.

Council Member Clarice Grenier Grabau said that lowering the levy should be balanced with funding city needs.

“I’m going to be looking for ways to lower it, but I also understand we have some pretty important needs on the table as well,” he said.

Council Member Brad Ness said the levy could be lowered using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to pay off expenses instead of property taxes. He envisioned it going down to a 5% increase.

“I would love to see it below 5, but that remains to be seen,” Ness said.

Council Member Jessica Peterson White said she also hoped to winnow the levy down from 15%. However, she brought up a principle of Keynesian economics: economic downturns can be mitigated by a stimulating influx of government money.

“One thing that government can do most effectively in a financial crisis is to invest in the things that can make our community more prosperous and more livable for everyone,” Peterson White said.

Mayor Rhonda Pownell said the city should be wary of excess taxation, but should also be able to leverage spending. She said Northfield should strive to increase the city’s tax base — that is, the value of property in the city.

Earlier this month, Martig said the 15% option would cause an increase of $83 annually on a residential property worth $200,000 compared to 2021, assuming no increase in valuation.

An overall levy increase of 11.8% is considered baseline by the city. Some of the optional budget requests by departments include a new police officer position recommended by a departmental study of the Northfield Police Department, as well as switching a business development position from part-time to full-time.

At a work session Oct. 12, the city council is scheduled to consider what budget requests to fund.

Northfield Schools approves preliminary tax levy decrease
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The Northfield Public School District approved a preliminary 2022 property tax levy that actually is a decrease from 2021.

The School Board on Monday unanimously approved a 1.5% decrease in the levy (roughly $300,000), taking the total levy amount down to just more than $20 million. According to state law, the levy may now go down further, but may not go up.

Levy money represents only about a quarter of the Northfield district’s budgeted income, unlike cities and counties in the state, which generally are more reliant on generating their own funds.

However, as Finance Director Val Mertesdorf acknowledged Monday, this year’s levy was cut by declining enrollment. The decline was consistent with projections, she said.

“That is playing out as we projected, which is good: not good that we’re losing revenue, but good that were were projecting that and planning for it,” Mertesdorf said.

There are two parts to the school district levy: state approved, which was what was considered Monday, and voter approved, which is decided by referendum.

Mertesdorf noted that although the overall levy district-wide was going down, for some individual taxpayers, the dollar amount they pay in taxes may go up depending on the valuation of their home and if there’s a change from the prior year.

The public response to levy referendums such as that in 2018 was gratifying, she said.

“We are grateful for the community’s generosity and the wonderful opportunities this provides for our students,” she said in the meeting packet.

Another $116,000 was accidentally paid from the county to the district through a clerical error in their favor, Mertesdorf said.

A Truth in Taxation meeting for the district is planned for Dec. 13.

For more information on the school budget, visit northfieldschools.org/about/departments/finance.