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CAC hopes to see 30 to 35 mixed-purpose units on former inn site

The Community Action Center of Northfield is eyeing the possibility of 30 to 35 mixed-purpose housing units on and near the site of what used to be the Manger Inn.

The CAC purchased the 2½-acre site, on the north side of Hwy. 3 south of the Sheldahl plant, in early March. The location has seven units on site, including one in the old hotel and six motel-style buildings.

The apartments are expected to consist of a blend of subsidized units and market-rate apartments and be single-, two- and three bedroom units. The CAC views the site as ideal because Sheldahl is within walking distance of the site.

The plan is supposed to deviate from large condominium complexes and only feature three- and four-unit buildings.

“Between just the general consensus from the city in naming affordable housing as one of its top five priorities and then just the experience for CAC that on a daily level we work with clients who have a job, things are going well, kids are in school, but they just cannot find housing in this community,” CAC Executive Director Scott Wopata said of the role the need for affordable housing played in the decision to plan for the build.

Wopata

The property was purchased around the turn of the 21st century by a Northfield community group that had an affordable housing vision, Wopata said. He added the site’s condition worsened after it was purchased by The Human Capital Development Foundation in 2016.

“For us, our main concern was just the families that are out there were really kind of in an unfair scenario, where there wasn’t really a property manager at all,” Wopata said. “And we know those families and we wanted to support them, and just realized there was an opportunity to support them now.”

The CAC is eyeing a complete reconstruction of the property, but to achieve the organization’s goal, the dispute between Waterford Township and the city of Northfield will need to be settled because of the site’s location. Wopata said plans could be more in focus in the next six to 12 months. Resident feedback is being gathered as part of the process.

The township believes an annexation agreement from 1980 that had no expiration should continue, meaning the city would need to pay the township annually for land it annexed at the time of the agreement. The city’s attorney said the agreement was null and void, because it didn’t have an expiration date. A judge has sided with Northfield, but Waterford has appealed the decision. A final ruling should come by the end of August.

Depending on the ruling, the 30- to 35-unit plan is seen as possible if property to the north that is currently for sale can be used for the development. If not, there are only 24 units available in the current boundary.

Wopata said realistically, the CAC is a nonprofit organization that does not specialize in building housing units, so the project is seen as potentially taking two to three years to ensure it is done properly.

“The buildings aren’t in a position in the long haul to be invested in,” Wopata said. “We’ve made some initial investments with just some basic things, finished some projects that hadn’t been done for a long time, took care of just some carpeting and other things just to make the places just more dignified for the people who are out there.”

In the meantime, Wopata said the CAC is making sure residents of the current site feel welcome. There is a small get-together for residents Saturday.

The site cost approximately $275,000 for the CAC to acquire. The organization used leftover funds from last year’s 50th anniversary celebration that was earmarked for housing and found philanthropic partners for other funding.

The CAC’s next steps are expected to be figuring out the site’s land use and waiting for the case between Waterford and Northfield to be resolved.

Wopata said the CAC could move case management, education classes and have a mini food shelf to the location.

“It was a really good move for the sake of the community and for the folks who are living out there,” he said.


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More than 400 sexual assaults reported on MN campuses; less than half investigated

The number of sexual assault cases reported to Minnesota colleges and universities increased for the second straight year in 2017, but less than half were investigated by schools, according to data released in June by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

The 416 cases are the highest reported number since Minnesota colleges and universities started collecting and reporting campus sexual assault statistics to the state in 2015, when the Legislature signed it into law. This year’s report came out a few months later than usual due to staff turnover at the state agency, officials said. The 2018 statistics are expected out by the end of the year.

Among 84 postsecondary institutions across the state in the report, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities had the most reported incidents with 93 sexual assault cases reported, followed by St. Olaf College with 37 and Carleton College with 24.

Rape is the most underreported crime in the United States, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. On campus, a 2016 survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 14 men experienced sexual assault while in college and only 7 percent of students who indicated they had experienced rape reported the incident to school authorities.

While less than half of the total cases were investigated by the institutions, the reasons schools may not investigate sexual assault varies, said Laura Linder-Scholer, campus sexual violence prevention and response coordinator at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Some of those reasons include: the accused assaulter withdraws from the school or the victim doesn’t want to pursue the investigation for many reasons like conflicts on class schedule, trauma or the long investigation process.

“Anyone who is a part of this process on any campus can acknowledge it is a long, complex emotionally draining process for everyone involved,” said Linder-Scholer. “This is ongoing while students are still taking classes and working to stay integrated in their communities and so you will have complainants who bring forward a complaint and then say this for whatever reason is no longer helpful or healing for me and choose to step away.”

At St. Olaf, 29 out of 37 reported assaulted were not investigated because victims did not want to participate.

Kari Hohn, that college’s Title IX coordinator, attributes that to the daunting investigation process, which can take up to two-thirds of a semester to conclude.

Title IX is the federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in education and requires campus officials, when alerted of sexual assault and harassment on campus, to investigate.

“They say, ‘I’m really not ready for that right now,’” Hohn said. “That’s a case that would fall into that category where the reporting student or the victim is declining to participate in the investigation process at that time.”

In Minnesota, colleges and universities are not required to submit reasons for not investigating to the state. Some schools choose to explain the situation further when submitting the annual data, but giving that information is arbitrary, Linder-Scholer said.

“My suspicion would be that there is the ability to dismiss or otherwise not pursue an investigation where the report is just not facially plausible or worthy of undertaking,” said Adam Johnson, a Title IX defense attorney in Minneapolis. “[It’s] just like the police can take in a report from somebody and not pursue it because they don’t believe that it’s warranted or merited.”

‘Incredibly difficult to come forward’

Abby Honold, a University of Minnesota graduate and rape survivor, said she understands why many victims don’t report. Honold was a junior when she was raped by a fellow student in November 2014. Daniel Drill-Mellum pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to six years in prison in 2016.

She said speaking out about what happened to her was “an incredibly painful transition.”

“It was incredibly difficult to come forward,” said Honold, “and while I always tried to pretend that it was easier than it was, I really felt for about a year afterward that I had ruined my life by coming forward.”

She said when she was going through reporting and investigations, she feared she would be doubted while she relived “the worst thing that had ever happened” to her.

“Reporting is traumatizing for many,” Honold said. “If I didn’t know that my rapist had so many other victims, I probably would have given up.”

Honold first reported the assault to the Minneapolis Police Department, which investigated but the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to press criminal charges. Prosecutors based that decision largely on a phone call recorded by a friend of Drill-Mellum during which Honold allegedly admits to having consensual sex with him, according to the police records. In the phone call, the friend mumbled the question “so it was consensual sex, right?” and Honold thought he asked her “it was actual sex” and she said yes.

She also reported the assault to the university’s Title IX office and the case was investigated by then-University of Minnesota police officer Kevin Randolph. Randolph used a warrant to get records from the university investigation.

Honold said that collaboration between law enforcement and the school helped not only the case but Randolph’s understanding of what had happened while investigating.

But collaborations like in Honold’s case don’t — and many times can’t — always happen, said Linder-Scholer. Because of the privacy of student educational records, schools can’t share information on students’ educational records other than a victim’s own. So, when a victim reports to school and law enforcement, not all information from the school’s investigation can be transferred to police.

In 2017, less than 16 percent of campus sexual assault incidents reported to Minnesota schools were also reported to law enforcement.

Attorney Johnson said that such limited collaboration makes the investigation process more complicated and challenging to victims.

“Those separate institutions may elect or may want to ask follow-up questions or further develop the facts even if the student has already provided a statement to one entity or the other,” he said.

Struggle to carry on

Above all, student victims are “students” — they have classes to finish, work to do and other responsibilities in their life.

That can be “incredibly difficult,” Honold said.

She had three semesters left and had a hard time finishing classes after the assault, she said.

“My concentration almost completely disappeared,” recalled Honold. “Having PTSD alone was a big barrier — trying to juggle the stress of being a student, working full time to support myself, and going through the stress of the rape case really hurt my ability to focus on school.”

One thing that Honold feared was whether her friends and school officials would believe what she was saying.

Her fellow students became “extremely cruel toward me with harassment,” and she was told by a Minneapolis detective who did the initial investigation that the case “isn’t going anywhere,” Honold said.

The rapist, she said, even told people she knew on campus that she had filed a false report.

Those all “made me (initially) regret reporting,” Honold said.

That fear keeps many campus sexual assault victims from reporting their case, says Naomi Miezwa, volunteer services manager for Sexual Violence Center, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis. She said a lot of victims who come to the center ask similar questions: “Why did this happen to me? What could I have done to have not had this happened?”

“Lots of guilt and blame and shame,” she said, “and a lot of fear of reporting and fear of not being believed.”

Moreover, if a case involves someone on campus with more power over the victim, like a faculty member or senior student, it can be even more difficult to come forward, Miezwa said.

“How would you go about finding the strength to try to tell someone within an organization that someone within your organization or someone at a campus that another faculty member did this to you,” she said. “’Will you believe me? Will you help me change my classes?’ So, there’s just so many different areas of gray that could make it hard for someone to even want to report.”

Even when students find the courage to file a complaint, they often face an arduous path.

While a disciplinary decision is pending, victims may accidentially run into their attacker on campus. And getting an order for protection or a restraining order against the attacker can be tricky.

“This other person also has the right to be on campus,” Miezwa said. “They have to right to an education.”

Honold said that while she is grateful she only saw her attacker in court settings as the investigation played out “seeing him was terrifying.”

More reports indicate something positive

Although Minnesota campuses have seen an increasing number of sexual assault cases reported in recent years, that doesn’t necessarily mean sexual violence on campus is on the rise, experts say.

Rather, it may signal a change in campus culture where victims feel safe making a report and may indicate some have hopes there will be some accountability.

“We’re very pleased to see when numbers of reports to institutions are actually rising. And that seems a little counterintuitive sometimes to the public,’’ said Linder-Scholar, noting that may indicate a deeper trust in the system.

St. Olaf College followed the statewide trend.

Hohn, the school’s Title IX coordinator, said she believes more reports mean the efforts St. Olaf has been putting on the issue are working. St. Olaf hired an additional full-time position at its Title IX office a year and a half ago. That employee focuses 100 percent on Title IX issues and support for students.

“It shows to our community that this is an issue that we take really seriously and that we care about and that if you do report an incident of sexual misconduct you will be listened to and taken very seriously,” Hohn said.

Campaigns like the #MeToo movement to raise public awareness on sexual violence are also contributing to cultural shifts on campus, Miezwa said.

“Sexual violence is occurring all the time and such a small, small number of sexual violence is ever reported in any capacity,” Miezwa said. “People are now feeling like I have a right to not be afraid to say what happened to me.”

Honold said it’s also important to treat every person who reports with care and respect.

“It’s extremely intimidating,” she said. “The message I’ll always have for sexual assault victims is that this was not your fault. You did nothing to cause it, and however you respond to it is OK. You deserve to choose how to move forward.”


News
Climate action proposal includes exploring solar-, electric vehicle-ready home requirement

The draft Northfield Climate Action Plan includes a recommendation for the city to explore a policy to require solar- and electric vehicle-ready homes by 2020.

The draft plan was written by Northfield Climate Action Plan Advisory Board co-chairpersons and includes a call for the city to become carbon-neutral no later than 2050 and reduce energy-related carbon emissions 50 percent from 2015 levels by 2030.

The report also calls for establishing a goal to generate the equivalent of 10 percent of the city’s electricity from solar installations by 2030. The report suggests Northfield enable solar development on underutilized land like parking lots and develop policies or programs to increase low-income access to affordable renewable energy.

Public input is expected to be gathered on the plan, and the City Council could take action this fall.

“It’s more following what City Council has requested to get it so … we can be more of a sustainable community,” said Environmental Quality Commission staff liaison Justin Wagner.

Wagner

He said generally speaking, the plan has only been implemented in larger communities, and the utilities manager spoke highly of the city for drafting the plan.

“It definitely speaks to Northfield’s environment,” he said. “I also think it speaks to just how Northfield wants to see the country and the world ultimately go toward a carbon neutrality and try to reduce our carbon footprint and help out with the environment.”

The draft report states air pollution, flooding and flash flooding are highly likely to occur in Northfield compared to the rest of Minnesota. Extreme heat and weather are listed as moderate likelihoods in Northfield compared to the rest of the state, and vector-borne diseases and drought are seen as unlikely in Northfield compared to the rest of Minnesota.

The draft report states respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease and allergies will be complications caused by changing air due to climate change. Heat stress and illness, infrastructure stress and power outages are listed as possible impacts of weather changes. Waterborne disease, water quality, infrastructure damage or failure and drownings or injuries are seen as complications of more precipitation caused by climate change, and vector-borne diseases, tree canopy impact and food scarcity are expected ecosystem impacts.

According to the draft report, older adults and young children are especially susceptible to the extreme heat, air pollution, flooding and flash flooding and drought caused by climate change.

The draft report said the city can partner with local organizations and schools to develop mobility and evacuation programs for young and old residents for climate hazards.

It analyzed other situations that could escalate the effect of climate change, such as poorly insulated homes. People of color are seen as more likely to be vulnerable to climate hazards due to disparities of access to health care and socioeconomic positions. The draft report suggested focusing resources, programs and outreach materials to those communities.

To combat the expected increase in storm water flow from heavy rain events, the draft report suggested the city supplement storm water conveyance systems with green infrastructure like bioretention ponds and rain gardens. The city was advised to prioritize tree replacement and plant in areas of low coverage and minimize the impact of emerald ash borer. The city is seen as having the opportunity to remove parking minimums, narrow some streets and commit to land cover conversion where appropriate to help tackle climate change.

The plan also includes outreach to large and small energy users in Northfield.

The draft report states the Minnesota Department of Health projects the average maximum summer temperature to increase by 7.7 degrees through 2075 compared to 1981, with winter temperatures increasing 9.1 degrees in the same time frame.

The draft report was produced after years of action and leadership by Northfield residents. An energy task force was established in 2008 to address climate change challenges and energy supply. The plan developed by the task force was not adopted but is considered instrumental in catalyzing future efforts to combat climate change.

The city joined the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program in 2010. The program provides a framework for cities to improve sustainability goals. Northfield included climate change impacts to its strategic plan in 2017, which led to the establishment of the Climate Action Plan Advisory Board.

The board has developed six core areas and subcommittees that have been identified as having the greatest opportunities for resilience and emissions reduction, including materials and waste, energy, land, food, water and wastewater and transportation. Each core area group was led by an Advisory Board member, and each group convened subcommittees of community members around those topics, meeting monthly.

Public input sessions for the draft are planned this summer and fall and are expected to allow for feedback on strategies, prioritization of different ideas from residents and formal commenting on the draft conducted through the city.


Wagner