The Waseca City Council is considering whether to return to in-person meeting or continue to use Zoom to meet.
The council also discussed Lead for Minnesota’s lease agreement for space in Waseca City Hall and a request for proposal for the Gaiter Lake development during its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
New Waseca City Councilors Ted Conrath and John Mansfield joined the council members during the meeting via Zoom.
Councilors were on different pages when it came to whether city council meetings should remain in the Zoom format or if the meetings should return to in-person.
Councilor Jeremy Conrath spoke up first about the meeting format, wanting to return to in-person meetings, even if the council had to meet in a larger room elsewhere. He said he believes that the residents are missing out on meetings because they aren’t comfortable with Zoom and want to be in front of the council.
Mansfield and Councilor Ted Conrath agreed with Jeremy on returning to in-person meetings. Councilor Allan Rose said if the city staff can figure out a way to bring the councilors and the public together in-person safely, he is on board with returning to in-person meetings.
“I tend to agree with Jeremy, I know everyone else is open, it doesn’t seem to me that after 9-10 months of this that we can’t get back into City Hall,” Mansfield said.
Mayor Roy Srp feels that the community input is missing from meetings and that would be nice to get back.
Councilors Mark Christiansen and Daren Arndt both wanted to stay in a Zoom meeting format for the safety of vulnerable family members and because they feel the meetings are working.
City Administrator Lee Mattson also spoke up about the logistics of returning to in-person meetings, stating that he wasn’t sure if the council chamber is big enough to socially distance the councilors, city staff and the public.
After a lengthy discussion Mattson took the direction to work with city staff to work on the logistics of using city hall again or if meetings need to continue through Zoom.
Lead for Minnesota lease discussion
Lead for Minnesota, LFMN, has been in Waseca for just over a year, working to bring young people back to the community and their hometowns across the state, while also revitalizing the cities. LFMN has 21 fellows across the state and two Corps members for a cohort size of 23. LFMN is an affiliate of Lead for America.
In December 2019, the city council approved the lease agreement for LFMN to use part of the basement of City Hall for $1 a year. At the most recent city council meeting, a discussion about the rent took place with no decisions made.
All of the council members agreed that having LFMN in Waseca is a positive thing and has accomplished a lot in the year. That being said, some council members disagreed with allowing a nonprofit to work out of City Hall for $1 a year for rent when other nonprofits in town have to pay rent and work that into expenses.
Mansfield pointed out that there is plenty of office space in downtown Waseca that he thinks would fit the nonprofit and would also help out other building owners in town who are looking for renters. He also talked about the city putting one nonprofit over another when giving Lead for Minnesota a lease for $1 a year when other nonprofits have to pay thousands of dollars a year in rent with the same funding challenges, calling it an injustice to other entrepreneurs in Waseca.
“We did this about a year ago and I really like what Lead stands for, bringing young people back to the community, but after hearing what my fellow council members think and in hindsight we perhaps weren’t 100% fair,” Jeremy Conrath said.
Ted Conrath also spoke up with similar thoughts to Mansfield about the previous council giving Lead for Minnesota a break on rent.
“I don’t have any problem with what they’re doing, I appreciate what they’re doing, I thank them for what they’re doing, but my only issue is that and we can keep leasing for $1, but we have to give other nonprofits the same opportunity, because we can’t discriminate against other nonprofits,” Ted said.
Kraus, founder and CEO of LFMN, was also present through Zoom in the meeting to answer questions and she said the nonprofit is thankful to have been able to share City Hall for the past year. She said the goal of Lead for Minnesota has always been to find a space that is affordable and works for the nonprofit.
“The last thing that we want to do is be an injustice to the community and other businesses and not invest in the community,” Kraus said. “We don’t want to detract from businesses but to help them grow...I appreciate the comments that the councilors made because we want to do what is just and equitable.”
Christiansen shared his reasoning behind allowing Lead for America to have cheap rental space in City Hall.
“Lead for Minnesota doesn’t make a profit ... for a year I have been fine with it because they garnish Waseca and bring people to the city,” Christiansen said. “I think they’ve done more in a year than we have in 10 years and that is where the help is going to come and it’s interesting to put a value to it.”
No decision was made on the lease as it was only on the agenda as a discussion item. City Staff and Mattson will look into options for the lease moving forward.
Gaiter Lake development
Waseca City Council approved a second round of requests for proposals for the city-owned Gaiter lake development in Waseca at the Jan. 5 meeting.
An RFP was sent out once already to collect ideas of what to develop on the land in October 2020, but the city didn’t receive any proposal bids. Developers who received the RFP for Gaiter Lake sent feedback to the city of why the company didn’t make a bid and the city was able to make the necessary changes to the RFP.
Gaiter Lake is just over 62 acres of usable land with access to the U.S. Highway 14. The land is zoned as Planned Unit Development, which is meant to provide for the development of twin homes, condos, apartments and space to accommodate the housing needs of the city.
The Gaiter Lake development is located within the Shoreland Overlay District and because of this, the DNR requires that no more than 35% of the development shall be impervious surface. Impervious surfaces are roads, buildings, parking lots, and other surfaces that water cannot easily penetrate according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The city acquired the land near Gaiter Lake as part of a settlement with the DNR over setback requirements in a shoreland district. The land was previously owned by a developer and leased out for farmland.
According to information provided to the city council, sending out the RFP could bring in new development and infrastructure within the city to meet the needs of the city and contribute to the mission of Vision 2030.