WASECA — On Tuesday, the chambers of the Waseca City Council was filled with tension.
The council voted six to one, with Councilor Larry Johnson being the lone dissent, in favor of a conditional use permit for the New Hope Board and Lodge to extend the capacity of the housing facility.
New Hope Board and Lodge is a facility for women offering housing to support individuals with chemical dependency and or mental illness who are eligible for housing support.
“We want to provide as much stability as possible to get them back on track,” said Kody Schendel, the owner of the property who was there on behalf of New Hope Board and Lodge.
A conditional use permit, or CUP, is needed because the house had a capacity of six but New Hope Board and Lodge wanted to extend this to be seven to 16 persons in the home facility. With the CUP this would be the new capacity but due to the square footage allowance of the home the capacity is technically nine. There is currently one person living in the home.
This facility could serve people in need from Waseca or those who are outside of the area.
The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the CUP on August 14.
The city staff recommended the approval of the CUP to the council. The Planning and Zoning Coordinator Bill Green also stated that there was further discussion with the police Chief Penny Vought and there is a recommendation to limit the type of criminal offenses able to live in the housing facility. This is standard for other facilities of this nature according to Schendel.
Discussion of CUP
Before the council was able to vote there was a lengthy discussion, including a heated public comment portion.
Waseca resident Jackie Dickie approached the stand on behalf of herself and others concerned with the new business to address the city council with questions. Dickie was present, along with a group, at the Planning Commission public hearing.
Her first question was asking what benefit Waseca would get by having the New Hope Board and Lodge business?
“There will be jobs created,” Schendel said.
“It gives Waseca the opportunity to be a welcoming community to help them with their transition,” Mayor Roy Srp said. “It’s a way to transition them back into the community…”
“I am all about small businesses,” Dickie said. “I want business that comes in, brings revenue and this city needs revenue…I’m all for business. I am also empathetic for these individuals, but there needs to be a benefit.”
Her next question asked the council if there were anything the citizens would be liable for as far as financially or any safety concerns?
Green responded to her question saying there are property taxes paid on the home.
She asked if there is revenue from taxes from the house, or would taxpayers have to cover any costs associated with the home residents? To this question there was no answer, further frustrating Dickie.
“I’m all for helping people, but I don’t want the burden placed on the taxpayers and this seems like an ongoing issue and if we don’t address this then it continues,” Dickie said.
“Your questions that you’re presenting make it sound like you don’t want this to happen,” Councilor Les Tlougan said. “We don’t have the option to say no. It is not in State Statute to say no. We have to have substantial reason to say no or we are in violation…”
When Tlougan brought up state statutes of allowing this business in Waseca, Dickie mentioned she had already contacted the State and is waiting on an answer.
During this comment Councilor Mark Christiansen shook his head in frustration, upsetting Dikie, causing her to walk out of the council meeting.
Christiansen was remarking that the city went through this backlash when Elm Homes first came to town.
At this time Srp stepped in.
“I’m going to keep order here and you were incorrect (Christiansen interrupting),this is your (citizens) city hall,” Srp said, getting Dickie to return to the council chambers.
“This is very discouraging and it takes a lot to come here,” Dickie said when she returned.
After her return to the council chambers there was high tension. People were talking over each other causing Christiansen to start to leave, but he stayed when Srp once again took control of the room.
Srp chose to end the commenting portion and called for a motion and vote on the CUP, which passed. Christiansen apologized before the vote was called.
“City hall belongs to you (citizens) and I made that very clear several times and we work for you (citizens) and this chamber is the most welcoming spot in the community and you are always welcome here when you have issues,” Srp said. “I have never not seen this be a welcoming place and tonight we had no reason to not allow citizens to approach.”
Throughout the public comment portion of the CUP discussion there were several moments of frustration between the City Councilors and Dickie. There were several instances of interrupting speakers whether it was a councilor being talked over or the councilor talking over Dickie, adding to the tension in the room.
“Thank you (Schendel) for being here tonight and for bringing business to town,” Srp said.
“We’re not looking to hide from anybody,” Schendel said. ‘We came to your town to help and be a bright spot for the community. We are doing a positive and we hope to help the community. We want to work with the city and have no problems doing that…”