Having skipped blogging for a week, the City Beat has had a chance to think in the long-term as I’m not reacting to any immediate events.
Here are a few things that City Hall watchers might like to keep an eye on:
Every homeowner, it seems, hate the specials and the Grand Forks City Council hates that they hate. So it’s making another effort to get rid of specials. They’re a kind ofÂ tax that pays for repair and construction of streets, and is levied on properties benefitting from the streets in question. It comes as a lump sum, say a few thousand dollars, that property owners can pay off over time with, naturally some interest. The sticker shock is what makes most homeowners mad.
There are no easy solutions, though the city has made a lot of progress finding different kinds of revenue, such as highway grants and sales taxes, to reduce the specials. While previous efforts to get rid of specials pretty much ended as soon as they started, it appears the city’s made enough progress reducing the specials that eliminating them altogether seems plausible.
Keep an eye on the task force that Council President Hal Gershman will be forming to look into this. The last I heard the group was still being assembled.
Site for new library
As I reported a few weeks ago, the cost of buying land for the proposed new library was not appealing to the Library Board. Chairwoman Susan Mickelson said she expected the two most favored sites, the old Leevers supermarket and farmland by the old Rex electronics shop, would probably cost in excess of $1 million each.Â So, the board’s taking a new look at a proposal from the Park District to co-locate the library with the new wellness center. That land would be free.
Previously, board members thought the location just south of 40th Avenue South and a block east of South Washington Street was too far away from the population center. Another issue is the lack of visibility from a major thoroughfare. There are fields there now, but onceÂ the area is fully developed it’ll be as hard to see the new library as it is to see the current library.
These things are still true, but free land would certainly make the price tag more appealing to voters when they get around to voting on the sales tax for the library in April.
I was reminded of all this while sitting through a presentation by the Park District today, which included the site plan for the wellness center, packed with buildings and facilities, including the potential site for a new senior center. Someone asked about access for north end residents and parks chief John Staley said the city would probably reroute buses down that way. It’s easy to imagine that this would be a community hub in the future and the library could both contribute and benefit from the traffic generated, which, ultimately is a key goal of a new library.
This is a more recent issue that’s popped up. As you know, the Civic Auditorium apartment building has asked to be a part of the downtown parking district, which would reduce its parking requirements. When I saw this agenda item pop up last week, I was immediately alarmed because the staff report said that the Civic apartments could use some parking in the parking ramp by Central High School. Of course, the high school has been worried about parking because it will lose a lot when another apartment building goes up in the parking lot across the street from the Civic.
It just looks like a game of musical chairs where more players are added even as chairs are taken away. I realize that each of these apartments will have their own parking, but things are so fluid it’s hard to tell if there will be a net increase or a net decrease. The City Council’s finance committee seems to fear the latter based on discussions I heard yesterday, which is why it wanted the Civic developers to buy the land next to the GuestHouse Town House hotel that’s nearby and build a new parking lot. That’s a bit harder than it seems because the hotel’s post-flood loans have been sold so many times I’m told the owners aren’t sure who to talk to to get permission to sell.
There will be 53 apartment units at the Civic apartment and 85 parking stalls on site. That would work out to 1.6 parking stalls for every unit, except there’s also commercial space on the ground floor, which is what caused the parking requirements to get rather high. Depending on what goes in to that space, the parking crunch could be very real. Urban Development chief Greg Hoover said there’s ample on-street parking in the area in contrast to other commercial zones in town, implying that parking requirements for those zones would be excessive for the Civic. His conclusion was that the Civic wouldn’t use the Central ramp very much if at all.
I go by there all the time and, though there’s ample parking east and away from the hotel, it’s often pretty packed closer in. What I wonder is what it’d be like with the area built up. No doubt there will still be students parking east of the hotel.
Kevin Ritterman, an experienced developer who’s working on the Civic apartment, said that, initially,Â the commercial space will not need much parking because he’ll just move hisÂ office there. Dakota Commercial and Development isn’t the kind of business that gets a ton of walk-ins so he’d only need 15 stalls, he said.
That works out to 1.3 stalls for every apartment unit, which conceivably means 17 units with two renters and two cars and 36 units with one renter and one car. Otherwise, somebody will be at the parking ramp. I heard Greg or someone say that downtown residents probably wouldn’t need cars like people in other parts of town, but that seems like wishful thinking to me; even I need a car and I live right by work.
Keep an eye out for more developments, though bear in mind that this is actually a good problem to have. People bitch and moan about parking so much that I think we forget how we felt when downtown was a flood-ravaged wasteland.