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City officials: ‘Let’s talk …’

Old school master plan approval deadline set for end of year

With the deadline for the approval of the proposed old middle school master plan detailing a “15,000-foot view,” New Richmond City Administrator Mike Darrow and Mayor Fred Horne worked Tuesday to clear up any misunderstandings among members of the New Richmond School Board who recently expressed displeasure with the document.

At their Nov. 21 meeting (see full story above), school board members objected to the city’s plan, saying that potential commercial interests and the building of a road did not meet their expectations for the project.

Understanding the deadline, both Horne and Darrow said they have extended an olive branch in the past that went unheeded and reiterated Tuesday that they are willing to talk about the issues to arrive at some sort of understanding.

“My initial reaction that I threw out [was to have both] boards sit down and have a joint meeting and go through it,” Horne said. “It’s kind of like neighbors; if there is an issue or problem, let’s sit down and talk. We had thrown that idea out and it wasn’t accepted. I throw that idea out there again. If they have problems with the plan, then let’s talk about it. If we can’t come up with an agreement that we feel is best for the city and the school district, so be it. It is what it is and we move on.”

Darrow agreed with Horne’s assessment of the situation, saying there are 31 days in December and that there is plenty of time for discussions to continue between the city and school.

“We’re having a couple of meetings and I think they are having a couple of meetings, so there’s still time,” Darrow said.

But it was the school board’s recent reaction to the plan that concerned the city officials most.

In addressing the draft plan that was presented to the school board, Darrow addressed that body’s concerns with two specific issues: the potential for commercial development and the building of a road.

“The master plan is a 15,000-foot look at what may happen,” Darrow said. “There has never — not once — been any conversation from the council’s side saying that there will be a road changed. Not once. Same thing with any commercial [development]. Right now the zoning — which is a 5,000-foot look — the master plan says, ‘here’s what you can use.’ It doesn’t talk about where it’s going to go; it doesn’t talk about how it’s going to look. It’s about uses. All the uses that are being proposed are currently allowable by the current zoning ordinance in that area. All of them. These aren’t new uses that are coming out of nowhere. If you look across the street there is commercial there. There has never been any discussion on a site level that says the street is going to go here and there’s going to be commercial. Not one.”

Darrow continued with his description of the plan and what it could mean for both the city and the school district.

“We’ve said … to the school many times — that these are conceptual ideas. I think that’s the thing that’s probably the biggest breaking point. The area that’s concerning … that the city is going to come in and that there is going to be a road change. There has never been … any conversation that says ‘this is what’s going to happen.’ I think that’s where we’re getting a little bit of confusion ... the intent of this document. We’ve also put in the document — and it’s online — that the school will have veto power on any commercial that goes there. It’s clearly stated in that document that says … that the city and school board would have short-term and long-term veto power on any type of development that goes there to support the main area … which is the library. If you scroll to the back of the document … it outlines the major findings … the concerns … we’ve listened to them but from the city’s perspective we want to make sure we’re working together.”

New Richmond City Administrator Mike DarrowDarrow also specifically pointed to the entry in the master plan that states, “No development will occur without the city library being a main focal point of this development.”

Darrow continued to support his argument about the potential for development of commercial entities on the site, saying that the master plan defines those issues specifically.

Reading directly from the master plan, Darrow quoted from the document: “‘If practical, commercial areas could be generated as part of the site plan. These areas are intended to financially support the project. If commercial development is generated, a separate development agreement must be created with the city, the private entity and the school district to ensure those funds are properly utilized to support the site.’

“Basically, what that says is all of them — the school, the developer, and the city — all have to agree on … the concept … if there is commercial … and that those funds that are generated have to go back into the development of the site. That’s where the last piece of this document not only tries to address the concerns of the council but the folks who have attended the meetings and the future — if a library is there as well. We’re proposing a protection of the school’s concerns by [providing] veto power. We don’t want to arbitrarily make this ‘commercial-town.’”

He went on to read again from the plan: “‘No development shall occur without the library being the focal point of this development.’ And it’s even underlined,” he said.

Darrow concluded by saying the city is open to any ideas that could be used for the development of the property and that city officials will sit down and talk about the possibilities.

“The core values of the city is the health, safety, and general welfare. That is our bread and butter. We need to make sure that those things are protected today and into the future.”

Horne added, “I am always willing to sit down and talk with people. What are the differences? What is the heart of the matter? We’re looking at it from our perspective and they are looking at it from their perspective. So let’s try and understand their perspectives. If we can’t figure it out … we move on — we find a different location for the library.”