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Waseca, MN (507) 837-6767


Gaiter Lake project continues forward

Three lengthy discussions pertaining to the future of Waseca were held during a Waseca City Council work session and meeting which, together, lasted about four hours the evening of Tuesday, May 21, in the council chambers of Waseca city hall. 
The 6 p.m. work session addressed the Gaiter Lake land development project, a topic which touches on deep disagreement among council members. Their heated and far-ranging discussion was followed during the regular meeting by a 4-3 vote instructing city staff to continue working with consultants to “develop real property parcel ID” on property the city owns near Gaiter Lake.
Mayor Randy Zimmerman, council members Mark Christianson, Daren Arndt and Stacey Schroeder all voted in favor of the development; voting in the minority were John Mansfield, James Ebertowski and Jeremy Conrath. 
City Manager Carl Sonnenberg clarified for all present that the vote doesn’t authorize the city to put a house on the ground, but does give city staff the authority needed to move forward with numerous elements of planning, including preparing plans for water and storm sewer work; applying for necessary approvals from the state Department of Natural Resources; working with the consulting firm Stantec to draft a development plan and request proposals from developers; and strategies for locating almost $2 million in funds for the project.
Essentially, the resolution gives city staff authorization to move forward with many critical parts of the various planning phases.
The approved resolution states, “the Waseca City Council hereby determines that it is in the public interest for the City to pursue developing the property by installing public infrastructure on the property to support a residential development on the site.” 
During the work session, it was acknowledged the city stands to be between $110,000 and $500,000 in the red on the subdivision, even after the 33 lots for single family dwellings and 17 lots for twin homes are developed and sold. This does not include the cost for sidewalks and other necessities not yet included in the approximate $2 million project. 
“This doesn’t look viable,” councilperson Mansfield said during the work session. “We’re in the red for all of this. No viable developers have committed. 
“If it were viable, I think we would have people stepping in and saying, ‘We want to build this.’”
Councilperson Stacey Schroeder said people are paying more for lots in Foxdale than they would pay for lots at Gaiter Lake. 
“This is the growth of Waseca,” councilman Mark Christiansen argued.
“I also see it as an investment,” Mayor Randy Zimmerman said. “The expense will be paid for in two years by the taxes.”
Mansfield rejoined saying he sees the project as a gamble which isn’t worth taking. If the lots don’t sell, the tax dollars will not materialize. 
“It’s spending money on spec[ulation],” Mansfield said. “Builders and contractors aren’t doing this because it’s risky.” 
Schroeder countered saying new housing is necessary to make it possible for businesses to come to Waseca. 
Ebertowski said it is not the government’s place to be involved in areas he felt should be handled by the private sector.
Councilman Conrath argued the intended sizes of the lots are what makes this project unattractive. He said if lot sizes were smaller, more money could be made. 
“I’m not going to change anybody's vote up here or get it tabled, I know that,” Conrath said. “It’s going to take 40 to 50 years to get [this] money back.”
Councilman Christianson challenged, “Don’t you want to invest in your community long term?
“Look larger and see what brings people to Waseca,” Christianson continued. “No, it’s not going to pay for itself overnight… We’re hoping that if we take that first step, the best will happen… If they build it, they will come. That is the hope. We’re trying to move Waseca forward.”
Along with disagreement among council members on this controversial topic, there were many heated comments from members of the public.
City resident Jackie Dickey wanted to know why senior housing was not being planned as part of the Gaiter Lake development, claiming seniors are leaving the community because their housing needs are not being met.
One-time city council member Gary Dobberstein and his wife, Deb, spoke with council members between the work session and the beginning of the meeting, and during the time designated for public comment. The Dobbersteins voiced strong opposition to the project, saying there is no need to add lots near Gaiter Lake when lots elsewhere remain unsold. They also criticized the financial costs: ““We need housing,” Deb Dobberstein conceded. “You just don’t need to put it in that field. All this debt in the hole. We’re sick and tired of taxes and fees.”
Calling attention to the claim that additional housing is needed to attract new businesses, she asked, “Why don’t we hear about these businesses?”
Later in the meeting, City Manager Sonnenberg addressed this point, telling those in attendance businesses looking to expand usually begin by approaching city staff with basic questions. 
He provided the example of one ag business which had contacted him recently. The planners were looking at locations for a facility which would employ up to 900 people; among their questions to the city was how much additional wastewater its treatment plant would be capable of handling in the immediate future and then five years from now. The city’s response led the planners to continue their search elsewhere.  
Sonnenberg explained questions from such businesses tend to center around the city’s ability to provide necessary utilities, the amount of housing available for potential employees, and the number of qualified residents likely to consider joining the new company.  
Sonnenberg stressed the importance of water supply and treatment to agriculture-based companies. He provided the example of ConAgra, which has told the city it must move to year-round operations to remain financially viable in its current location. He noted the city is working with ConAgra to help make the expansion possible.


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