By Craig Moorhead
The Caledonia Argus
The Caledonia city council got an earful on Monday, May 10. That’s when members convened a public hearing on the future of city-owned Sprague Woods.
Approximately 75-80 persons showed up for the hearing, with over a dozen speaking on whether the property near highway 44 should be kept as a park/natural area or re-zoned commercial and sold.
Basically, all who spoke asked the council to keep the 8.1 acre property as a park for future generations. LaVon Felton of Sleepy Hollow Chevrolet Buick did not directly address whether the city should keep the park or not, but did assure attendees that his business has no plans to move from it’s downtown location in the next couple of years, if not longer.
“There’s some spectacular trees there,” retired state forester Randy Mell said, adding that it was in the city’s best interest to “try to keep it as a woods...”
Records indicate that the Sprague property was donated to Caledonia Green, then offered to the City of Caledonia in the 1990’s for use as a park and outdoor classroom. Resident Kari Neumann told the council that “My concern is, if you don’t honor things that people donate to the city - that previous councils have agreed to - you’re going to lose credibility with anybody that wants to donate to the city.”
Fred Kruckow agreed with that, as did others. “Sprague Woods was donated by Bob Sprague for a park,” he said. “What gives us the right to turn it into a commercial property?”
More than one speaker also insisted that restrictions on the use of the property which were somehow never recorded on the deed should be added to that document. Another topic that was repeatedly mentioned was the need for better signage at the park, which some said would result in more people using the walking trails. Sprague Woods is just not well-known, several speakers said.
“The location of Sprague Woods isn’t even listed on the map as a park...” Holly Becker said. “Caledonia needs commercial development, but not at this location...
“We have tonight 554 signatures that were gathered in the last week, asking for the council to continue on with the original agreement that Sprague Woods would never be used for commercial development and would remain a nature preserve for all history in memory of Bob and Marge (Sprague).”
Susanne Roesler (owner of Caledonia Bakery) said that “People come to Caledonia from out of town... And the more that we can do to get people to stop, to slow people down as they’re coming along the highway (the better). Maybe they stop for doughnuts and coffee, and ‘Oh, we saw a really cool woods on the way in, why don’t we take our coffee and doughnuts and go over there?’”
The hearing lasted for about an hour, followed by some discussions by council members, all of whom thanked community members for attending.
Councilwoman Amanda Ninneman said commercial space is needed in Caledonia. “I’ve done a lot of thinking about this issue for the last month, and for me, I don’t think it’s an issue of whether or not Caledonia would benefit from additional commercial space...” she stated. “But in this case it boils down to whether or not the council should correct a mistake that was made 15 years ago. It was given, not as a gift for the city to do with as it chose. It was a gift that was given to the community and left in care of the city... and I think that it’s clear that the community would like to keep the woods and require the city to be better stewards of it. I think that we should honor the original agreement.”
Councilman Bob Klug said that “As far as the City of Caledonia goes, we are in definite need of highway frontage for commercial development, hoping that we can keep Sprague Woods as it is, hoping we can find something else for the businesses that move to Caledonia, that they have a place to go. We’re looking at jobs and businesses coming in, so, unfortunately we can’t make any more highway frontage, but maybe something will pop up. Maybe businesses can find other things that will work, I guess. We have a job to do and we have to do what is best for the City of Caledonia.”
Councilman Brad Rykhus said, “I think the public has spoken. I’m going to go with the public on this.”
Councilman David Fitzpatrick said that he was “All about new businesses coming to town,” but also praised the people who attended the public hearing. “You guys did your homework on this, and brought this to the table for us, stuff we didn’t know,” he stated.
“I think we’re all in agreement that we want to keep it,” Mayor DeWayne Schroeder said.
Klug asked for the topic to be tabled for a later meeting. Council members agreed.
City staff reported that a likely opening date for the Caledonia Aquatic Center is now July 12, some five weeks after the facility was originally set to open. In order to keep pool staff for the brief 2021 swim season, members voted to offer double wages for lifeguards, assistant managers, and the manager. The city will seek $400 per day in liquidated damages from the contractor now making repairs to pool gutters. Those late fees will begin on May 18.
A single consent agenda vote cleared up several items. The city purchased a new 2021 John Deere 544P wheel loader for the trade-in of a 2018 model plus $19,510. Members also approved the hire of part-time firefighters Kole Skauge and William Parsons.
An amended agreement with Caledonia Township (discussed on April 26) was approved. That pact now limits township costs for a rebuild of a portion of Green Acres Drive to 50% of 2021 construction work, excluding items such as potential engineering/design fees and work that is expected to take place in 2022 from the current agreement.
A permit for Katie O’Regan of Sacred Noise Society to place an electronic sign at 111 E. Main was approved with four conditions. Those included keeping flashing or moving objects, or lights that resemble emergency vehicles off the sign, which must be fixed flat to the front of the building.