The Forest Lake City Council unanimously denied a new small single-family home and townhouse development located on a 2.6-acre triangle at the juncture of West Broadway Avenue and 232nd Street North.
The development, named Cedar Cove, was a small mixed housing division, recommended by the planning commission on June 23, subject to the conditions of a minor subdivision application. However, during a review of the application, it was discovered the application did not conform to the minimum city standard for sewer depth on one of the lots. The sewer installed requires a depth of 7.5 to 8 feet; the proposal only had a depth of 6.2 feet on the western portion.
The issue would mean the homeowner would have struggles with the sewer pipes freezing. Council member Sam Husnik asked if there were any workarounds that could help for approval. Public works director Dave Adams said that those standards exist now “for a reason” and gave the example of North Shore Circle, where the city is spending $2.1 million to correct that exact issue.
“There weren’t these engineering standards when they put it in, but that’s why we have those standards now, is to avoid situations like that,” Adams said. He said that while the lines to a house are not the city’s responsibility, the city often has to respond, regardless.
The sewer depth is adequate on the other two lots of the proposed site. However, the council must either approve or deny the application as a whole. The council unanimously denied the application, but encouraged the applicant to reapply for the two lots that have sufficient utility depth.
City Administrator Patrick Casey addressed council with a list of considerations ahead of budget season, specifically as to how they would affect the tax levy, since the council has to set a levy limit in September. A final budget must be approved by the end of the year.
The biggest considerations include infrastructure, specifically utility rates (water, sewer, and stormwater) and street improvements. Casey said that he is hoping the federal funds likely coming through an infrastructure package will help with road improvements or utilities. But he said that the road improvements needed a more long-term plan, as well.
“We can do debt until we’re blue in the face, but it should be a hybrid; it should be debt and long-term financing and finding a way to finance your roads,” he said. Until two years ago, the city used no property tax dollars for road improvements. Currently, only $100,000 of local taxes goes towards road improvements, “which maybe gets 100 feet of road, I would think,” Casey said.
Council member Kelly Monson said that many of her constituents have indicated they thought the property taxes paid for roads.
“I think they assumed we covered that in property taxes, and we don’t, so if we want nice roads we have to be prepared to pay for nice roads,” Monson said.
Contracts, like with Lakes Center for Youth and Families, were also considered for possible re-evaluation in the budget. Linda Madsen, executive director of LC4YF, presented to the council the recent negative financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the loss of revenue from their severed charitable gambling lease with Running Aces, at the council meeting on July 5 at which its annual contract with the city was approved.
Other topics up for budget consideration updates to Castlewood Golf Course so it becomes self-sustaining, and staffing needs within the city. Council is also trying to identify revenue streams, like a city sales tax or bonding for road improvements.
Council member Kathy Bystrom said: “We have revenue limitations. … That’s why we’ve been trying to explore options to generate additional revenue to get this done, like a city tax for example. I’d like to take a look at that comprehensive picture again, as we enter into this [budget season].”
“We try to be as conservative as you are. … That’s why I think we’re coming back with staffing plans and financial plans,” Casey said. City staff will have their recommendations in late July or early August for council consideration.