Utility and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts will be able to use Waconia city streets to get places effective April 1.

The Waconia City Council approved an ordinance Feb. 1 that authorizes limited use of UTVs and ATVs on city streets by permit. Permit details and fee structure should be finalized by March, according to city staff.

The ordinance allows special vehicles to be used on city streets only for the most direct access to points outside the city, also in conjunction with snow plowing of private driveways and sidewalks. No special vehicles are allowed on city trails, sidewalks, or parks.

The special vehicle ordinance has been deliberated and modified over several months, but was approved quickly after just a short discussion last Monday on a unanimous vote.

Council member Carl Pierson noted that public input and correspondence on the matter have been running significantly in favor of the ordinance, and that a “sunset provision” will give the city “a year and a half to determine if they (special vehicle operators) can drive responsibly on city streets.”

The current ordinance is effective until Dec. 31, 2022. The city council will review the matter again prior to expiration.

In other business last Monday, the council heard presentations on the 2021 legislative session, affordable housing and Safari Island community center operations.

Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia), former mayor and city councilman, noted that 2021 is a budget year for the state, that legislators need to respond to a considerable budget deficit posed by the pandemic, and that they will be closely eyeing Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget which calls for $1.65 billion in new revenue.

The proposed budget has already been a “much heated topic of conversation,” Nash said, adding that state leaders will need to determine the impacts on individual taxpayers and businesses given the ongoing effects or COVID-19, and whether an expense is “a need-to-have or nice-to-have.”

The council and Rep. Nash also discussed disparities in local government aid allocations, with Waconia getting just a fraction of what several other surrounding communities receive in state aid, according to the latest figures.

“It’s a strange and confusing formula that needs an overhaul,” Nash said.

The council also heard from Allison Streich, Carver County Community Development Agency deputy director, on the agency’s plan to move ahead with a 60-unit affordable housing complex on Airport Road across from Target.

The plan was authorized by the city way back in 2011, but the CDA just received funding approval from Minnesota Housing in December 2020 after several previous applications, Streich noted. Construction is expected to begin this fall.

Safari Island also was a topic of conversation, with general manager Julie Karnes reporting the impacts of COVID-19 on the facility. The community center is currently operating at 25 percent capacity with considerable safety and cleaning provisions. It was closed four months in 2020 and membership has dropped 35 percent from about 1,400 before the pandemic to just over 1,000.

To offset lost revenues, Safari Island has reduced operating hours guided by member use, restructured membership programs, and senior leadership are working the front desk to reduce staffing.

City footnotes

A virtual public open house is scheduled Thursday, Feb. 11, from 6-7:30 p.m., to share current information for downtown infrastructure improvement project planned for 2022-2023. The meeting will be conducted online via Zoom. Go to waconia.org/downtown for more information and to sign up for the meeting.

The city has received more than 20 applications for the open city administrator position as of last week. The application deadline is Feb. 19, and the city expects to complete the review and hiring process by April.

The city newsletter “Wavelength” has been redesigned. Residents will see the new version in their latest utility bills.

Plans and team recruiting continue for the Lake Waconia Polar Plunge slated for March 20 at the regional park to raise funds for the city proposed Inclusive Playground and Special Olympics Minnesota. Visit PlungeMN.org for more information and to sign up for the event.

Load comments