A public hearing regarding possible rezoning of the former Rushford-Peterson school was held Monday, October 28 just prior to the city council meeting. Several were in attendance to hear proposed plans for the former elementary and high school facilities which were purchased in June by Well House Ministry, a faith-based organization, co-founded by Sherryl and Bruce Brunner. The ministry requested rezoning from R-1 Single Family to R-3 Multi-Family Residential, as well as a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to operate their proposed functions and services.
The Board of Zoning Appeals, after discussion, opted to approve only the rezoning and no the CUP, asking for further details on plans. “There were a lot of questions and a lot of concerns,” clarified City Clerk Kathy Zacher to the council. “The board was not comfortable adopting one and two. There was not enough of a grasp of understanding about what services will be conducted.” Once additional plan details are developed, Well House Ministry will revisit the CUP issue with the board in another hearing.
Mayor Chris Hallum and Councilor Jim O’Donnell both noted that the city had considered rezoning long ago, during redevelopment talks and prior to anyone purchasing the site. Councilors Andrew Linder and Sally Ryman asked for details of citizen concerns regarding rezoning prior to talking a vote.
“None of us want to see as it as public housing, said neighboring property owner Steve Olson. “We would like to see it stay as single family housing, but we didn’t get a clear answer. None of us are in favor of it.”
Neighbor Jackie Heiden also noted concerns. “I have small kids and have worked in law enforcement for years. I’ve seen these types of housing and it typically brings in problems. Yes, there’s a need, but I don’t think Rushford is a good fit, especially when there’s federal dollars elsewhere.”
City Administrator Tony Chaldek stated Well House Ministry is considering everything from public housing to apartments for the elementary wing of the site, but noted specifics didn’t make it past the hearing.
“We aren’t looking to base who gets to rent those apartments on income level. Our intent is to look at affordability and the expectation of people being rented to,” added Sherryl Brunner. The ministry is planning on giving a lower rent discount to those volunteering within their program and stressed those not meeting specific goals would be out. “We want to dispel some of the questions, it will be affordable. In exchange for affordability, accountability and volunteerism is expected.”
“No matter who bought the property, it would have had to be rezoned anyway,” reiterated O’Donnell.
“Moving from R1 to R3, we still have a lot of control over what can happen there. It’s not use, it’s simply rezoned,” added Ryman.
The council approved the rezoning with Linder opposed. Should any further information be brought forth for usage requests or CUPs, the public will be notified.
Also in attendance at the meeting were residents of areas identified on new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood mapping. A private property floodplain assistance meeting was held earlier in October, hosted by the city and led by engineer Derek Olinger, of Bolton & Menk. At the meeting, several properties were reviewed via detailed GIS maps or elevation maps from Barr Engineering and were able to provide documentation to verify they are out of the floodplain. Additional properties will need additional engineering work conducted by Bolton &Menk. Those property owners will be asked to sign a participation agreement to authorize the work and their commitment to their financial portion.
Councilor Terri Benson noted a few property owners had taken the initiative and gone through FEMA directly, but the majority had not been contacted by their lender regarding floodplain insurance requirements. The city took a proactive approach and sent letters to affected parcels. The exact rate of services will depend on how many property owners participate; the more participants, the lower the individual cost. The deadline to notify the city and have a signed agreement is January 31.
“The council didn’t have to do this. It was a decision you made to notify and work with people,” said Chladek. “Kudos to you for doing that. There are a lot of cities that aren’t doing this.” The council voted unanimously to approve a work order to move forward with helping property owners. The city will be financial agent, paying related fees, then being reimbursed by property owners.
Dave Ansell, who spoke for residents of the Nannestad Lane area didn’t have a final number of participants, but indicated it was likely 12 to 14 of 16 affected. “That may change when it comes to sign the agreement and make payment. We’d like some deadline and communication back about how many.”
Ansell also asked the council to consider assessing the cost to tax rolls. “There is a financial concern. Is there a way for the financial burden to stay with property instead of the homeowner?” However, Zacher indicated statutory rules indicate what can and cannot be assessed. Further research into possible financial options is needed. “Obviously, we all want to get out of the situation,” added Ansell. “We didn’t need it in ‘07 and we don’t need it now.”
The city will provide documentation from the residential meeting to affected residents and continue to work on securing signed agreements.
During notices, the public was apprised of a substantial fire at the Rushford Municipal Airport Saturday, October 26 around 2 a.m. Emergency personnel was on site. “It’s just damage to the lounge, but the hangar is a complete loss,” said Hallum.
“It’s just a pile of metal,” said Ryman. The hanger, constructed in the 1970s, is one of two at the site and held six garage units. Due to the fire, utilities at the site are currently down and the airport will remain closed, other than emergency use, until further notice. The fire department chief, public works and city hall representatives, and the insurance company will have met Tuesday, October 29.
“It’s going to take awhile to sort all that out, that’s for sure,” added Hallum. It’s notably complicated due to the hangar being insured by the city, but all the equipment in the hangars being privately-owned. Traffic trends down from mid-October through April or May, but several calls about the airport have already been fielded from city hall.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, November 12, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. Please notice the day change due to Veterans Day observance. A public hearing on the proposed Tobacco Ordinance will also be held. The public is encouraged to attend.