Last night, the Chaska Park Board held its monthly meeting. The primary topic on the agenda was the discussion of potential park land dedication as part of the Southwest Christian High School (SWCHS) development on the Francis Hammers farm land (on Bavaria Road just south of US-212).
Here’s some background on the issue: developments of the size of SWCHS are required to either dedicate 10% of the acreage to park land or pay an equivalent amount into the city’s park development fund. The City Council ultimately decides whether to accept the acreage or the contribution to the fund when they approve the development.
Currently, Griep Park is adjacent to the future SWCHS site. Griep Park is an undeveloped, heavily wooded parcel with only a couple of trails going through it. The SWCHS site was originally slated to be single-family homes, and there was an intention to use land in the southeast corner of the Hammers parcel through park land dedication as an add-on to Griep Park and build a neighborhood park on the site.
Four potential park sites were identified, two on the to-be-dedicated land and two on the existing park parcel, with one site on the to-be-dedicated land identified as preferred. Such a park would have been centrally located to the new houses as well as the existing homes located on and around White Oak Drive.
However, the current site plan of SWCHS changes these calculations. The proposed site plan uses the land in a different way than it would be used if it were a residential development. The south side of the property will have large retaining walls (up to 13 feet high) in order to create athletic fields for the school. The site originally identified as being preferable for the location of the neighborhood park is a drainage pond on the current site plan.
So, the land that would be dedicated to the city under the current plan would be of little value to the city — a heavily wooded parcel sitting below the retaining walls of the school. Even SWCHS officials admit there is little use for the land. The city, in the past, has designed parks that work well with adjacent schools. Community Park and Clover Ridge Elementary flow together nicely, as do McKnight Park and Jonathan Elementary. There’s no possibility of this piece of land working with this school in such a manner, based on the topography as well as the current site plan.
As such, I voted with the majority in a 5-2 vote last night to recommend to the City Council that they opt to take the payment into the park development fund as opposed to the park land dedication. This is a decision that has some ramifications for the school. While the exact amount of the fee was not available last night, it is expected to be a six-digit figure.
It would be my hope that if the City Council chooses to accept the Park Board’s recommendation, that they work with school officials to structure the payment in a way that both protects the city’s interests as well as not placing a hardship on the school itself.
SWCHS administration has conducted themselves admirably through this process. The redesigned site plan is significantly improved from the original 2008 plan, and they have held two neighborhood meetings to address concerns. This new facility will be an asset for the city of Chaska, and I look forward to the city and SWCHS continuing their partnership over the years to come.
Additionally, I am pleased that these decisions will allow development of Griep Park to move forward. The White Oak neighborhoods are underserved by park resources today, and the unique character of the Griep Park land should enable a truly unique neighborhood park to be created for those residents.