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A Chaska Continuity Crisis? Not so much.

At the December 17 Chaska City Council meeting, the city said its formal farewells to departing Councilors Chris Schulz, Greg Boe, and Paula Geisler, for it was the last meeting for all three.  Jay Rohe, who resigned from the Council in October, was also there to mark the occasion. There was much discussion at the meeting about how the sudden turnover of all four Council seats is unprecedented in the 50-year history of Chaska’s current council structure.

Already there is some muttering and questioning in the community about the lack of continuity and experience on the Council. But is that the right question to be asking? And is the current situation really so unprecedented?

Let’s take the second question first. The notion that Chaska has always had an experienced Council is one that is largely manufactured. In fact, we only need to wind the clock back to 2010 to find another highly inexperienced Council. After Mark Windschitl won the Mayoral Special Election in January of that year, he joined four other Councilors – Gino Businaro, Boe, Schulz, and Rick Ford – who were all in their first term.  Not to mention the fact that City Administrator Matt Podhradsky had been on the job for only a little over a year at the time. Looking back on that time, I think we can all agree that the city survived that “inexperience” on the Council.

Why is that? Well, it goes back to the first question. Continuity in anything can’t – and shouldn’t – only be judged by ensuring that specific individuals are present. No one is irreplaceable and no one is immortal. True continuity is created not by returning the same people to the same seats over and over again, but rather by the hard work of building a common set of values, a shared sense of mission, processes that have been refined with learnings over time, and a commitment to building community.

(And let’s also not forget that the folks who should get to decide how much continuity and experience are valued are the citizens of Chaska – not the Council itself. Keep that in mind should the Council decide to appoint a new Ward 2 Councilor instead of having a special election for the seat.)

Yes, we’ve lost a lot of experience from the Council in recent months. But, we’re also gaining a lot. Mike Huang and Jon Grau both served for nine years on the Planning and Parks & Recreations Commissions (including multiple years as the Chair for both), respectively. Both have been excellent public servants in those roles. McKayla Hatfield is a lifelong Chaska resident and small-business owner who demonstrated her devotion to the city and her willingness to work hard in her victorious campaign this fall.

They bring new perspectives and new areas of focus – just as the group a decade ago did. After all, Chaska has never stood still. It’s never looked backwards. Each wave of leadership has built on the foundation that has been left and moved our city forward into the future. I’m confident that Mike, Jon, and McKayla will do that, too. After all, they’re the product of the hard work put in over the years by generations of Chaska leaders to build that true continuity – one that transcends any individual.

So, don’t despair, question, or mutter. Instead, talk to your City Council members and let them know what you think! Help them move our city forward in a constructive way.


Chaska Park Board approves Griep Park plan

The Chaska Park Board (of which I am a member) approved the plan for development of Griep Park last night by a 6-0 vote.  The plan involves installation of play equipment on the park’s southeast corner near White Oak Drive.  The project has a $90,000 budget — $50,000 for the playground equipment and $40,000 for site preparation, grading, and landscaping.

The project will next go to the Chaska City Council for approval at their meeting on Monday, May 21.

I want to thank the many residents from that neighborhood who got involved with the process.  Your involvement makes for better results.  The final plan will be minimally disruptive to the heavily wooded park, and has nice play areas for both preschoolers and school-age children.  This park is going to be a real asset to the neighborhood, and a nice addition to the city’s park system.

On a sad note, former Park Board member Jack Spizale passed away last week.  Jack was warm-hearted, friendly, and a great asset to the Park Board.  He will be missed.

Chaska Area News and Notes: April 23, 2012

Assorted news and observations from the last few days:

  • I finally got down to Patron Mexican Restaurant over the weekend, and I highly recommend it!  Good food and fairly priced.  Service was a touch slow, but I was willing to live with it because it was nice to see a downtown Chaska restaurant that was busy.  Check out their Facebook page for more information.
  • Chaska Middle School West math teacher Michelle Schnaare was named District 112’s Teacher of the Year on Saturday night.  Schnaare receives a $3,000 grant to use on a classroom project of her design.  Congratulations to her and the other finalists:  Chris Commers (Chaska High School, Social Studies), Sara Falkofske (Chanhassen High School, Science), Marie Foster (Chaska Elementary, 4th grade) and Angie Kissock (Chanhassen High,  Physical Fitness).
  • I attended the first annual Pride of Chaska BBQ Bash on Friday night benefiting Chaska High School.  A great event that raised about $50,000 towards building a competition-caliber softball field at the school as well as acquiring a marimba for the music program.
  • After a series of neighborhood meetings, the plan for Griep Park is being finalized and will be reviewed by the Chaska Park Board at next month’s meeting, which will be on Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Chaska Community Center.
  • Supporters of Ron Paul for President have been very successful in getting their delegates through to the upper levels of the Republican caucus process.  Over the weekend, it was reported that Paul supporters earned 20 of the 24 Congressional District delegate spots, despite finishing a distant second to Rick Santorum in the non-binding vote at the precinct caucuses in February.  This is not going over well in some quarters of the party.

Improvements to Athletic Park and the Chaska Community Center

With all of the school referendum talk the past couple of months, I haven’t had a chance to talk about a few of the things going on with our city’s Parks & Recreation area.  Last month, the Park Board looked at a couple of critical projects that will provide some real benefits to the community.

First, the Park Board (as well as the Planning Commission and City Council later in the month) signed off on plans to build a levy around Athletic Park at a maximum cost of $250,000.  The levy would have completely protected the facility from four of the last seven flood events, and minimized the damage and time the park was out of service in the other three events.  An average flood event costs the city about $30,000 for clean-up and repairs, so we can expect to make up the construction cost over time.  Additionally, the Public Works Department is seeking to lower construction costs by hoping to take advantage of fill made available by other development projects in the area (such as work at the West Ridge Corporate Center on Engler Boulevard), and they believe that the final construction cost number can come in significantly lower than the figure cited above.  The plan also allows for a trail to be constructed on top of the new berm.  This trail fits in with the city’s long-term plans to enhance Athletic Park and provide better connections to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land adjacent to the park.

Secondly, the city is preparing to move forward on some major maintenance projects at the Chaska Community Center.  The building’s core is now twenty years old, and as comes with buildings  that reach that age, it is time for some key elements of the building to be refreshed.   This spring, a new mechanical unit for the pool area will be installed at an estimated cost of $350,000.  Current plans call for the pool to be closed on April 30, re-opening on May 22.  This would be slightly longer than the pool’s usual yearly spring downtime.

The summer of 2013 will see new mechanical equipment installed in the two ice arenas.  This is necessitated by regulation changes surrounding the chemicals used in the current equipment (that make it cost-prohibitive to continue as-is).  Additionally, the equipment has outlived its expected life and is showing signs of its age, particularly in Rink 2.  The project will also improve the ventilation of the entire arena complex.  After the changes, it is expected that Rink 1 will remain ice all year, and Rink 2 will be transitioned to turf during the summer (the opposite of today) .  This is a $3 million project.

Finally, $775,000 is slated to be used for other capital improvements to the facility including:  roof repairs, pool deck repair, replacement of some wellness equipment, renovations to locker rooms in the arena, carpet replacement, and enhancements to the entryways.  These improvements will start next year, ending in 2014.

All of these Community Center projects will be financed by revenue bonds sold by the city and repaid through increased membership, daily-use, and ice rental fees.  Staff believes that they can finance these bonds while maintaining the Community Center’s competitive pricing position with peer facilities.  In my capacity on the Park Board, I will work to make sure that remains the case.

Vote for Athletic Park to help it win a $125,000 grant

Chaska’s historic Athletic Park was selected as one of 25 Twin Cities sites competing to win up to $125,000 in grant money as part of American Express’s Partners In Preservation program.

Winners will be selected by an online vote on Facebook.  You can vote one time per day between now and October 12.  Tell your friends!

To vote:
1. Go to
2. “Like” the page.
3. Find Chaska Athletic Park in the list of sites.
4. Cast your vote for Chaska Athletic Park.
5. Repeat tomorrow!

Athletic Park is currently in 5th place — let’s keep the votes coming!

Chaska Park Board Recap, May 9

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.

Chaska Updates: SWCHS and the Downtown Business Alliance

The next week is an important one for the proposed new location of Southwest Christian High School on the Francis Hammers farm property on Bavaria Road. 

Tonight, the site plan will be reviewed by the Park Board, which has to recommend to the city whether to accept a piece of land in the southeast corner of the property as fulfillment of the parkland dedication requirements or whether to instead ask for a cash payment. 

Wednesday, the Planning Commission will review the site plan and make a recommendation to the City Council as to whether or not the site plan should be approved.  The City Council could then take action on the development at next Monday’s meeting.

In other news, the Chaska Herald reports on the creation of the Downtown Business Alliance, which is a group of downtown Chaska businesses that have broken off from the Southwest Metro Chamber of Commerce in order to ensure a tight focus on downtown Chaska’s issues and opportunities.  The group of businesses in the alliance have been vital in the development of the Downtown Master Plan and will be just as vital in the nuts-and-bolts of implementing it.

Chaska Park Board Meeting tonight

On the docket for tonight’s Chaska Park Board meeting, at 7 p.m. at the Chaska Community Center:

  • Coordination of Winkel Park with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land
  • Chaska Community Center Capital Improvement Program
  • Discussion of objectives for potential Chaska Dome facility
  • Update on Griep Park/SW Christian High School

The public is welcome to attend the meeting.

Chaska News and Notes

Park Board – March 14, 2011

I participated in my first Chaska Park Board meeting last night.  I very much enjoyed meeting the other Board Members and am excited about the great projects we have in store.  Some of the topics discussed were:

  • Athletic Park Master Plan:  discussion of budget and project phasing.  I’ll have more to say on this before it goes before the City Council in April.  I was pleasantly surprised at the cost for the overall project, and I think the phases that have been identified reflect the right priorities.
  • Griep Park Expansion:  As part of the Southwest Christian High School project, a 3.24 acre parcel in the SE corner of the property will be added to Griep Park.   With the SWCHS project getting closer to starting, preliminary designs are being developed for the park, with neighborhood meetings being scheduled in the next two to three months.
  • Dome Discussion:  The Commitment to Community Task Force raised the possibility of a domed facility to provide field space during the winter months.  Since then, the City has begun to take some steps to investigate whether or not such a facility is feasible. 

Martin to appear at DFL SD 34 Meeting

New DFL Party Chair Ken Martin will be appearing at the March 16, 2011 monthly meeting of the Senate District 34 DFL Party.  The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the Wilder Room of the Chanhassen Library.

Other news:

  • A disturbing suicide attempt at the MN-41 bridge over US-212.
  • Le Bistro Tourville is apparently doing some hiring.  The restaurant is reported to be quick-service sandwiches.
  • Levee construction is underway in Carver.  Visit the city’s webpage for more information or to volunteer.
  • Cooper’s Foods is switching primary wholesale suppliers from SUPERVALU to Affliliated Grocers Midwest.  That’s why the store is no longer bannered as a County Market, and you may have noticed that the layout of their weekly circulars have noticably changed.

Downtown Open House reminder and other news

The public open house to review the initial output of the Downtown Master Plan is on Wednesday, February 16.  The event will be held at the Chaska Community Center Community Room from 7-9 p.m.  This event is meant to be the primary means by which the public will get input into the task force’s final report, so if you are interested in the future of Downtown Chaska, please attend.

In other news:

  • At its Monday meeting, the City Council settled on a new policy for determining the Mayor Pro Tem.  The longest standing Council member (with a minimum of two years on the council) will hold the position, with the position rotating yearly to the person with the next longest seniority on the Council.  As Chris Schulz was the Mayor Pro Tem in 2009-2010, the Council named Rick Ford as the Mayor Pro Tem for 2011, with Greg Boe on tap for the position in 2012.
  • The city completed its Michael Foods noise analysis last week.  The facility was within ordinance on an average basis, but there were spikes of noise that were in violation.  The city will be working with Michael Foods to see if those spikes can be eliminated.
  • Finally, I am pleased to report that I have been selected for participation on the Park Board.  There are a lot of exciting projects ahead, and I look forward to helping continue the city’s excellent parks and recreation facilities and programs.  If you have questions or concerns about parks and rec issues, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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