Our View...County residents need to ask hard questions before development goes any furtherIt’s important to realize that there is no limit to the public comment period – or private conversations with your commissioner – about the wisdom of the county embarking on a 212-acre mixed-use development, which is planned to include six light-industrial lots, 15 multi-family lots and 28-single family lots.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
This week marks the start of a 30-day public comment period on possible environmental implications of Carlton County’s proposed mixed-use development, which is planned to include six light-industrial lots, 15 multi-family lots and 28-single family lots.
The 212-acre site sits near the county’s Transportation Building in Twin Lakes Township, and is bordered by the Munger Trail along the southern edge of the property and the Burlington Northern Railway line along the northern border.
It’s important to realize that there is no limit to the public comment period – or private conversations with your commissioner – about the wisdom of embarking on such an endeavor.
It’s not that we’re completely opposed to the idea, but we are definitely not sold on it. Particularly since the Esko Business Park (which also sits next to I-35) has yet to attract a single client, and Cloquet can boast of only two in the six years since its business park opened.
According to the Environmental Assessment Worksheet submitted by County Economic Development Director Pat Oman and his associates, the county’s proposed “light industrial” park would not compete with Cloquet or Esko because it would require a minimum 10-acre lot size.
In the application, Oman states that four businesses – including a wood products manufacturer, a recycling company, a reclaimed wood products company and a contract construction engineering firm – have expressed interest in locating on the site. Of course, businesses that locate in the county’s business/industrial park would have access to the Burlington Northern Railroad Line as well as I-35 and Highway 210, a definite selling point.
It would seem the job of a county economic development department would be to promote the entire county. Were these businesses unable to find any other desirable sites in Carlton County? Did they tour the existing business parks with their one-acre lots? Did they look at some of the myriad other buildings and/or sites in the county that sit empty?
The example set by Cloquet and contract manufacturing company SpecSys is one all cities in the county should work to emulate. By working with the business owner and, yes, providing some financial incentive (which is what business parks do too) – the city was able to snag a new business with new well-paid jobs and renovate a pretty run-down building at the same time. Although it’s hard to know what’s going on inside, no one can argue that the Royal Building at 1111 Cloquet Avenue looks a heck of a lot better now than it did four months ago, and is now another feather in the cap of downtown Cloquet.
As for the argument that Carlton County needs more housing – also cited in the worksheet – that is partially true. We have a serious lack of “affordable” housing.
A year ago, Cloquet Community Development Director Holly Butcher told Cloquet City Council members that a statewide study had concluded Carlton County and Cloquet had a serious lack of affordable housing for lower income families. In this case, lower income was defined as families “which earn 80 percent or less of the mean income of $50,000, or just under $41,000.”
We lack affordable rental units. However, we need both those things in population centers, where access to schools and grocery stores – rather than a casino – is possible by foot.
One thing we don’t lack is building lots in our beautiful countryside that are available for residential development.
Then there’s the question of who will foot the bill to run a water line to the business park, estimated in June 2011 at $7.1 million to run the line from Carlton along the Highway 210 business corridor, Olsonville and the Nordquist Addition.
Lots of things to think about.
This is a 212-acre development that the County Board is mostly committed to, although board members will be quick to explain that they haven’t spent a dime of county money … yet. The $1 million or so that’s been spent already has come from the economic development side of things and included the $800,000 purchase price for the land.
Before things go any further, it seems like a lot more questions should be asked, and answered.