Council Meeting Recap – February 17, 2015

The Crystal City Council held Citizen Input Time, two work sessions, an EDA meeting, and a council meeting on February 17, 2015.

While trains dominated the discussion this week, this recap is going to skip discussion of anything involving trains.  Please see this post from councilmember Olga Parsons and/or this post from me for more details on that issue, including what you can do to help out.

Citizen Input Time is a time when citizens can come address the council on any topic in a more informal setting than during the council meeting.  There is usually a session scheduled once a month prior to a council meeting, except during the summer.  Check the schedule for upcoming dates.

We heard from three citizens at Citizen Input Time.  Two on the train issue, and one on an issue regarding a pond located near The Heathers.  Staff is following up on the pond issue, which has been ongoing.

At the first work session the Human Rights Commission presented their 2015 work plan.  We’ll have more on this soon as the  council discusses generally what our strategy will be regarding commissions.

Now, on to the regular meeting, which kicked off in an exciting way- with a proclamation from Mayor Adams that February 18, 2015 is Matt Borchers Day in Crystal.  Matt is an amazing young man who achieved the rare goal of earning all 139 Boy Scout merit badges before his eighteenth birthday.  Read more about Matt and his accomplishment here.

The next item on the agenda was a public hearing related to the allocation of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.  The CDBG is a federal program that has been in existence since the Ford administration.  Crystal receives about $100,000 each year from the federal government under this program, and we have some limited choices on how to allocate these funds.

Historically, Crystal has put all of our CDBG funding into a deferred home improvement loan program.  This allows residents who meet an income requirement to apply for a loan to improve their home. If they stay in their home for 15 years, the loan is forgiven.  If they sell, it must be paid back.

Demand for this program varies from year to year, but last year we ended with a waiting list of residents who wanted to take advantage of it.

We do have the discretion of allocating some of our CDBG funds to other limited purposes, such as certain social services organizations. Each year we do get some requests from organizations seeking part of Crystal’s CDBG allocation.  These organizations typically receive funding from the CDBG allocation of other cities, and want to also receive funding from Crystal.

There was discussion this year, as there was last year, to change our allocation to provide social services funding.  There are many great social services organizations that operate in our area, and they can each make a very compelling case for funding.

However, the deferred home improvement loan program has been working, and working well in Crystal since the 1980’s, and the goals of that program align with the intent of the CDBG program.   Other cities have not seen the same level of success with the loan program, and have ended the year with unspent funds.  In those situations, it may make sense to allocate to other programs, but that isn’t the reality in Crystal.  We have the opposite situation, where we don’t have enough funds to meet the demands of an established program.

There was a motion to change our allocation for 2015 to include social services funding, which failed 5-2.  The vote to allocate 100% of the CDBG funding to the deferred home improvement program passed 6-1.

We had a few non-controversial issues next, including approving the transfer of a liquor license to a new owner, appointing two new members of the planning commission, ordering a feasibility study for phase 8 of the alley reconstruction program, and authorizing the purchase of some planned equipment for the new public works facility.

Next we moved on to the consideration of a change in our zoning ordinance to allow impound lots as a conditional use in the industrial zone.  This was prompted by the rail project, which would take the land of North Suburban Towing, which has been operating an impound lot in Crystal for decades.

Our current zoning doesn’t allow impound lots anywhere in the city.  North Suburban Towing is allowed to stay where they are indefinitely because they are “grandfathered in”.  However with the railroad potentially taking their land, they would be forced to move, and our ordinances would prohibit them from relocating in Crystal.

So unless we change the ordinance we’d lose a long time business because they had to relocate through no fault of their own.

The new ordinance allows impound lots in our industrial zones, subject to a few restrictions including minimum lot size and fencing requirements.

The ordinance change was passed unanimously, and there will be a second reading in the next few weeks.  (All ordinance changes require two readings, giving the public multiple opportunities to weigh in.)

We also considered the change of the ordinance governing second hand goods dealers, as it was found that it would apply to a new business who wants to sell refurbished appliances, which was not the intent of the original law.  To solve the issue we listed refurbished appliances as an exception.  That change also passed unanimously.

That was the last item on the regular meeting agenda.

After that we had a quick EDA meeting where we authorized some plat changes to allow us to sell part of an irregularly shaped lot held by the city to the adjacent homeowners.  It basically takes a triangle shaped lot and makes it a rectangle.  We’d sell the other triangle pieces to the property owners who back up to the lot, making their lots more regularly shaped as well.

After the EDA meeting we went into a work session focused on trains.

The next meeting and Work Session will be Tuesday, March 3.

You can watch the video of the council meeting here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

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