Depending on market value, homeowners in Stillwater could see a hike in the city portion of their property taxes of 6.7 to 9.9% next year. 

In a budget workshop Aug. 20, City Administrator Tom McCarty compared the needs voiced by the various department managers with the trimmed down version of the wishlist recommended by administration and finance. One area discussed in detail was the police department, whose long-time chief John Gannaway will be leaving early next year. With 22 sworn officers, Gannaway said the department has been short-staffed since he was hired in 2007. He said 42% of the shifts last year were covered by just two officers.

“I don’t sleep at night a lot. You’re residents, it should keep you awake,” he told the Council. “We should have three officers per shift especially at night.” Gannaway requested four additional patrol officers for 2020; administration and finance recommend cutting that to one starting Jan. 1. Whatever the Council decides, it won’t be instant: it takes about three months to hire an officer and then three months of training, with a total probationary period of one year before being considered permanent.

The Fire Department also requested one FTE firefighter position, nixed by administration, but will try a new tactic: requiring some of the paid on call firefighters to put in 12 hours per week in the station, rather than relying on a notification to get them there. Fire Chief Stu Glaser called the proposal an in-between step before going to full time staffing. He said the department is currently short seven paid on call personnel. 

Work on the budget continues; the Council will hold a public hearing in December before adopting the final budget.

Meanwhile, a proposal for six combination residential/retail units at the corner of Settlers Way and New England Place drew concerns from Councilmembers and residents. The rowhouse-style units, proposed by Todd Konigson of livwell.design, would have a first floor home office with private garage in the rear, and residence above on the second and third stories. Because zoning presently restricts building heights to two and a half stories, an amendment to the planned unit development would be required, despite the units remaining under the maximum 35’ height restriction. City staff recommended approval with several conditions including a requirement that the developer meet with and obtain approval from both the Liberty on the Lake Homeowners’ Association and the Liberty Village Commercial Association. 

Todd Remely, president of the Liberty on the Lake Homeowners’ Association, said residents support the concept of rowhouses and want to see the land developed, but feel the aesthetic and design does not reflect the New England architectural style that was an integral part of the development from the beginning. He encouraged the Council to not allow a single developer to enter late in the game “and take away what so many people created.”

Other residents and business owners questioned the design of the units, including Liberty resident Darren Senn, who said he was part of the development from the beginning, and Brian Pilrain of Patriot’s Tavern, who said the basic style, size, footprint, and overall look of the proposed units “doesn’t really seem to fit anything else that’s in the neighborhood there.”

Konigson told the Council that Michael Oreck of the Liberty Village Commercial Association had been aware of the project and Konigson believed that association supported it. He understood that the project did not have to go to the homeowners’ association because it is going into the commercial area. 

“We’re totally agreeable to whatever we need to do to get it passed,” he told the Council, asking that the Council approve the project with contingencies rather than denying it.

But Councilmembers voted 3-2 to deny the PUD amendment and special use permit, with Councilmember Ryan Collins and Mayor Ted Kozlowski voting nay.

The Council also discussed a pre-annexation agreement regarding a retail/residential development at the southeast corner of Highway 36 and Manning Avenue. Proposed by Stillwater developer Mark Lambert of Central Commons, LLC, the multi-use development would include commercial, retail, and high-density multi-family uses, partnering with a grocery store, possibly Hy-Vee, as a flagship tenant.

Community Development Director Bill Turnblad explained that the biggest hurdle may be the question of whether the Council is comfortable allowing five-story buildings instead of the three stories presently allowed in the City’s business park commercial district. The developer also is asking for tax abatement to help cover costs of extending city utilities to the area. More details about the impacts will be brought back to the next council meeting. 

If the project goes forward, Turnblad said, construction could begin in 2021 depending on when anticipated roadwork at the interchange begins.

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