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City Council mtg Feb 20 2024

YouTube link is at end of this post. Scroll below the actual video clip to read highlights and time markers.  The comments below are not posted on the YouTube clip.  The following comments and questions focus on fiscal conservatism (responsibility and accountability with public monies). Nothing shocking or “new” happened at the February 20th Council meeting, but there weren’t enough comments from Council and detail from Harold regarding the projects mentioned, especially since the Projects and HRA minutes provided more questions than answers. The Council meeting lasted less than 30 minutes, maybe a record? Are short meetings the goal for citizen-focused government?

HRA and Projects Committee. Is City Council not comfortable asking for more details, representing the taxpayers interests: money well spent and a needs for citizen- and resident- focused projects? Tonight the meeting should have lasted an hour, not under 30 minutes. Tonight was the time for elected officials and the City to consider costs and specs BEFORE applications and decisions are made. Per minutes submitted for Council packet tonight, many things were not addressed at HRA and Projects meetings. Appointed members on HRA and Projects Committee should have discussed all these things more deeply. They didn’t. That’s okay. But Council should have then voiced more questions and comments to be sent back to HRA and Projects for them to address and respond back to Council.

(1) For example, townhouses would house x amount of adults and kids vs. apartments housing x amount of (working) adults and kids? (2)  If you don’t have a job, you cannot apply for these workforce apartments?  Or stay? (3) What are the priorities and requirements for applicants?  (4) If the proposed Ordinance 375 addresses these questions and issues, why wasn’t something mentioned? This was the First Reading and was tied to the projects on tonight’s agenda. (5) What does the new proposed housing mean in terms of monthly rent? Apartment now vs. townhouse?  How much will be subsidized?  (6) What will the square footage be for apartments vs. townhouses? (7) What about parking?  Garages?

If the housing development has changed from townhouses to apartments, meaning changes in specifications, etc., would or should new bids be solicited? Did or will developers be submitting Plan A and Plan B bids, meaning a high bid for everything requested and an alternative less-cost bid?

There is a reason Ely finally found a developer after such a long frustrating wait . . . or a developer found Ely. Everything in real estate, construction and development circles around money . . . . leading to need for cost cutting for higher profits. Construction of apartments is different than building townhouses. There are probably few, hard-to-access, or no websites that reveal how developers cut costs. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) doesn’t seem to get that involved in major construction projects and housing or mall developments. I know BBB suggests some folks contact the MN Sec of State (licensing and regulations) to resolve issues.

We are assuming “DW Jones” mentioned in the minutes is the same as  D.W. Jones Management, Inc.    We are NOT saying DW Jones is a greedy, bad corporation. We are NOT saying they are doing anything illegal or unusual.  They are probably a great choice for this or any housing development.  But when so much money is involved, shouldn’t someone on City Council, City government, or serving on commissions, committees or boards ask more questions than those mentioned above?  Who does simple vetting like clicking on the BBB website (try it now)? Who taps into deeper feedback from those experienced in how businesses pare down costs as well as the long-term effect of those cut-cutting decisions?  This is also why a diversity of inquiry-minded, fiscally-responsible, and citizen-focused folks should be elected to office and appointed to commissions, etc. We have the same friends-of-friends groups sitting on commissions for 9-year terms, also too many are appointed to serve on more than one commission.

Additional costs for City for housing:  (1) Who is doing the “update” to the Maxfield Research study? No name of person or business was given by Howard. His use of “update,” meaning person or business, was (intentionally?) cryptic. (2) What is the cost for a new and/or updated feasibility study? Who is paying for this?  (3) Wouldn’t an apartment vs. townhouse development mean less land preparation costs? Who saves those dollars?? Are those $$ folded into the developer’s costs or profits?  Who profits with swaps of land?

Hotel, Senior Parking lot, Ott depot development:  What is the City subsidizing (in)directly?  Can the depot development be redesigned, so the City does not need to give away the public parking space on the south side of Miners Drive? Did someone ask?  Is there a correlation between the more real estate you have, the better your financial deals with government?  Is there a correlation between promises of big money for/with big real estate development and the neglect/sacrifice of small businesses and/or public facilities?  Why wasn’t the hotel parking issue openly dealt with AND settled before the renovation started or the agreement signed?

Side note:  It is surprising that there are so many empty store fronts on Sheridan and Chapman, businesses that need remodeling, residential living spaces in need of major repair, elevators that should be installed to make 2nd floor and basement level public gathering places accessible, etc.  Where are the City’s active plans or goals to promote smaller renovation/development projects to help out small business owners and organizations, based on the needs of who lives here now? 

Is accessibility not important, not in the Comprehensive plan, not profitable enough? Is it not the responsibility of City Council and City to promote more accessibility-related projects?  Funding exists.  Search the IRRRB website using “elevators for accessibility” or similar wording. Do people in casts, using canes/crutches, or in wheelchairs need to do handstands to make others more aware of accessiblility issues? Or should they just stay at home? 

We all know the City cannot be blamed for everything. For example, entrances and multiple floors of public businesses do not have to be accessible. Remodeling of entrances or installing of elevators interferes with sales and customer service. Another example, the Senior Center suddenly appeared at Council, needing more funding than originally requested and approved for. The City couldn’t just give them more $$ right then and there. Council and Harold suggested they attend the next Projects Committee meeting with more detailed info about their needs and projects, so the City could help them. The City and Council truly cared. No show per Projects minutes.

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