Council refuses to rezone St. Croix Meadows for a school siteThe Hudson School District’s petition to rezone the vacant St. Croix Meadows dog track for use as a secondary school site was denied 5-1 by the City Council on Monday night.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
The Hudson School District’s petition to rezone the vacant St. Croix Meadows dog track for use as a secondary school site was denied 5-1 by the City Council on Monday night.
The council also rejected the school district’s request to delay the decision to give the parties time to negotiate an agreement that would alleviate the city’s concerns. That decision also came on a 5-1 vote.
The main issue for the alderpersons who opposed the rezoning was the loss of commercial property and tax revenue that would result from having a school built on the 130-acre site.
Attorney Peter Seguin, speaking for the owners of the dog track, and School Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten tried to convince the council that a deal could be worked out to offset the lost tax revenue.
“The bottom line is we are willing to work with you if you are willing to work with us. We just want your ideas,” Seguin said. “…You tell us what to do and we will try our best to make it happen.”
Bowen-Eggebraaten said the school board was willing to pick up the entire salary of the police-school liaison officer, which would offset the city’s loss of $23,000 in annual property tax revenue from the dog track.
She indicated that it also might be possible for the district to set aside more than the 10 acres that it promised previously for commercial and/or residential development.
Mayor Alan Burchill didn’t attend the meeting because of what Council President Rich Vanselow reported to be a family emergency. Vanselow conducted the meeting in Burchill’s absence.
“We have no problem with any of the people involved in this process. We have no problem with the school board,” Vanselow said in opening the discussion.
He said both the council and school board are working toward what their members believe is in the best interest of the community. He encouraged speakers to remain civil in what has been an emotional debate.
The council chamber at City Hall was filled to capacity, with audience members spilling out into the hallway.
Lori Bernard was the first alderperson to address the issue. She came to the meeting with a Power Point presentation showing recent city expenditures on street projects near Hudson schools, as well as property-tax and median-income comparisons for the five municipalities that make up the school district.
“The city is already paying more than its fair share for schools,” Bernard said.
Her figures showed that the tax bill for a $200,000 home is the highest in the city ($3,400) among the five municipalities. Meanwhile, the city’s median household income ($60,458) is the lowest of the five.
Bernard faulted the school district for not talking to the city Plan Commission before holding the April referendum asking voters for permission to buy the dog track.
Alderpersons Randy Morrissette II, Mary Yacoub, Kurt TeWinkel and Vanselow also gave statements explaining their opposition to the rezoning.
District 5 Alderperson John Hoggatt spoke in support of the rezoning.
“I’m not inclined to go against the will of the voters,” he said, calling attention to the fact that 58 percent of city voters supported the school district’s purchase of the dog track in the April referendum.
He said construction of a new St. Croix River bridge between the town of St. Joseph and Oak Park Heights, Minn., will increase the pressure on Hudson’s already overcrowded secondary schools.
Hoggatt said he’s heard from Hudson residents who say they’re thinking about relocating to nearby communities like New Richmond and Stillwater that have new schools.
In a statement following Monday night’s meeting, Bowen-Eggebraaten said the school district “is disappointed in the City Council’s unwillingness to work together with both the district and the St. Croix Meadows owner to find a solution that benefits all parties.”
“The district will not be able to find another school site that offers the value that St. Croix Meadows does for a future secondary school,” Bowen-Eggebraaten said.
She said the school board “will need to consider its options and develop a plan to move forward with addressing the overcrowding and growing enrollments at both the middle and high schools.”
“This is an unfortunate outcome for the community and Hudson students,” the superintendent concluded.
Pick up a copy of this week's print edition of the Star-Observer for more on the story.