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'With regret,' park board backs land sale for condos

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Land sale a compromise to enable project

The majority of the Storm Lake Parks and Recreation Advisory Board gave its blessing for the city to sell a portion of the golf course public land for a Project AWAYSIS condominium development Monday night, but not without some controversy.

"AWAYSIS has a lot of good things. In my opinion, the condominiums are one of the bad. In some ways we have no choice but to build the condos," said Roberta Bochtler, who later made the motion - officially adding a "regretfully" to its wording, to recommend to the city council that the land be sold.

Project AWAYSIS is counting on about a million dollars in revenue from the condos project to help pay off the $30 million overall project. The question at issue is - does the city have the right to sell off public parks property for a private development?

Project AWAYSIS manager Mike Wilson told the board that there are a number of things he would like to see different about AWAYSIS, but that "a lot of little compromises must be made to accomplish the overall project."

That didn't sway Harold Redenbaugh, the former chair of the parks advisors board.

He said that the bylaws of the board dictate that it preserve the view of the lake, protect established trees from being destroyed and preserve public land from private or commercial development, implying that the proposal violates those rules.

City officials said later that those bylaws were written by the board itself, and had never been approved as official by the city council.

As such, the parks board can change or make exception to those rules, they said. When it came time to vote, Redenbaugh let out an audible sigh of frustration, and after a short pause, uttered "opposed." The other three members all voted in favor of the land sale, with one member not present.

The parks board has only advisory power in Storm Lake's form of government, but city code requires careful review before public land can be sold.

In an emotional statement, Bochtler expressed the board's mixed feelings, saying at one point that it should probably be against the law to sell land that does not belong to you.

"When this project was first proposed, our board commented that it was not in favor of giving up any public land ever. That was a very strong feeling of the people on the board," she said.

"The comment came back to us that we cannot pick and choose when it comes to AWAYSIS. We have to take the project in its entirety, and that means we have to build those condominiums.

Others agreed, saying that it seems the only choice the parks board was making is whether the land should be sold or leased.

City officials contend that the condos would be less saleable or might bring less revenue if the developer could not own the land on which they were being built - the ridge overlooking the lakeshore along Sunrise Park Road.

Park board members noted that the court battle over possession of the Harbor House between the out-of-state landowner and the church that had rights to the building on it present a good case against trying to lease property for a major development.

Redenbaugh questioned why some elements of AWAYSIS are being built on the low one-time dredge fill land at the lakefront, while the condos are being build on the higher land of the golf course. He said that the state had dictated that the public lakefront land be preserved for only recreational use.

Wilson said that the state had refused to allow the residential development on the lakefront lower land, but had granted permission for the hotel and its waterpark to go there and be considered as recreation.

Park Board member Jeff Stavnes noted that the city had purchased the golf course some years ago, but that for most of the city's history, it was actually owned by the Moore Trust [and could in theory have been sold for development.] "In effect it this portion of land would just revert back to private ownership" when the city sells it for condos, Stavnes said.

Marsha Ingram, who had just been elected as chairperson of the parks board although she had preferred to nominate Stavnes, spoke about the issue of blocking the lakefront view.

Wilson agreed that the lake view will be blocked from much of the golf course. The design calls for condos to be located in at least three buildings rather than one long one, so that there will at least be gaps between buildings to glimpse the water. He said he joked with one golfer who mentioned the loss of view, telling him that he was supposed to be looking at the ball.

City administrator Patti Moore said that in meetings with a committee of local golfers toward a redesign of the course, the loss of view did not seem to be an issue.

Bochtler noted the large dirt berms on the AWAYSIS development site that will further block view from the highway coming into town. Wilson noted that the lodge and waterpark will be built on top of those build-ups of soil, and said that the view will be blocked from the golf course clubhouse to near the skating rink.

"If someone s driving by at 35 miles per hour, we're talking about just a few seconds," without seeing the lake, Moore added.

The city officials were appreciative of the parks board's support after the meeting. "We understand it is not typical, not normal, and we wouldn't ask [to sell public land] if in our heart we didn't believe it was the right thing to do in the bigger perspective," Wilson said to the members.

Ingram said that coming into the meeting, the group well realized the condos were going into the plan. "Bottom line, if the land is sold, the community gains from that money up front. The condos are going to be there... We were not going to change it."

The city council will field the recommendation and consider taking action. The council next meets on April 3.



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