Nothing has been signed, and the public will have more opportunities to sound off, but the proposal for a marina in downtown Forest Lake earned the endorsement of two more city boards Monday night.
Split votes in favor of the project cast by the Economic Development Authority and the city council follow last week’s unanimous recommendation from the Forest Lake Park Board.
The next step is for the park board to negotiate with Minneapolis-based Your Boat Club to produce a contract that would need to be ratified by the city council. From there, an agreement would need approval from the council and park board.
Finally, a conditional use permit, the process for which requires a public forum and approval by the planning commission and city council, would need to be secured to finalize the deal.
Despite losing the support of two former advocates, the concept for a 24-slip marina off the downtown Lakeside Memorial Park won the recommendation of the EDA on a 5-2 vote.
Members Mark Finnemann and Jackie McNamara cast the dissenting votes.
Finnemann said he surprised himself with his final opinion because he does see value from economic and housing standpoints.
“But you know what it comes down to for me is the lineal frontage we have at the park and the clean transition from park to lake and the view and how limited that territory really is,” he said.
McNamara also feels the marina would be a boon for the downtown but gave a two-fold explanation for her opposition. She questioned the shift in ultimate responsibility for the project from the EDA to the park board and said that move was not properly communicated.
Later, at the council meeting, she said her main motivation for voting against it was the concerns raised by the public. Despite supporting the marina personally, she said she felt obliged to vote on behalf of the community at large.
“When I weigh the pros and the cons that I’ve heard from the public, my cons were really a lot heavier than my pros…I think I have to support what I’ve heard from the majority.”
EDA President Chris Johnson, Forest Lake’s mayor, voted to recommend the project to the council. He was joined by EDA members Mike Muske, Judy Huntosh, Bob Morehead and Blake Roberts.
Muske said there is much misinformation floating around and that the community needs to understand the EDA’s purpose.
“I think if people really understood what we’re trying to accomplish and why, it would be a whole different feeling,” he said. “I don’t think anyone here is proud of our downtown. I know I’m not. Our role is to try to help fix some of that stuff.”
Roberts said his concerns over aesthetics were dispelled by the park board’s support of the project. A past president of the Forest Lake Lake Association, Roberts called for the city’s revenue from the marina to be earmarked for lake improvement purposes.
“$10,000-$12,000 doesn’t seem like a lot, but in that budget, that’s a lot,” he said. “That’s almost half of what we’re spending now [as a city].”
As at the EDA meeting, members of the public were allowed to address the city council. The discussion featured a lifelong lakeside resident speaking against the proposal and a local member of Your Boat Club speaking for it.
Dale Hernandez, whose family has owned a cabin on North Shore Drive for decades, felt the marina’s economic impact would be negligible. The avid fisherman said he counted 1,100 boats on the lake and argued against adding to that total. He also said issues are bound to pop up at the marina.
“They’re going to put a gas pump in for these boats,” he said. “You’re going to have spillage, and that’s a fact of life.”
Forest Lake resident Jill Grindahl joined Your Boat Club last year and said her family has enjoyed the experience. She said her family and friends frequent businesses in White Bear Lake because of the marina there, and felt Forest Lake stands to benefit from an influx of visitors.
She also said the Your Boat Club presence would safeguard the entire marina.
“It is the most well-run, courteous staff, knowledgeable about the lake, about the boat,” she said. “They care about the cleanliness – the boats are well maintained, every piece of garbage is picked up. You wouldn’t have a better partner to keep the lakefront and the marina in top shape.”
Luke Kujawa of Your Boat Club spoke to some of the concerns aired over the last several meetings. He said that dredging will not be necessary, that there is often high membership from local citizens, and that the marinas have strengthened economies by exposing the communities to members and guests totaling in the thousands.
A 3-2 Council Vote
Council member Mike Freer joined McNamara in opposing the plan. He spoke primarily to the process of the marina discussion in outlining his position. He felt the city is pushing the project too fast in order to allow time for the marina to be in place next spring.
“We have yet to have one meeting on the cty council about this topic,” he said. “We have not had a workshop whatsoever, and yet we’re sitting here getting ready to vote on something that seems to be crammed down our throats, excuse my language.”
Mayor Johnson disagreed, stating that the concept stemmed from a city council workshop. He added that the EDA delayed discussion after initial talks so that the council could go over the proposal during its strategic planning sessions this spring.
For his part, Johnson said there is much to like about the marina.
“I like the idea of helping more residents interact with the lake,” he said. “…I think there is an economic development aspect. I think there is a housing aspect.”
Council member Jim DuFour said he visits other lakes often and has never felt unwelcome, insinuating that Forest Lake should thusly welcome newcomers to the lake here.
“I think a lot of people are forgetting it’s public waters…[Opposition to public access] doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.
Council member Susan Young also voted to move the project along. She said she has never been on Forest Lake yet pays taxes that go towards it.
“If the lake is an asset that the entire community should be contributing to for upkeep and maintenance of the lake, then the entire community should be able to access the lake and benefit from that access,” she said.