I am a resident of Grey Cloud Island Township and a member of the township’s Planning Commission. I read with interest the opinion piece written by resident Christina Ries in the Nov. 25 issue regarding the variance request from Aggregate Industries. I have no doubt as to the strong feelings that she and other township residents have about the proposed variances to the township setback ordinance. My concern is that a number of things she mentions in her piece are not completely factual and as such create a false impression concerning the variance process employed by the township.
First of all, both Aggregate and the Township have followed all the documented procedures for the handling of a variance request. To state that the process has “seemed secretive and rushed” is not true. The township has 60 days to respond to any variance request from a resident or business in the township. All residents within 500 feet of the proposed variance areas have received certified letters regarding the details of the variance request, the process for making comments and the schedule for the meeting. Indeed they have each received two certified letters, since the meeting had to be rescheduled. The requirement is that these letters be delivered no later than 10 days before the hearing, and that schedule has been met.
For the township as a whole, citizen participation is a hallmark of township governance. Residents have not been “left in the dark”. But citizens need to take the initiative to involve themselves in local matters if they want to be informed. The township board meets monthly. Prior to the pandemic, these meetings were live-streamed by the South Washington County Telecommunications Commission on their website for those unable to attend in person. Or the video could be watched at a later time. During the pandemic, audio recordings of the online meetings are made available on the SWCTC.org website. The agendas and the minutes for both the Town Board and the Planning Commission are published on the township website. All the documents and submitted resident comments related to this variance request can be found on the township website at https://www.greycloudislandtwp-mn.us. The township follows all of Minnesota’s Open Meeting regulations and citizens are welcome to participate in all meetings. The township annual meeting held in March is completely run by the local residents. No lack of information exists for township residents who want to participate. The fact that this variance request was being submitted was public knowledge and was discussed at the Oct. 14, 2020, Town Board meeting.
Ms. Ries states that “members of the town’s planning commission have been instructed by the board that they are not to provide feedback on this matter.” As a member of that commission, I have received no such communication from any town board member.
I am very glad to see Ms. Ries and her husband and other residents get involved in response to this variance request. However, to suggest that subterfuge is somehow being used to push through this variance is just not true. The variance process is well documented and is being followed in this case to the letter. It also needs to be remembered that the granting or denying of a variance is also based on rules of fact and law. Citizen input is very important to the process, but just the fact that I do or do not like something is not in and of itself a reason to grant or deny a variance.
Paul Dieffenbach, Grey Cloud Island Township
Once it’s gone it’s gone
I was struck when reading the op ed about the destruction of Grey Cloud Island by Aggregate Mining (Nov. 25) how it so parallels what the Ramsey County board has for Ponds of Maplewood Golf Course. Our commissioner Victoria Reinhardt opposes its closing and sale. I am not a golfer but have been advised by golfers that the Ponds is the jewel of courses. That it has varying degrees of difficulty from beginners on up. It also has a driving range not available at other Ramsey County golf courses in districts that “its commissioners” intend to keep open.
This was a secret held so close that not even the Maplewood City Council knew about the Ramsey County commissioners’ plans. Only our commissioner Reinhardt was in opposition. However when it was finally made public a town hall was held at the Ramsey County Library. The building was filled to over capacity with many standing. Citizens were allowed to speak. Nearly 100 percent were opposed to closing and selling off the property. Once it is gone it’s gone forever.
The County Board recently proposed changing the Charter to allow the Board of Commissioners to select the sheriff rather than allow the citizens to choose, by voting, who the sheriff should be. Sheriff Fletcher’s performance may not be in line with what the commissioners want but he has the citizens’ support. As it should be. Change the charter to allow the citizens of Ramsey County to vote for the entire Ramsey County board of commissioners. The Highland Park commissioner affects me and I want the right to vote for or against her or him for decisions affecting me and my neighbors in South Maplewood.
This entire Ponds of Maplewood golf course deal smells as bad as the Grey Cloud mining deal does. Follow the money, as they say. In the next election I will be a one-issue voter. The Maplewood City Council has total control of zoning. The Ponds is has been zoned agricultural which allowed for the golf course. Council members who change that designation will not get my vote.
David Arnold, Maplewood
Keep these spaces open
We are in danger of losing two tracts of county-owned open space and wildlife habitat in southeastern Ramsey County:
A 77-acre tract bounded by Battle Creek Regional Park (on two sides), and by Century Avenue, and by the correctional facility on Lower Afton Road
The Ponds at Battle Creek golf course, bounded by Lower Afton Road on the north and Century Avenue on the east. (The county has decided to terminate golf operations at this site by the end of 2020.)
The city of Maplewood has initiated plans for development of these properties. Both properties provide wildlife habitat, water collection, climate regulation, and opportunities for passive recreation and nature study. These properties have far greater value for the metropolitan area in their current state than they would have as housing or commercial developments.
It is hard to believe that the county would consider selling the 77-acre tract, which is especially valuable as grassland habitat for birds and other wildlife. (The National Audubon Society reports that grassland species are among the most imperiled birds in the U.S.) The tract harbors bird species (including American Kestrel, Clay-colored Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, and Dickcissel) that are in steep decline in Minnesota and North America. A complete biological inventory should be undertaken to inform management of this tract.
The county should 1) expand the boundary of Battle Creek Regional Park to include the tract adjacent to the park, to be managed as grassland wildlife habitat, and 2) retain ownership and management of The Ponds at Battle Creek as open space with passive recreation.
The county is accepting comments on a new master plan for Battle Creek Regional Park through Monday, Nov. 30. For more information, and to take action, go to tinyurl.com/77acres.
Julian Sellers, St. Paul
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