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Lake Elmo, Stillwater Area Schools partner for park project
Three new tennis courts will be built on school grounds this summer
Stillwater Area Schools and Lake Elmo are partnering to create more park amenities in the southeast quadrant of the city just north of Oak-Land Junior High School.
At its April 23 meeting, the city council approved a joint powers agreement between Lake Elmo and the school district. As part of the agreement, the city will pay $64,000 to District 834 to build three new tennis courts, and the district will make 3.7 acres of land it owns on the corner of Manning Avenue and 10th Street N. available to the city for use as a public park.
New pedestrian trails along Manning Avenue and Fifth Street will allow walkers and bicyclists to access the park and tennis courts from other neighborhoods.
The school district will be responsible for maintaining the tennis courts, cutting the grass and keeping up landscaping, while the city will build and maintain future park amenities. District 834 will have first dibs on the courts, but the public can use them outside of school hours and activities.
There are currently three courts at the school, which the district is paying over $300,000 to reconstruct. City administrator Dean Zuleger said the new courts would be built this summer, but the 3.7-acre parcel will not be converted to a park right away. In his presentation to the city council, Zuleger said the Lake Elmo Parks Commission has placed Tablyn, Pebble, Reid and Demontreville parks at the top of its priority list for improvements.
“This is not a priority park until [residential] development is such that it would need to be developed,” Zuleger said. “We would be more than happy to have this be a park in the future when development warrants it, but that’s not going to get us off our priorities.”
Future park plans guided by development
While there is no set timetable for building the park, Zuleger said development in the area will not be completed for another five years, and the parks commission wants to wait until 2017 before investing in playground equipment or any other park amenities.
“This could be something we want to have in our back pocket,” he told the council.
The parks commission has identified a need for more tennis courts and commissioners see the potential of the courts at Oak-Land becoming a tennis destination.
Council member Anne Smith cast the lone vote against the joint powers agreement. She said there are not enough residents living in the southeast corner of Lake Elmo to justify a new park and believes the tennis courts will be underutilized.
“I’m very frustrated with the fact that we have courts downtown that don’t get used,” she said. “I don’t see our kids from Lake Elmo using the tennis courts, and I think we are subsidizing the school district by putting these courts in.”
Smith asked city planner Nick Johnson if there was any city data showing how far people are willing to walk to a park, noting a lack of development within about a mile of the proposed site.
Johnson said that in most planning circles, a quarter mile is a standard definition of what is walkable. He said the Cimarron Manufactured Home Park to the west and future development to the east along the Interstate 94 corridor would lend itself to support a future park.
Smith asked why this project was given priority. She said park dedication funds would be better spent in areas that are already developed, such as the Sanctuary neighborhood, where plans for a public park have been in place for over two years.
“I do believe that the parks commission is in accord with council member Smith,” Zuleger responded. “They are saying: ‘This isn’t going to be a priority park. We have other things to take care of first that we’ve committed to, but we want to hold that land in abeyance in case development happens and we can work with it.’”
Council member Mike Reeves asked about the possibility of receiving grant funding for the park, since the proposed trail going down Manning Avenue is already in the Washington County plan. Zuleger said there is a grant program available, which would allow funding to be used for shelters, bathrooms and potable water. He said West Lakeland Township has also expressed an interest in partnering on the project.
Mayor Mike Pearson said he had recent contact with township officials in West Lakeland, who confirmed that they were interested in contributing financially as a partner.
In other council business, council members approved a $32,000 expenditure to replace 17 park signs in all city parks. The new park signs were designed utilizing elements from a branding study that was completed last spring by the landscaping firm Damon Farber and Associates. The signage project will also be paid for using parkland dedication funds, which are acquired through new development projects.
Joshua Nielsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7824.