Latest drawing is closer to Carroll Street and less in the woods, includes around 40 RV slots
The nearly 20 people – most of them against a proposal to put an RV park/campground in Castle Park that in the fall would be home to temporary American Crystal Sugar workers – who attended a Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting Monday evening at city hall saw a design that's been modified three times in recent days.
The evolution of the plans, in the third design that city council members and city officials got their first look at late Monday afternoon, includes a shift in the RV park's footprint so that it's closer to Carroll Street and, therefore, infiltrates the Castle Park woods less than in previous designs. Also, in the latest drawings the RV park includes approximately 40 slots, less than the 50 to 70 that had been mentioned previously.
"What you're seeing here is a direction they're going in based largely on citizen feedback," City Administrator Shannon Stassen said. "They really want to be good neighbors."
Stassen was referring to the developer, Hillsboro, N.D. farmer Jeremy Jennen, who owns and operates an RV park in that city as well, which is also home to an American Crystal Sugar factory and houses temporary ACS workers during the harvest in the fall. While Stassen spoke about Jennen's desire to be a good neighbor to those who live near Castle Park and the community as a whole, Sandra McNichol, a vocal proponent of keeping the development out of Castle Park, let out a brief burst of laughter in the council chambers.
The committee met Monday for the primary purpose of discussing various "covenants" that the council could put in place that would regulate things like the types of RVs that would be allowed in the campground, traffic patterns, firewood, nuisance noise, trash, alcohol/drugs, pets, tents, etc.
Stassen formulated the list of potential covenants after researching similar RV parks throughout the country, and speaking to those who operate RV parks and campgrounds in the region. Council members seemed to like most of what they heard Monday, but everyone agreed that some middle ground is going to have to be forged with Jennen since, as part of the project, he'd own the RV park and operate it as a private business.
"It would be good to see what he already has in writing, what his model is when dealing with the people who camp at his development," Ward 3 Council Member Gary Willhite said.
"Some of these things we're talking about, I think it would be wise to get input from the people looking to put it in," added At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye. "They know what people bring, what they like and what they do more than we do. They already have kind of a game plan or a business plan. I don't want to stab ourselves in the foot on some of these things."
On the list of covenants is a 3 percent lodging tax that each RV park tenant would pay, the revenue from which, Stassen said, would be used to market the RV park and community tourism opportunities in general.
There's the potential that an RV park in Castle Park would be equipped with security cameras that would keep an eye on the rest of the city park, which is home to a Natural Play Space, trails, dog park and playground. At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud, while visiting Jennen's RV park in Hillsboro this past weekend, said it was equipped with a large cache of security cameras. "I thought that was pretty impressive," he said, adding that the showers, restrooms and laundry facility in Hillsboro were "very nice."
Quanrud, Melbye and Mayor Dave Genereux agreed that if Jennen doesn't have a nice RV park, word will get around, people won't use it, and he'll lose money. "If he doesn't do it first class, people won't come back," Melbye said.
Predominantly for summer tourists
Stassen, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth and some council members continued to stress Monday that while the RV park would be home to temporary ACS workers in September and October and possibly into November, its primary function would be to give tourists an attractive setting to camp in the community.
Stassen said he spoke to the person who runs the large RV campground in East Grand Forks, where there is a constant waiting list. Stassen said he was told that RV enthusiasts, many of them Canadians, often inquire about the possibility of camping in Crookston instead, but they learn that "Crookston doesn't have what they need" in the form of full RV hook-ups and a sufficient number of RV slots. "We're going to get some Canadians; just from the East Grand Forks referrals alone I'd like to think we'd be pretty full," Stassen said.
It's the desire to be a destination for summer tourists, he said, that has the city eyeing Castle Park as the location and not some other site within the community. Stassen, Hoiseth and Genereux said 10 potential sites were researched in detail, but Castle Park – ID'ed as the likely new home for a city campground years ago because of frequent flooding in Central Park, home to the current campground – is the most desirable for summer tourists because of its natural setting.
Other potential locations, such as the former Elk River property along North Broadway, the Kreutzberg property near American Crystal on the Highway 75 bypass, and the property near Crookston Sports Center, were explored, Stassen said, and all came up short mostly because of the high cost of extending utilities to them, or because they weren't in a natural setting and lacked access to the Red Lake River.
Hoiseth said when he was hired, then-City Administrator Aaron Parrish said an RV park/campground in Castle Park was among the city's top priorities. That was reinforced when the council listed it among its top priorities as part of a planning process with Parrish's successor, Tony Chladek. The city has applied multiple times without success in the years since to secure a DNR Legacy grant to fund the launch of an RV park/campground in the park. With Jennen and ACS taking the lead financially, up to $1 million would be spent on the RV park in Castle Park.
"I don't think we'd ever get the kind of grant we're looking for without significant local matching dollars," Hoiseth said.
"We're trying to attract tourist traffic, and these other sites are just not attractive to them," Genereux said, adding that revenue from temporary Crystal workers will amount to 20 percent of the money Jennen makes on his development. "We want folks to feel welcome and be in a place they feel welcome, so that they come back year after year after year to enjoy a beautiful setting. Castle Park is ideal for that, for some of the very same reasons that people are so passionate about it.”
Shirley Iverson, a proponent of keeping the RV park out of Castle Park, countered that Jennen's Hillsboro development is along the interstate and away from any water access, yet it's popular. She asked that the research findings of the other potential sites in the community be publicly released. Hoiseth countered that he would be hesitant to release all of the data, since some of it involves privately owned land and he wouldn't want to publicly disseminate information that could be seen as negative and potentially negatively impact privately held land.
Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook said the river access is a huge factor when luring tourist campers, and that he believes that trails to the river would be enhanced eventually if the RV park is located in Castle Park. "We've cussed the river out for years, it's time we embrace it," he said. "This could finally be the start of doing that. It's a shallow area there; I can see people dropping a canoe in or a kayak. People want access to water, and in Castle Park it's right there. This could be a real gem."
Some temporary ACS workers in recent years have stayed in tents in Central Park, and there have been some police calls, Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier reported Monday. The most calls, nine, came in 2011, and have decreased in the two years since.
Biermaier said he contacted the Hillsboro Police Chief as well, who reported "no big problems for the most part" with Jennen's RV park there, with most calls having to do with "typical mischief." Some calls came in there, Biermaier said he was told, because some of the temporary ACS workers lacked transportation and were seen as strangers walking around in the community. "People weren't familiar with that," Biermaier said.
Stassen said one of the covenants would allow tents in an RV park in Castle Park only from Memorial Day to Labor Day, specifically to alleviate any concerns with ACS workers tenting in the fall. To that, Hoiseth added that that ACS has increased its affiliation with Express Personnel to seek out only trusted, professional workers who travel around in RVs to do the sort of work ACS needs done. "They realize the bit of a challenge presented by the tenting community," Hoiseth said. "They see a winning formula as having an effective, seasonal workforce that utilizes RVs, not tents."
Public forum Thursday
The council chambers on Thursday, May 7 will be the venue for a second public forum to discuss the RV park proposal in Castle Park. In large part because of that upcoming opportunity for what will likely be robust debate, public comments were somewhat limited on Monday. But Castle Street resident Brian Hoffman wondered why city officials continue to trumpet Castle Park as "the greatest park in town" and yet they're so willing to give part of it up for private development. Hoffman said he doesn't think "strangers" and kids playing on the playground and in the natural play space are a good mix.
Rick Waslaski, who lives in Sampson's Addition, said he makes his living by traveling around in a camper. He said he thought Monday's debate was beneficial, but he wanted everyone to know that nothing is "trouble-free" when people travel around and set up temporarily for the purposes of employment. "There's always trouble when people travel like this; it's not the exception, it just happens everywhere I go," Waslaski said. "It all sounds good on paper, but when you're living there, it's a different place. I just want people to know that."