Efforts to find a site other than Castle Park intensify after last Thursday's packed public forum
While Castle Park most definitely remains on the table as a potential location for a proposed, privately owned RV park/campground that would house seasonal American Crystal Sugar workers in the fall and tourists in the summer, members of the Crookston City Council acknowledged Monday evening that the vocal, passionate opposition among Crookston residents that has surfaced in recent weeks has them taking a concerted look at other site options in the community.
At a Ways & Means Committee meeting attended by around 20 Castle Park supporters, At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye noted that he was contacted by a "barrage of folks" last Friday, the day after a public forum filled the council chambers with around 75 enthusiastic opponents of putting the RV park in Castle Park. He said some discussions were subsequently revived that presumably involve one or more of the 10 other potential sites for the development that city officials have said they previously researched but dismissed mostly because of a lack of access to the Red Lake River, the expense of extending utilities, and the lack of a natural setting. Melbye said a new site option was also brought to his attention on Friday.
As a result of the new developments, a Ways & Means Committee meeting has been scheduled for Monday, May 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the city hall council chambers. All of the meeting might be open to the public, or some of it might be closed to the public, pursuant to statute, if it involves negotiations on the city purchasing a specific piece of property.
Choosing his words carefully Monday, Melbye asked CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth if there was "any chance any of that stuff we talked about could work?" Hoiseth said that, yes, there was a chance. "I spoke with the principles involved and they would be open to that again," he said.
It was apparent Monday that some members of the council were more informed than others on the developments that have transpired since last Thursday's forum. At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud indicated that what he was hearing Monday was "news" to him. Mayor Dave Genereux added that he was hearing some new information on Monday as well.
But, given the latest developments, Genereux said the council owes the people who have rallied to keep the RV park out of Castle Park "some finalization that we're going to take Castle Park off the table." The mayor suggested a council vote Monday that might accomplish that, but Melbye said he wasn't ready to remove Castle Park from discussion as the potential home of a 40 to 45-slot, full hook-up RV park that would be owned and operated by Jeremy Jennen of Hillsboro, N.D., who operates a similar venture in Hillsboro, also home to an American Crystal factory.
"If these other sites don't work and we had to go to Castle Park, I could have a good conscious that we went into every possible alternative," Melbye said in suggesting that Castle Park needs to remain in play. "The people I've talked to, they want the end result to be an RV park. I think people can agree on that. But I want to be able to look my friends and neighbors in the eye and say we've looked at everything."
Hoiseth was accompanied during the RV park portion of Monday's meeting by developer and property owner Keith Danks, who owns what is commonly referred to as the "Elk River property" along North Broadway near Fisher Avenue, as well as other properties in town. It's believed that at some point in this process, Danks was in talks with Jennen before Castle Park emerged as the city's preferred location for the RV park.
Asked about Danks' attendance Monday, Hoiseth told the Times that he's working on "several things" with him.
Although he's limited in what he can say about the latest developments on the matter, Hoiseth stressed to the Times that "it's a fact" that Castle Park remains the best site for the RV park/campground for many reasons. "It is simply a great site" for the development, he said. But Hoiseth acknowledged that the public outcry has city officials looking even more closely at potential alternatives or compromises.
"On Friday morning, following the public input meeting, one of our council members called and asked if we could consider a specific site," he stated. "Indeed, this site was one that had previously been evaluated, but that does not mean we should not consider it again. We are trying to leave no stone unturned. The parcel we shall deliberate for negotiations is privately owned."
Hoiseth said he's been "encouraged" by the entire RV park discussion as it relates to Castle Park. He said he continues to be impressed with the citizens' grassroots efforts, as well as the Jennens, and the American Crystal Sugar leadership team. Hoiseth singled out the city council and Genereux, as well, for their "tireless" work toward finding the best solution.
"The job is not easy, knowing full-well we must provide for economic development to secure our future, all the while holding on to a great quality of life that is second to none here in C-town," he said. "We'll keep the discussions going, keep listening to what people have to say, and try to get the right outcome."