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Locals on the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan

Locals on the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan Locals on the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan

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They are not against development as a concept. They are not against improving public access to the Mississippi River. Rather, they are against the development of “pristine” nature. They are against a lack of negotiation. They are against rezoning. Rescuing a piece of riverfront is their goal; they refuse to be silent.

Four locals spoke with The Journal concerning the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan by the City of Cottage Grove. One has resided east of the Mississippi Dunes region for four decades. Another has done the same for 47 years. In 1968, a third source became a citizen of St. Paul Park. They have had homes in Minneapolis, Woodbury and Cottage Grove since. Today, they are situated in St. Paul Park. The fourth person who participated in an interview with The Journal recently planted roots by the Mississippi Dunes border (see map). They work for a pollution control agency. Throughout this article, all of the mentioned people will remain anonymous.

The Drafted Project

The city has an interactive site entitled, “Mississippi Dunes Master Planning.” It is there where one learns that the city has “identified this parcel of land as a key component to achieving its strategic plan initiative to improve public access to the Mississippi River.”

Currently, the Mississippi Dunes is a 196-acre rural residential (R1) zone, a former golf course, and an expanse on the Mississippi River’s shore. Of this space, the city aims to develop 33 acres into a riverfront park. Native landscape restoration, a playground, a four-season building, a boat and kayak dock, and a picnic place would be a few of its features. The master plan also consists of expanding the Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) by 12 acres and installing 1.5 miles of trails and greenway. Finally, the master plan suggests the implementation of medium-density housing. 260 lots of single-family homes would sandwich the riverfront park with the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi Dunes Master Plan is not in effect yet.

Until Oct. 15, the city is welcoming community input online at storymaps/MississippiDunes-MasterPlan/. From that date through Nov. 1, the master plan will be revised based on feedback. The Parks Commission will check it on Nov. 8, followed by the Planning Commission Review that is scheduled for Nov. 22. December 1 is the date in which the city council will evaluate the master plan.

A Pristine National Park The Mississippi Dunes, in its present state, was painted out as a “hidden gem” by one community member. A separate one cried about the city: “They’re pushing for this whole area to be developed, and again, I want to be very clear, as far as I’ve talked to all the community members, nobody is saying they are opposed to development as a concept. We are opposed to developing along this incredibly pristine national park area that we have in the city that has nothing else to offer.”

Between being associated with a major watershed, sitting in a bird migration path, containing many trees, and welcoming endangered species, the Mississippi Dunes is environmentally adequate. To begin with, a watershed is a territory that drains to a common point. South Washington Watershed District (SWWD) is portioned into major watersheds. The Mississippi Dunes is situated on one of them. John Loomis, who is the Water Resources Program Manager of SWWD, informed The Journal that a watershed can be impacted by land use. “Most generally, increasing impervious area sends more water downstream,” he summarized in an email.

Even so, more treatment is required where there is excess runoff. This is due to what Loomis termed, “stormwater and water quality rules.” He continued, “Specifically with [Mississippi] Dunes, any redevelopment would be required to maintain or improve upon existing stormwater runoff (rate, volume, quality), no matter the density. So, effectively, redevelopment would have no different impact on the river than the existing golf course.”

Birds and rusty patched bumblebees establish habitats in the Mississippi Dunes. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared the rusty patched bumblebee “endangered” in May of 2019. Prairie minimization and isolation due to farming and urbanization was one justification of the decision. Audubon Minnesota terms the Mississippi Dunes an Important Bird Area, or IBA for short. They prove on their official website, “This IBA includes...floodplain forest and uplands extending for 38 river miles from Minneapolis to Hastings. It is situated along the migratory corridor for 40% of North America’s waterfowl, and shorebirds, loons, cormorants, gulls, terns, herons, egrets, pelicans, coots, grebes, and other species can be found.”

Audubon Minnesota claims that developing waterfronts “infringe[s] upon the wetlands and woodlands that birds depend upon for food and shelter.” Although the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan does project native prairie restoration, the city wishes to install 90 acres of medium-density housing. Audubon Minnesota notes that even “low-density development generally results in habitat loss” in a document entitled, “Bird Safe Building Guidelines.” Concerns Over the Outlined Riverfront Park The four community members who were interviewed are dissatisfied with the potential riverfront park. One deemed it as unnecessary: “…my bigger issue is that they’re making all that park...that would all be man-made, it would be... complete destruction of all of the ecosystem that’s there right now. That’s not the kind of park we need. We have...[nearly 30] city parks that were all developers... we don’t need another one with a playground and all that s***.”

Another questioned how much green space would be available if the plan would become approved. The riverfront park is said to cover 33 acres, according to the master plan. Going into said expanse would be a 4,000 square foot four-season building, a 6,000 square foot nature-based playground, and two parking lots: one with 40 stalls for vehicles; one with 15 stalls for trailers. “What are we going to have left for a park?!” exclaimed one interviewee.

Also viewed as unneeded is the implementation of medium- density housing by the park. The homes would make it appear exclusive, cried one community member: “I would prefer to have [housing] much further away from there so that the people that come there feel like it’s a park and not that they’re in somebody’s backyard.”

Reimagining the Master Plan With these and other concerns acknowledged surrounding the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan, the four discussants pitched their own ideas. Three advocated for a raw park. Their words reflected those written on a petition called, “Protect the Mississippi River. Save the Mississippi Dunes!” It reads, “There is a much better option that benefits everyone - a public, nature-based park. Ever since the Mississippi Dunes property became available, the Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) has worked toward a solution to protect the entire property as public open space. FMR has been bringing together parties that could help purchase, restore and own as much public space as possible at Mississippi Dunes.”

One of the three interviewees claimed that establishing a raw park would save money. They reasoned, “They are far better off financially, as a city, to have it as a park than to have all the costs of having that man-made park...[which] would cost millions and millions of dollars more than any natural space... You’re talking about the the salary costs of maintenance people, and that’s in very minimal equipment costs which are usually already built in because they’re using that equipment across the city.”

It is not indicated how much the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan, nor a raw park, would cost.

A fourth advocate told The Journal that they would like to see a riverfront park with entertainment opportunities. “Personally, what I wanted to see down there was an amphitheater... I mean you could use that as a way to get to know other people in the community. You could use [it] for elementary/ high school choirs, bands; orchestras. They can even have some mini theatre productions...There could be many courses and the river, or how to kayak, or the ecology. It just has so many multiple uses...believe it would touch almost everybody in the community and be highly utilized, [than] the smaller space that they’re relegating to us now.”

Rezoning Issues

On the topic of small spaces, the city is looking to minimize the acre-to-property ratio through the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan. They want to rezone the region. Today, it is rural residential; there are 0.10.3 units per acre. Residents of R1 zones are supposed to own at least three acres of undeveloped land. The Mississippi Dunes is one of twelve ¨Future Land Use Change Areas” in the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Furthermore, it is labeled a “Transitional Planning Area” in a graphic entitled, “2040 Future Land Use Map.”

This matter infuriated two interviewees. “The point is that we find out then the city puts out plans in May and then again just in September with 260 lots of .29 acre lots,” one accused. “Well, that’s a huge change in zoning.”

The other contributed, “Here’s another thing: [the city] just automatically thinks they can rezone anything at their whim. Because, this is zoned for three-acre parcels and they want to rezone that... and we’re supposed to be happy about that. Instead of leaving it alone!”

Discontent with City Leaders All four of the interviewed individuals are not disgusted with the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan alone. They are frustrated with the behavior of the Cottage Grove City Council. During their past meetings, the politicians have been confronted. One interviewee illustrated, “I guess I’ve been through, probably the same ride as all of them and have the same frustrations and feel like whenever we feel like we have an avenue of getting somewhere... they never acknowledge that, or give us any support, or say, ‘That might be a useful thing. We’ll take it under consideration.’ And so, it’s just kind of shutting the door, even to the point that we only get to speak for two minutes at a time. And he’s very strict about that...”

During open forums at past meetings, advocates of the Mississippi Dunes were each allotted 120 seconds to elevate their voice. It is unclear how much of their feedback has been considered. After the city council meeting of Sept. 1, Mayor Myron Bailey wrote over email, “Now I will state that if the continued desire is for the entire area to be used as a park, that will not be discussed. We have a pending development by a developer for the property.”

Further accusations were made against the Cottage Grove City Council. It was mentioned that Councilman Steve Dennis “was in his chair facing away from the speakers” during open forums and Justin Olsen told an activist to “shut up.”

According to one local, these attitudes only surface when the councilmen discuss the Mississippi Dunes. “They have energy when they’re talking about other things,” they insisted.

Efforts to negotiate are what one interviewee hopes to see from the city council. On Nov. 2, Cottage Grove residents will vote on whether or not they want to fund the Cottage Grove Community Center. If the majority votes in favor of that, the city will collect about $39.2 million extra tax dollars. That is the facility’s capital cost. If the city receives a community center, there should be conversation on growing a raw park in the Mississippi Dunes, they fight.

One of Many Developments

An interviewee who lives east of the Mississippi Dunes is, meanwhile, witnessing the transformation of her front yard. In July 29’s issue of The Journal, readers came to know a proposed project adjacent to 100th Street South and Ideal Avenue South. NorthPoint Development submitted a request to the city to utilize 196 acres. They were motivated to occupy the land with seven industrial buildings. Each would be 200,000 to 700,00 square feet in size. Facilitating progress on it is the city’s Planning Commission, Economic Development Authority, and council. With this project and another housing development on Hadley Avenue South and 100th Street South in mind, said discussant was left disgusted. “We’re in a nice decent residential area that has been peaceful all these years and now it’s just changing overnight,” she expressed. “I mean, just within the last three to four years, this is just-every year it’s a big project that’s going on... [its] disgusting...we don’t want to become another Woodbury and this exactly what they’re looking to do.”

Once again, until Oct. 15, the city is welcoming community input regarding the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan online at MississippiDunesMasterPlan/.

This map indicates where the Mississippi Dunes is located. It is immediately south of 103rd St. South and just east of Grey Cloud Trail. Source: City of Cottage Grove

To the south of the Mississippi Dunes Region is a gravel mine of Aggregate Industries. On the Mississippi Dunes Master Plan, it is labeled as a “future regional park. Photo by Sadie Jones

The green shading indicates a state-recognized Important Bird Area (IBM). The Mississippi Dunes Area is covered.Source: Audubon Minnesota