City council hosts Becker Admin, EDA Specialist
By Robert Williams
Frazee native Cody Piper, the Becker County Economic Development Specialist and County Administrator Pat Oman, were in attendance at the second monthly meeting of the Frazee City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 25, to discuss potential housing, expansion of the industrial park and funding for Wannigan Park.
Piper was formerly the county’s chief assessor. He took over the EDA specialist position in May. One of Piper’s first tasks was to create a profile of each city in the county to determine needs.
The county EDA owns 15-acres of land in the industrial park between Marine Innovations and the Red Willow Estates residential district.
“Housing got brought up because that’s the big issue these days,” Piper said. “I think it’s a valuable piece of land. There are some elevation issues there. We looked into a feasibility study done for three phases when the industrial park was created.”
Only phase I of the project was completed. Frazee EDA consultant Don Lorsung reached out to the engineering firm that did the study and upon review Piper wanted to get the council’s input on what could be done on the 15 acres to serve the city’s needs.
“We looked at the property,” said Mayor Mark Flemmer. “One of the issues is getting the infrastructure, roads, water and sewer out there and the feeling was it’s going to take a few more years on the city side to get to that point.”
While open to other projects, the county’s stake in the industrial park property gives it precedent for the County EDA to work on improving.
“We have the 15 acres up in the industrial park and we’re really focused on what can we do, or help provide the city with, whether it be housing or commercial properties?” said Piper.
According to City Administrator Stephanie Poegel, the industrial park land was rezoned to single and two-family residential in 2021 by the planning and zoning committee.
Flemmer turned the discussion to the Mikkelson property by Dollar General, a 4-acre parcel with infrastructure ready to go for a future housing project.
“There are different challenges depending on what kind of housing it is,” said Piper.
Both Piper and Oman suggested reviewing the city’s housing study, along with utilizing incentives the county can provide. The last housing study was completed in 2019,
“One incentive that I would put out is you could certainly do what is called community land trust,” said Oman. “That is where the taxes are kept at a much lower level for the people that buy the house—they own the house and a share of the value of the land. They can get into the house much cheaper because there is a land trust involved.”
Oman also discussed incentives that the school, city and county can play from a tax abatement standpoint. For example, if a developer wants to build a number of houses, incentives can be provided where the taxes would be reduced or released back to the developer or homeowner for a time.
“There are a lot of different ways we could partner and be strategic here,” he said.
Oman also put forth an opinion on the Mikkelsen property.
“To me, it’s about generating wealth and if you’ve already got that infrastructure in there let’s put together a strategy and start polling people in your community and start marketing it that way,” he said. “Maybe we can add some incentives where a developer might be more inclined to make that investment.”
Oman reiterated the county’s willingness to partner on both projects.
“The county is very interested in supporting a project that you have and we’re very interested in partnering in the project we’d like to have with you,” said Oman. “The city is the gatekeeper of so many things. What we would like to start with is having a discussion on looking at your housing study and finding ways we can partner. It starts and ends with what the city council is willing to support.”
One project the county EDA has already approved for Frazee is improvements to the roof and siding of the Maple Avenue apartments. The low-income housing project is county-owned and managed by Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation (MMCDC). The roof work is scheduled for this fall, while the siding work is scheduled for next spring.
Board members of the Frazee Community Development Corporation (FCDC) discussed grant proposals for Wannigan Park.
FCDC was approved for a $19,500 DNR reforestation relief grant with no required match. The grant supports a tree inventory and a forest management plan. The amount of the grant was significantly reduced from what FCDC applied for, according to Karen Pifher. The nearly $20,000 is enough to cover both the inventory and management plan.
Pifher also discussed a request for $150,000 from Becker County, which could be pledged over several years, to be used as a match for completion of the road access and trail system for infrastructure.
The county did not commit to the funds at last week’s commissioners meeting, but did agree to fiscally host grants and agreed that Wannigan Park is a good financial investment and there is potential to allocate funding for the request.
“It was great to hear the positivity and the potential for investment through that so we’ll keep moving forward with them,” said Pifher.
According to Becker County Administrator Pat Oman, the county is still identifying sources of funding to draw upon.
“The assessment of the county board was very supportive of making that investment and finding a way to contribute to the project,” Oman said.
Pifher and Poegel also discussed streamlining the grant process as it takes significant time away from Poegel’s job. An operating agreement created prior to Poegel taking over the position late last year was reviewed to assist the process.
FCDC president Denise Anderson worked on the contract prior to retiring from the city administrator position. Anderson discussed the role of FCDC and Wannigan Park with the park scheduled to become city property in the coming weeks.
“It has never been the intention of the FCDC to saddle the taxpayers with the development of this park,” she said. “As we keep applying for these grants, the FCDC needs to apply for them through the city because it’s going to be your property.”
Anderson asked for council input on how to streamline the decision-making process between FCDC and the city once the property officially changes hands.
“We committed to Wannigan to alleviate the administration for the city because we know how short you are on resources; we want to do everything we possibly can to make things succeed and the grants are going to be a major part of our operating expenses,” Anderson said.
The goal of the agreement is to allow for a level of comfort between the city and the agency in the need for quick decisions to be made regarding grant funding.
The board approved a letter of interest to apply for two loans, a federal Transportation Alternatives (TA) Program grant and a Minnesota Active Transportation (AT) Program grant.
The letter of interest is the beginning of the process to see if the park project is eligible to apply for said grants.
One of the grants is the same used for the highway 87 trail.
“It’s a good funding source,” said City Engineer Chris Thorson. “It’s a very good program.”
The grant has a maximum of $700,000 with an 80/20 match. The funding supplied for the 87 trail from the grant was $475,000.
New Liquor manager
Amanda Young was hired to be the new liquor store manager, replacing Tanya Mastin. Young’s first day will be Nov. 1.
Poegel thanked Mastin for her years of service to the city and community.
“Thank you to Tanya for her dedication to Frazee all these years,” Poegel said in her report. “Her knowledge and support for the liquor store is greatly appreciated.”
The city council’s first meeting of the month will be held at the Fire Hall on Monday, Nov. 13, at 6 p.m.