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Maplewood parks could benefit from zoning change

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW
  • Star Tribune
  • May 19, 2012 - 10:07 PM

In need of more money for its parks, the Maplewood City Council last week passed a resolution that will require developers to pay a park dedication fee to the city if they make certain changes to commercial properties.

Previously only developers with new projects paid into the fund, which Maplewood uses to acquire new parkland or make major upgrades to its 36 parks and 13 open spaces.

The change to the city's zoning code now covers redevelopment, and means those who make changes to properties that result in a change in population density or rezoning will pay the Park Availability Charge (PAC), also known as a park dedication fee.

Maplewood is a first-ring suburb that is almost fully developed.

"The council has been looking for a long time to try to come up with a different way to fund our parks, which is a difficult thing for us to do because our park fees all have to do with initial new development," said Mayor Will Rossbach. "The only way we get money for our parks is through development. We are pretty much all developed; we don't have new development, so we don't have park money."

In 2011, the city spent $589,300 from its PAC fund to improve its parks, but collected just slightly more than $208,000 in park dedication fees, leaving a deficit of $381,000. This year the city budgeted $750,230 in expenses, but only expects to take in $665,000. Money from the city's general fund will make up the shortfall.

PAC funds cannot be used for general maintenance, such as fixing swing sets. They can be used to install an entire playground or make other modifications within a park.

The fund also can be used to acquire new land, such as the Fish Creek property in southern Maplewood. A national nonprofit land conservation group is holding a 70-acre parcel of property for the city. Maplewood has until October 2013 to pay the Conservation Fund between $500,000 and $600,000.

It is not immediately clear how much additional money will be brought in by the zoning change, and officials are not expecting a windfall. But every dollar will help, said Jim Antonen, city manager.

Projects that are deemed to have an impact on parks will be charged 9 percent of the market value of the property. Those deemed to have no impact on the parks will not have to pay the fee, said Jim Taylor, a parks department manager.

For example, if a high-end retailer closed and another one took its place, the net effect would be the same and the developer would not have to pay a park dedication fee. But if a movie-rental building is torn down and replaced with a five-unit strip mall, that would result in a change of use and density and the developer would have to pay the fee. Credit will be given to developers who previously paid a park dedication fee.

The city will follow a formula governed by state statues to assess how much a business impacts the park system in terms of traffic and use.

"A tire shop would not be using park facilities as much as a day care," Antonen said. "We are setting up the mechanics here so everybody is paying their fair share."

The council agreed, and voted 5-0 to make the change, which will go into effect this week.

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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