To our members and friends: Welcome to the new monthly newsletter for Friends of the Parks and Trails, presented digitally to save on printing and mailing costs. Send your feedback and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More affordable housing for Ramsey County?
Calling it “a long time coming,” Ramsey County manager Ryan O’Connor announced to the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners on October 10 the potential sale of the former Ponds at Battle Creek golf course in Maplewood to a housing developer.
The 88-acre county-owned site was an award-winning, nine-hole golf course known for its challenging hills and programs with youth before county officials closed it in September 2021. According to reporting from Axios at the time, the county made the decision in 2019 to close the course — months before COVID likely would have affected its profit margins.
National housing developer D.R. Horton, which has offices in the Twin Cities, will have to work directly with the Maplewood City Council before the proposed project could move forward, O’Connor explained, because zoning for the acreage would have to change. The developer has proposed a “range” of housing options, including twin and single-family homes. “If the City Council allows that mix, then Ramsey County could use its downpayment assistance program,” the county manager said, to ensure that some percentage of the housing is affordable.
Otherwise, the county could decline the proposed deal.
County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt (District 7), the only commissioner to comment on the proposal, emphasized the importance of the “environmental aspects” at the proposed housing site. The former golf course’s nine holes wrapped around 16 ponds and wetlands, which are state protected, “and so that, of course, will be honored,” Reinhardt said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve D.R. Horton’s housing proposal. Meanwhile, environmental health scientist and St. Paul resident Catherine Zimmer warned a group working to conserve the nearby 77-acre grasslands east of Battle Creek Park to be alert to any decline in the rusty-patch bumble bee population at the former Ponds site, as well as potential harm to other species.
We urge members to contact your county commissioner to voice any concerns or ideas.
Parks and Rec’s priorities
In an ambitious budget proposal before the St. Paul City Council on September 27, Parks and Recreation Director Andy Rodriguez touched on topics ranging from swimming lessons and golf revenue to vegetation management and inequities in playground equipment.
Among the successes and challenges for a department that oversees 184 parks and open spaces, as well as 120 miles of trails and 26 recreation centers:
- The department will need $600,000 in 2024 to fund the free youth sports programs for ages 9 and up that the city launched in 2022.
- One-time spending in 2023 for vans allowed for more field trips and day trips for youth, connecting them with recreation opportunities beyond their neighborhoods.
- With some 80 buildings across the system and utility costs increasing by 40%, the department will need an additional $210,000 to meet its rising utilities costs.
- Calling swimming a “life skill, not just a recreation opportunity,” Rodriguez said $250,000 is needed to give swimming lessons to 2,500 kids, with a focus on children of color.
- Vandalism, public safety in parks and deferred maintenance all remain problems that require investment to fix.
- Golf revenue rose by $872,000 and was especially strong at the Highland Park golf courses.
City Council members voiced support for bringing on park ambassadors and decried an increase in graffiti and vandalism, especially at park bathrooms. Council President Amy Brendmoen (Ward 5) praised Rodriguez and his team for being “extraordinarily collaborative.”
Discussions about the entire city budget, which are open to the public, will continue this fall and winter.