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Top stories of 2013 in south Washington County

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Top stories of 2013 in south Washington County
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Here is some of what made Bulletin headlines in 2013:


Crow helps make Holiday Train concert a historic event

When Sheryl Crow comes to town, people turn out — even if it’s for an outdoor concert in the midst of a Minnesota winter cold snap.

The singer topped the line-up for Canadian Pacific’s big 15th anniversary Holiday Train concert in Cottage Grove last month. The event drew up to 15,000 people from around the region — lower than the expected turnout of 20,000 to 30,000, but organizers said the cold weather probably turned some people away.

It was the 11th year that the Holiday Train passed through Cottage Grove, and the large concert — a capella group Take 6 also performed, as did the Holiday Train’s band The Claytones — helped bring in a record amount of donations to the Friends in Need Food Shelf. The food shelf in St. Paul Park netted over $141,000 from Holiday Train-related fundraising, easily topping last year’s record of $116,000.

Canadian Pacific officials already said the festively decorated train will make another stop in Cottage Grove this year.

—Scott Wente

City charter initiative rejected

Just over a year of research was enough for the Cottage Grove Charter Commission to decide that a city charter was both unnecessary and undesired.

The judge-appointed, 15-member commission was formed in 2012 after a citizens group opposed to the construction of the new City Hall gathered more than 1,600 signatures on a petition.

The commission was to decide whether or not the city should relinquish its statutory style of governing, which is one that follows state statute, for the adoption of a home-rule charter. Spearheading the petition, Cottage Grove resident Leon Moe said a charter should be drafted in order to give more power back to the citizens.

In April, the commission made its decision in about an hour, and voted 10-3 not to pursue a charter. Commission co-chairman Tony Jurgens was not convinced there was a problem with how the city operated.

“Rather than change the form of government, address the problem or perceived problem instead,” he said.

The commission met in November to disband, however a supermajority was not present, forcing the group to tentatively schedule an annual meeting in November 2014.

—Emily Buss

Unclear future for Heritage Days

The future of St. Paul Park’s popular annual city festival was in doubt earlier this year following the retirement of Jim Domeier, who had run Heritage Days for a number of years and had organized the royalty ambassador program.

Heritage Days has drawn large crowds to Broadway Avenue in recent years for a variety of events — the parade, street dance, car show, mud volleyball and other activities — but in 2013 saw a spike in alcohol-related incidents requiring police response, most at night.

The City Council, which in the past has approved a city donation to cover the cost of operating the event, solicited public suggestions on whether Heritage Days should continue. Many responded that the event should still be held, but they also suggested improvements.

The council then sought applicants to run the festival. Last month, Domeier offered to return to running Heritage Days after he said no other group was making a pitch. He has proposed keeping the festival as it has been for the past few years, though the ambassador program has ended.

The St. Paul Park-Newport Lions Club also submitted a proposal to run the festival. They propose running many of the usual events, but want to make changes to curb excessive drinking.

The City Council is expected to decide on a festival operator next week.

—Scott Wente

Transit station breaks ground

A project years in the making came to fruition in November when members of the Newport City Council and Red Rock Corridor Commission broke ground on the Newport Transit Station.

Located on the former Knox Lumber site adjacent from the Interstate 494/Highway 61 interchange, Newport Mayor Tim Geraghty said the $6.2 million station is the start of the revitalization of the city.

“For years I’ve been saying that I wanted something to go here,” he said. “This is exciting and we are ready to transform Newport.”

The transit station will be one of four planned stops along the 30-mile Red Rock Corridor which stretches from Hastings to downtown St. Paul.

The transit station is expected to have roughly 150 parking stalls, an open green space concept, a partially covered canopy to shelter commuters, and amenities such as a library book kiosk and a bike rack.

State and local officials, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Betty McCollum, also attended the groundbreaking, where McCollum, an advocate for the transit project, said the Newport stop is the first step to making south Washington County a “multi-module commuter to the upper Midwest.”

“There is a lot more work ahead of us,” she said. “We will continue to drive and build on this investment.”

The Newport Transit Station is slated for opening in fall 2014.

—Emily Buss

Cottage Grove housing market picks up

After several years of little movement, the city of Cottage Grove is experiencing a promising housing rebound that has hundreds of new homes slated for construction in the coming year.

Meridian Land Company, Ryland Homes, Newland Real Estate Group, MJR Developers and D.R. Horton have all been approved to build single-family homes.

Earlier this year, Meridian Land Company was approved to develop 29 lots for detached single-family homes in the Mississippi Dunes Estates subdivision located in southwest Cottage Grove. This phase of construction was initially approved a decade ago but stalled when the recession hit.

In April, 226 lots were approved to be built in the Ravine Meadows and Eastridge Woods developments. Newland Real Estate Group and D.R. Horton are building detached single-family homes on 101 acres of former farmland in the area northeast of 70th Street and Keats Avenue.

In May, Ryland Homes was approved to build 133 high-end units on 69.3 acres of land directly north of The Waters at Michaels Pointe subdivision, west of Jamaica Avenue and south of Military Road. The low-density residential neighborhood will also include parkland.

MJR Developers was recently approved to build in Cottage Grove. The real estate development firm was approved in November to develop 10 lots in the Aspen Cove subdivision, tentatively dubbed the Everwood fourth addition, located west of Hardwood Avenue and south of the Everwood third addition.

In December, the final plat for Cayden Glen to develop 92 lots east of Jamaica Avenue just north of 70th Street was approved.

The property abuts the future fourth phase of Eastridge Woods and the developer – Newland Communities Midwest – has reached an agreement with D.R. Horton, who is in charge of Eastridge Woods, stating that the lots, landscaping and building materials will be complementary and the overall appearance of the neighborhood will be uniform.

Habitat for Humanity is also contributing to the housing market’s growth this coming year as it continues to build homes in the Mississippi Dunes Estates neighborhood. In early 2014, the organization plans to complete its first four-unit building, which began construction in the summer of 2013. A second four-unit building is slated for completion later this year. And a third four-unit building will be built in 2015.

—Emily Buss

Walmart replaces Cottage View Drive-In

The groundbreaking on a 180,000-square-foot Walmart took place just days after all remnants of the Cottage View Drive-In were removed.

The outdoor movie theater, which closed as longtime owner Gerry Herringer was able to complete a long-sought development deal, was an iconic piece of Cottage Grove’s history for 46 years.

In May, crews began construction of a Walmart Supercenter, which is on track to open in the first quarter of 2014.

Walmart Market Manager Ted Jones, who will oversee the store, said at the groundbreaking ceremony that he was looking forward to serving the community.

“This is truly an honor to be able to offer our company to this great community,” Jones said. “We’re thrilled to offer great jobs with benefits and we look forward to being a great business partner here in Cottage Grove.”

Once open, the supercenter will have grocery, clothing, home goods, electronics and auto departments, as well as an outdoor garden center.

Walmart is expected to open in February.

—Emily Buss

Danielle Jelinek search ends; murder case filed

Five months after she disappeared from her ex-boyfriend’s home north of Washington County, the body of Cottage Grove native Danielle Jelinek was found in May, just a few hundred yards from the home where she was last seen.

Authorities and relatives conducted exhaustive foot searches for Jelinek, who was 27, in rural Chisago County after she went missing in December 2012. Her body was located in a marsh.

Last month, a grand jury indicted Jelinek’s former boyfriend, Aaron Schnagl, with third-degree unintentional murder. He allegedly provided Jelinek with cocaine that caused her death.

Jelinek was one of three Twin Cities-area women who disappeared within the past year and were later found dead. In each of the three cases, the woman’s ex-boyfriend or estranged ex-husband was charged in connection with the death.

Jelinek was a 2003 Park High School graduate.

—Scott Wente

Voters approve school levies

South Washington County Schools went 2-for-3 when it put three questions on the November ballot. The result was increased funding for classrooms, school technology and security and the district’s reserves. The referendum outcome means the district will avoid big budget cuts but also didn’t get money to build new schools.

School District 833 voters approved the $4.5 million renewal of two existing operating levies, which contribute to the district’s general fund.

By a narrower margin, they also approved a property tax increase totaling about $6.9 million annually for the next decade.

District officials say the increase will help pay for additional school staff and will funds various construction upgrades to make school buildings safer. Technology infrastructure also will be upgraded.

A third school ballot question was rejected. Citing space needs and future enrollment growth, the district sought $8 million to buy land for a new elementary school and a new middle school. 

The same ballot also saw five School Board seats filled. Laurie Johnson won a two-year term, while Sharon Van Leer, Katie Schwartz, Tracy Brunnette and Katy McElwee-Stevens all won four-year seats.

—Scott Wente

Large road projects completed

It was a big year for road construction in Cottage Grove — and the headaches that accompany the work.

The largest project, led by Washington County, required a roughly three-month closure of the intersection at 70th Street and Keats Avenue. The county realigned 70th Street so it’s now a four-way intersection with Keats Avenue, and crews added a one-lane roundabout at the intersection.

The road closure affected businesses — and their customers — in the Almar Village commercial development at the corner of 70th Street and Keats Avenue.

While that road project was under way, the South Washington Watershed District installed a nearly mile-long stormwater pipe beneath the roadway, to eventually provide an outlet for emergency stormwater overflow from Woodbury, through Cottage Grove and on to the Mississippi river.

Also last summer, the city of Cottage Grove took on a roughly $6.8 million residential street improvement project for the area between 70th and 80th streets and Jamaica and Keats avenues. Also, Hinton Avenue from 70th Street to 80th Street was repaved.

Across town, East Point Douglas Road was modified near the new Walmart store. A center turn lane was added to help with traffic flow once the retail store opens early this year.

—Scott Wente

Names in the news

  • Lee Flandrich — Longtime St. Paul Park Public Works Director Lee Flandrich retired after 43 years in public works. Flandrich also worked for the Newport Public Works Department. Rob Weldon, who held the same position in Somerset, Wis., replaced Flandrich.
  • Deb Hill — The city of Newport hired Deb Hill as its new city administrator. Hill was formerly the city’s accountant. She replaced Brian Anderson, who took the same position with the city of Faribault.
  • Judy Spooner — A reporter, photographer and columnist for nearly four decades, Judy Spooner retired from the South Washington County Bulletin in September. She continues to write an occasional column.
  • The Rev. Ben Tims, Sr. — The founder and retired pastor of Light the Way Church, the Rev. Ben Tims was killed Oct. 29 after he was hit by a vehicle while crossing 70th Street outside his home. Road safety improvements in the area were planned before the incident, but Tims’ death sparked renewed public discussion about safety in the area.
  • Mike Elwell — Famous for his white beard and portrayal of Santa Claus, Cottage Grove resident Mike Elwell died Sept. 12 at age 59.
  • Barry Sittlow — A park in St. Paul Park was dedicated to Barry Sittlow, who served as the city’s administrator for more than three decades. Sittlow was instrumental in acquiring playground equipment for the park.
  • Dan Moriarty — Cottage Grove resident and avid writer Dan Moriarty died Feb. 16. He taught English at St. Paul Park High School for many years and was nominated Minnesota State Teacher of the Year in 1967. At 65, he became a substitute teacher in five districts including District 833. He was famous for his “grandpa stories.”

—Emily Buss

Scott Wente
Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
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