November 2006: Referendum & Vote to Demolish
In the November 2006 election Kasson’s voters were asked to decide if the city of Kasson should:
“be authorized to issue its general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $3,900,000 to defray the expense of the renovation, expansion and equipping of the former elementary school for city hall, library, or other governmental purposes.”
The referendum failed by a narrow vote of 894 to 1,026. Despite the close 122-vote difference and no clear mandate, a few weeks later the Kasson city council voted to demolish the building without further consultation with the citizens they were sworn to represent.
2007: Citizen Petition, Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW)
In January 2007 the Kasson Alliance for Restoration (KARE) was formed as a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a way to rehabilitate rather than demolish the school building as well as furthering historic preservation within Kasson. KARE members lobbied unsuccessfully at numerous council meetings in April 2007 for the city council to reverse its demolition decision and further consult with citizens on the future of the school building. Parallel to the citizens testifying in front of the council in April, a Citizen’s Petition was being drafted related to requesting an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW). The goal was to petition the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to ask the city to develop an EAW. EAWs are used in Minnesota to determine whether or not a project requires a much more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). At this point the school was not on the National Register of Historic Places so an EAW was not required under Minnesota’s Environmental Resources Act (MERA). However, any Minnesota citizen has the right to request an EAW be performed for any proposed project in Minnesota. The following are links to the May 1, 2007 cover letter to the EQB and the City of Kasson and the attached citizen’s petition for an EAW.
May 2007: EAW and Threatened Demolition
At the May 9, 2007 city council meeting the city acknowledged receiving a citizen petition from the EQB to conduct an EAW. However, Minnesota law is flawed in this regard as evidenced by the EQB determining that the City of Kasson was the Responsible Government Unit (RGU) with the sole responsibility for determining whether or not an EAW was required! The fox was guarding the chicken coop! The citizens knew this in advance of filing the petition; however, the EAW was pursued due to the process and potential appeals slowing down the council’s march toward demolition.
At the May 23, 2007 city council meeting the city announced that they had hired Robert Vogel of Pathfinder CRM, LLC (who claims to specialize in “preservation planning”) to determine the need for an EAW for the proposed demolition of the school. Mr. Vogel’s report was presented at the meeting and he predictably advised the city that an EAW was not needed and that “demolition could proceed”. Thus the council passed resolution number 5.3-07 “Making a Negative Declaration on a Petition for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet”. The motion was made by Councilman Mike Marti and was seconded by Councilman Matt Nelson (Ayes: Coleman, Marti, Nelson, Tjosaas, and Worden. Nays: None). However on May 23, prior to the council meeting, the Kasson Alliance for Restoration (KARE) filed a motion in the Dodge County court house under provisions of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act to halt the demolition. During the meeting the council members acknowledged that KARE had filed a motion for an injunction to stop the city from demolishing the school (the sheriff had delivered the motion to city hall). Despite that, a motion was made by Councilman Chuck Coleman and seconded by Councilman Mike Marti, with all voting aye, to accept the low bid of $198,483 from Rachel Contracting, LLC from St. Michael, MN to demolish the school under the provision that the city attorney gave the go-ahead to proceed.
June 2007: Court Hearing: Demolition Injunction and the EAW
KARE’s demolition injunction motion resulted in a hearing in the Dodge County court house on June 5 before Judge Casey J. Christian at which KARE’s attorneys (Mark Anfinson and Rodney Peterson) and the Cities’ attorneys from the League of Minnesota Cities (George Hoff and Shelley Ryan) presented their cases. After careful consideration Judge Christian issued an injunction on June 7 temporarily prohibiting demolition until a trial on the merits could be conducted which was scheduled for February 11, 2008.
In light of the judge stopping the demolition and setting a trial date the cities’ decision to reject the citizen’s petition for an EAW was not appealed by the citizen’s of Kasson (although the appeal was ready).
The Kasson Alliance immediately began the process of nominating the school to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This was due to the fact that the upcoming “trial on the merits” would, in part, involve determining whether or not the school was an historic resource as defined by Minnesota’s Environmental Resources Act (MERA) law.
On June 20, 2007 at a special meeting of the city council the council decided that,
“Pursuant to civil action against the City and due to a District Court order, the City of Kasson is temporarily enjoined from approving bids for the demolition of the Old Elementary School.”
Thus resolution number 6.6-07 was passed rejecting the demolition bids. The motion was made by Councilman Matt Nelson and was seconded by Councilman Mike Marti (Ayes: Coleman, Marti, Nelson, Tjosaas, and Worden. Nays: None).
July 2007 – July 2011: Lawsuit Settlement, Reuse Study, Library Planning
For details on this period and previous and later developments see the link to the left titled “The Story”.
August 2011: Demolition Threatened Again and the EAW
Despite the fact that the city’s October 2009 Historic Properties Reuse Study instructed the city to: “Market the [school] building to potential development partners (page 4)” (which the city had not done) the city began to explore demolition of the school again in August 2011. In a move that implied that the city was contemplating demolition, on Wednesday August 24 the Kasson City Council selected a bid to conduct the now required EAW on the historic 1918 Kasson School. Robert Vogel (from Pathfinders CRM, LLC) was again selected to work on the EAW this time in partnership with the Architect and Engineering firm Widseth, Smith and Nolting.
At this point the EAW was required by Minnesota’s Environmental Resources Act (MERA) due to KARE successfully placing the school on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in December 2007.
November 2011: School for Sale, EAW Published and Reviewed
In the months preceding November 2011 numerous citizens met personally with council members, attended council meetings and wrote letters to the editor all supporting reusing the school. On November 1, 2011 the city listed the 1918 school for sale thru Kathy O’Malley of Counselor Realty. On November 28, 2011 the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) announced in their newsletter that the EAW for the historic Kasson School was available for review. Of course the city was once again selected by the EQB to be the Responsible Government Unit (RGU). The EAW comments were due to City Planner Mike Martin 30 days later on December 28, 2011. The 2011 EAW is at the link below.
City of Kasson’s 2011 EAW – Nov. 14, 2011
On November 30, 2011 an open house was held at the school which was preceded by a presentation on the advantages of historic preservation by Bonnie McDonald, Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. Numerous developers attended and were clearly interesting in developing the school.
December 2011: Offer to Purchase the School, EAW Comments Due
On December 14, 2011 the City of Kasson received an offer from the developer Sherman Associates of Minneapolis, M regarding their interest in purchasing the Historic 1918 Kasson School. On December 21, 2011 the city council voted to sign a Letter of Intent with Sherman Associates. A senior housing complex was proposed for the school. In the meantime the EAW review process was ongoing with comments due December 28. Comments were provided by the following entities. Links to selected comments are below.
Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.
State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Minnesota Historical Society.
Minnesota Department of Transportation.
And many private citizens
Kenton Spading’s EAW Comments – Dec. 22, 2011
Preservation Alliance of Minnesota EAW Comments – Dec. 23, 2011
MN State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) EAW Comments – Dec. 27, 2011
The City of Kasson’s responses to the comments are at this link. The city determined that an EIS was not needed and that Minnesota law did not require them to modify the EAW as requested in the review comments.
City of Kasson’s Response to the EAW Comments – Jan. 25, 2012