NB planning/EDA director resigns

Housing project moves north of 400th Street/

By Derrick Knutson—

Al Cottingham has been with the city of North Branch for more than a decade. Friday will be his last day serving the city.

Cottingham, the city’s planning, development and economic development authority director, gave his resignation last week, and the City Council voted to accept that resignation at its meeting Monday.

Cottingham cited job security as his reason for making the decision to leave the post.

He’ll be starting his new job as the planning and zoning director for the city of Cloquet Monday.

“I would have liked to continue here, but based on what’s going on, I don’t think this position will stay permanent,” he said.

He noted some council members don’t think the city needs a full-time planning and EDA director and depending on who ends up on the council after the next election, the position could be eliminated.

After accepting Cottingham’s resignation, on the docket for the council was a vote on amending the job description for the planning/EDA position and authorizing an advertisement for Cottingham’s replacement.

The council did not come to a consensus on if the city should advertise the position, and voted to postpone the decision to a later meeting.

The council will discuss the issue again at its June 7 workshop meeting.

Mayor Amy Oehlers said there is value to having a full-time planning and economic development director working for the city.

“I’m not comfortable not having anyone there to not provide assistance to anyone,” she said.

The mayor noted having elected officials doing Cottingham’s job duties likely isn’t a good idea, either, because they don’t have the needed expertise and dumping those duties on existing staff would be an extra burden on them.

Council member Kathy Blomquist echoed Oehler’s sentiment, but council member Joel McPherson was on the fence.

He agreed with the mayor that the position is important, but said it’s hard to tell what type of role a planning/EDA director would have in the city in the future, so he wasn’t comfortable at the meeting making a vote to advertise for a replacement.

Council members Theresa Furman and Ron Lindquist said they don’t want a full-time replacement for Cottingham.

Furman suggested existing staff could take over his duties, or perhaps the city could bring in interns to perform the work as needed.

“In these economic times nothing is going on,” Lindquist said. “Let’s wait seven months until the new council comes in (before making a decision).”

Housing project moves

The Northside Villas housing development, which was slated to be constructed south of 400th Street, will now likely be constructed north of the thoroughfare.

In order to receive tax credits to help offset some of the construction costs of the project, the 40-unit development has to be within 10 miles of a high growth area, either industrially or residentially. The city of Wyoming has been identified as one of those areas.

Initially, having the project north of 400th put it outside that bubble, but Oehlers, Blomquist and city staff were able to find a loophole that allows the project to be constructed north of 400th.

MHFA accepted the idea of having it constructed north of 400th and having part of the project platted south of the street. That area would not be developed.

Oehlers, Blomquist and McPherson voted to accept the proposal.

Furman and Lindquist cast dissenting votes.

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