In a nail biter of an evening last night at the St. Cloud City Hall, the Planning Commission voted 4-3 in favor of locating the new skate plaza at Heritage Park.
After 4 years of hard work by skate plaza supporters, area youth are now closer than ever to realizing their 15-year dream of having a skate plaza built here in St. Cloud. The only remaining step is for the City Council to approve the Park Board and Planning Commission's recommendations that the skate plaza be located at this site. Their vote will be held on January 25th.
So last night was a critical milestone. Had the Planning Commission voted it down, the City Council would then be required to pass a super majority vote which only allows for 1 dissenter. That would be too close for comfort.
This project has been hugely controversial over the last few months as news that the skate plaza was being proposed in Heritage Park hit the newspapers. People opposed to the project have voiced concerns that the 1/2 acre skate plaza will "destroy the peace and serenity" of the surrounding 92 acre nature park. Many opinion letters have been written to the newspaper, petitions have been gathered and public lynch mobs have appeared at our mayor's town hall meetings.
Here is a satellite image of the site. The purple outline is the skate plaza. The yellow outline is the existing history museum. The skate plaza will sit right up against a busy road, directly across the street from Walmart and Cub Foods, and will not encroach the existing woods or cause any more noise than the traffic from the 4 major roads that already surround the park.
But last night was both frightening and awesome at the same time.
The council chambers was filled with supporters of the skate plaza due to a successful recruitment and Facebook campaign. Of particular note were the children and teenagers who bravely approached the microphone to plea their cases. Kids as young as 5 years old came up and explained why they wanted a skate plaza, and incredibly eloquent teens from the St. Cloud Youth Commission gave nearly tear-jerking praises to the efforts of Austin and the other youth who have done such a fantastic job of "using the process to help realize their cause." I couldn't have been more proud of the youth of this community for their performances last night.
But the opposition was well organized and strongly represented as well. Many people came forward to express their concerns over the usage of the park, safety issues, spending decisions and more. Testimony from both sides went on for an hour and a half before the Planning Commission started their debate.
And that's when it got sticky.
Seven commission members grilled the City Planner and Park Department director with tough questions for nearly an hour. FINALLY one member called for a motion to vote on the site. I had my head in my hands and was sweating in nervous anticipation. HOW WILL THEY VOTE?!!!
And then, as quickly as the motion was raised, someone from the Planning Commission started asking about the possibility of postponing the decision until next month. I thought I was going to explode. But fortunately - the liaison for the City Council stepped in and explained that if they didn't decide at that point, the City Council would still be allowed to vote on it in 2 weeks anyway, so it would be in their best interest to make a recommendation now.
FINALLY... after over 2 hours, a vote was cast. All in favor? Four hands were raised. All oppposed? Three.
The room instantly erupted into applause and cheering. We had done it. We had won.
Now all we have to do is get approval from the City Council. Early indicators show that a majority of the members are already in support of the proposal. Plus, the City Council is always more likely to vote with the Park Board and Planning Commission recommendations. Anyway... nothing is over till it's over, so I'm not going to celebrate just yet.
But I do feel pretty good about this!