Tuesday night, Council Member Dan Kealey was very much alone at the dais. He was also very angry.
"This is bad government. This is something I've witnessed in other towns and it disgusts me," Kealey said during a work session centering on a ban on new thrift stores. "We don't do that to businesses in Burnsville, I thought."
But Kealey's strong words failed to move his colleagues on the council. Kealey was met with silence when he motioned to terminate the moratorium and instead govern thrift stores under the city's existing second hand dealer ordinance. Thus ended round two of a battle that began in late December, when The Arc Greater Twin Cities asked the city council to sign off on a proposal to turn a vacant building across from the Burnsville Center into a non-profit thrift store.
The Arc was not expecting to make waves. Initially, the request was included on the council's consent agenda, a collection of routine matters and government minutia like meeting minutes and miscellaneous bills that are approved in one motion, usually with no discussion. Instead, the request inspired a temporary moratorium on new thrifts stores. Though the council approved The Arc's request, the non-profit's lawyer said that the ban effectively killed the deal.
In December, Kealey and former Council Member Dan Gustafson hotly contested the ban. On Tuesday, however, Kealey was on his own. The rest of the council opted to move forward with an extended examination of the issue that will likely drag into early summer.
"I understand your passion. I don't like doing these kinds of things, but it is about Burnsville looking to the future," said Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, who objected to the non-profit buying a prime commercial building on the grounds that it would take property off the tax rolls, even though The Arc pledged to make commensurate payments to the city. "We're already built out have to look at how we grow our tax base, what do we want it to look like in the future?"
The study will examine the impact thrift stores have on the local economy and tax revenues, make an inventory of existing stores and compare Burnsville's current ordinances to those of other cities. According to Community Development Director Jenni Faulkner, the study will be conducted by Northwest Associated Consultants. The cost of the study will be limited to $13,300.
The building in question generated about $85,000 in property taxes during 2012, an amount that is split between all governmental entities with jurisdiction. The city's share amounted to $12,285.46. The rest went to the county, the school district and the state.
Faulkner said that Northwest Associated Consultants would have a report ready by March 30. The report would then be discussed during a joint session between the council and the Planning Commission in the first two weeks of April at the earliest. Faulkner also thought it best to include the Economic Development Commission (EDC), which would push the issue into May.
"This is chewing up six months of time," Kealey protested. "That is a very long time to put (The Arc's) project on hold."
"I would be very reluctant to not include citizen volunteers on the EDC or Planning Commission," Council Member Mary Sherry responded, adding later that professional community developers would be able to offer an unbiased, thorough assessment of thrift stores' impact on the community as a whole.
"Unfortunately that takes some time," Sherry concluded.
See more city council coverage:
- Nguyen Sworn In—New Era Begins at City Hall