Stillwater officials are ready to hear what people do and don’t like about a plan for the new riverfront park being developed on the north end of town. The city purchased the 15-acre Aiple property in 2017, with .75 miles of river shoreline, and is now requesting public input.
Citizens are invited to share their preferences and comments using an interactive online tool. The site lets users explore the concept plan and comment on specific features, as well as sharing overall preferences.
“The biggest issues are the location of a potential fishing pier and/or docking system for non-motorized boats and the reuse of the existing house,” city planner Abbi Wittman told the Pioneer Press. “Should (the house) go away completely — or if there is some sort of reuse, what kind of use would you like to see?”
The property is located north of the former Zephyr Train Depot, now home to the Zephyr Theater, wedged between the river, the Brown’s Creek State Trail, and Highway 95. For the past 50 years, it was owned by the Aiple family. Before that it was the site of various industrial uses, including sawmills, warehouses, train siding, and lumber yards.
Today, it features timeless spring-fed ponds, tall trees, and beautiful views up the river.
Plans for a pleasant place
The city intends to restore much of the property to natural conditions and provide passive recreational uses. The current public comment period is part of finalizing the plan and implementing it.
The concept plan proposes walking paths, fishing pier, beach, launching area for paddlecraft, picnic shelters, parking, and more.
It would be subtly divided into three different types of areas.
“The north part is sort of a natural area – there’s good interpretation opportunities for geology, for flora,” Turnblad told the city council in 2016. “Then there is this whole middle area, essentially from the little garage and beach area all the way down to the driveway entrance to the property, and it’s all very parklike. Pretty areas, easily adaptable to outside uses of some sort – all kinds of outdoor activities that don’t require structures. And then down in south we have the scrub woodland. We don’t know quite what to do with that yet.”
Eroding shorelines would also be stabilized, and a buffer strip of plants would stabilize the banks and help protect the river from runoff.
In December, a group of competitive rowers requested access to the site this summer for boat storage and water access, and possibly using the existing house on the property for other activities. Led by St. Paul resident Ixchel Mckinnie and with support from councilmembers Mike Pohlena and Tom Weidner, the group suggested developing what it called a “silent sports center.”
The former residence would be repurposed for the club’s use, and a dock would be installed to provide access for canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding in addition to rowing.
The city has now said it’s not ready to accommodate the club yet, as it seeks to complete its planning process. Repurposing the house has also become an obstacle.
“Very simply put, if you just use cold storage to put the shells in the pool area, that’s very doable,” Stillwater community development director Bill Turnblad told the council in January. “Other uses would be expensive.”
Councilmember Tom Weidner responded that such a basic use wasn’t what the rowing club had proposed, saying the envisioned space for offices and club activities in at least part of the former Aiple home.
The 4,000-square-foot structure built in the 1960s was originally planned for removal when the city acquired the property with additional county and state funds.
A previous analysis shared with the council by an architectural firm found that it would cost more than a million dollars to restore the house to a usable, stable condition fit for public use and up to code. Tearing it down would cost about a third of that.
There are some structural issues, and before the city can allow any use at all, fire code requires a sprinkler system be installed. The property would also have to be connected to the city sewer system. Sprinklers and sewer would probably cost $50,000, and that was just the start.
What exactly the rowing club wanted was also unknown. Turnblad said their proposal had “evolved throughout their presentation.”
Mayor Ted Kozlowski said he believed Mckinnie had tried to describe a spectrum of possibilities, and needed the information Turnblad had now presented about possibilities and costs before they could decide what they wanted to do.
“They needed to see some of this before they could make a determination on how far they could go with it, if it was going to be really painful to make it a private rowing club,” Kozlowski said.
This week, the rowing club’s Mckinnie told the Pioneer Press she was working on another location on a lake in St. Paul, but would keep Stillwater in mind for the future.
“I never close the door, but we are actively pursuing another location,” said McKinnie.
Comment on the plan
View the interactive map, fill out the survey, and add feedpack directly to specific features.