Willmar updates Robbins Island land use covenants

Robbins Island

WILLMAR—As a requirement of the $606,000 Legacy grant Willmar received for improvements at Robbins Island Regional Park, the city needed to update the land use covenants for the park, to lay out in black and white that someday the park won’t turn into a strip mall or housing development. The park has covenants, but they haven’t been updated since 1974.

“This is basically saying this is going to be a park and it is always going to stay a park,” Willmar Parks and Recreation Director Rob Baumgarn said at the Tuesday meeting of the Willmar City Council.

While the council approved the updated covenants unanimously, there was discussion about what those covenants would and would not allow at Robbins Island, specifically whether a community center would be an allowed use.

“It has been floated as a possible location. Nothing definitive has been decided,” Councilor Julie Asmus said.

While the idea of building a new community center on Robbins Island has been spoken about, briefly, at the council level, it has not been completely vetted, according to Mayor Marv Calvin. What members on the council did not want was to approve the covenants only to find out later they cannot build at Robbins Island if that ends up being the decision.

City Attorney Robert Scott drafted the covenants based on language directly from the grant. In his opinion, a community center may be problematic based on those covenants.

“They do specify the real property, meaning the park, should be managed for public outdoor recreation use. I do think that is going to create a problem if the council is hoping to put a community center facility in this restricted area,” Scott said.

The covenants also say that any use beyond public outdoor recreation is not allowed, unless there is prior written approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

While council members want to keep the door open for a possible community center at Robbins Island, many commented they also do not want to jeopardize the project by holding up the approval of the covenants.

As part of the resolution to approve the covenants, and to keep the process moving forward, the council added an amendment to direct Scott and Baumgarn to ask the DNR about the feasibility of allowing a community center at Robbins Island.

If the idea is OK, Scott will reword the covenants to reflect that. If the DNR says no, the covenants will stand as approved.

“I don’t think asking the question is going to create additional problems,” Scott said.

The Legacy grant, which was awarded to Robbins Island by the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission in 2017, will be used for a new four-season shelter as well as a shelter plaza, trail updates and design and engineering costs. Initially the grant also included a wetland interpretive boardwalk, on the east side of the park. However that was removed from the overall project in December, with the money that had been allotted for the boardwalk going instead toward the shelter.

The city will need to contribute at least $175,000 in a local match for the project.

The deadline to complete the work at the park is June 2020.

West Central Tribune by Shelby Lindrud

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