Sometimes living in Winona feels like being in an Indiana Jones movie. Just when you relax and think you’re safe, something jumps out at you and makes you scream.
Of course, in any city there is a natural tension between development and the status quo. There will always be need for growth, we hope. However, growth should not be without controls, and without being mindful of such things as the public good — protecting beautiful places, truly historic places, and land that is owned by the public and used for recreation or a refuge from the turmoil of city life.
There are neighborhoods we want to protect from encroachment to maintain their historic integrity. Seventh Street comes to mind, as does the Lake Park neighborhood.
And there is parkland that we want to preserve, right here in Winona. From time to time, development has threatened our parks. There is, of course, the old Central Park, which was destroyed to build the current Post Office. (Ironically, the spot has proved to be not an ideal location, with parking, ingress and egress problems.)
In 2009, another city park was threatened when the city included Levee Park in a new redevelopment zone it was creating to allow condominiums to be built at the foot of Washington Street and the river. Citizens and city council members were adamantly opposed to the move, even though city staff tried to reassure them that in the event of the sale or transfer of public land, a public referendum would be triggered.
The Winona Post pointed out on its news pages back then that such a sale — contrary to city information — would not automatically demand a referendum, but rather, the sale or transfer would put the burden on citizens to gather the support to put the issue on a ballot. That could be done by collecting almost 3,000 signatures of registered voters on a petition — within 15 days of the city’s announcement of the sale or transfer.
Prior to that zoning proposal, in 2001, a plan for the city and Winona Health to swap land parcels in Lake Park came under scrutiny. Some on the city council and in the community saw the swap as a threat to the integrity of the park, which had already been compromised by a commercial building on the highway near the intersection with Mankato Avenue. Fortunately, the swap was made, with no further encroachments into Lake Park.
Last month, city staff floated the idea, through the Winona Port Authority, to designate Lake Park and the airport as Industrial Zones, to allow the Port to bond for expansion and renovation projects at both sites. The idea was met with alarm by those who surmised that doing so would pave the way for commercial development in Lake Park.
The newest announcement from Bodway is heartening. Winonans are fortunate that a donor would step forward with a challenge to the community to raise $140,000 to be matched by the donor. Raising this amount should be easy, if users of the bike path will donate. If everyone who biked, ran, bladed, walked or pushed a buggy along the bike path were to donate, the goal would be reached in no time.
On the other hand, I can sympathize with those who think their property taxes should be enough to maintain and expand our city parkland. Our city parks should be accessible to all, regardless of their ability to pay. The city will be realizing a windfall of sorts with the changes recently effected in local government aid (LGA) from the state. Perhaps this money should be designated for our parkland renovation and upkeep.
Wherever the solution lies, we must remain, like Indiana Jones, hyperaware of threats to our parks from those who value development over green spaces.
All work space and no play space would make Winona a dull (and very unattractive) city.