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Council Perspective: A look ahead at what's coming in 2021

By Anne Burt

We are ready to embrace the many opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in 2021. I want to share more about our strategic priorities and key projects we'll be working on this year. 

Strategic issues
Every two years, the City Council reserves time for study and ideation around emerging, critical issues facing Woodbury. Council identifies two or three urgent, high priority focus areas. Staff then designates an implementation team with a clearly identified team leader and reports to Council at least once a year on outcomes or as dictated by the initiative timeline. The strategic issues for the 2019-2021 cycle are:

  1. Ensure Long-Term Drinking Water Sustainability - On the 2019 Community Survey, residents indicated concern related to the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in our groundwater. The city has removed seven wells from service since 2017 due to PFAS, constructed a temporary water treatment facility in 2020 to treat PFAS, and put four of these seven wells back into service with the treatment facility. This strategic initiative focuses on providing the necessary research, detail and information on long-term drinking water sustainability for the community. The goal is to ensure the City Council can make informed, long-term and strategic decisions regarding the future of the City of Woodbury's water quality, treatment, and its financial sustainability. 
  2. Ensure Our Parks and Trails Meet the Needs of a Growing and Changing Community - One of our community's greatest assets is our extensive parks and trails system, which includes more than 150 miles of paved trails, 3,300 acres of park land, 76 sport courts, 123 athletic fields, 31 park buildings, 46 play structures, and more than 17,000 park trees. This strategic initiative will help the City Council make informed, long-term and strategic decisions regarding preserving and enhancing our parks, forestry and recreation system through a financial plan to sustain them into the future.
  3. Adapt and Enhance Public Safety Effectiveness - The public safety environment is ever evolving and continues to change to represent and support local demographics, service demands, labor negotiations, city growth and development, how services are funded, city staffing and succession, state and national political influence and more. This strategic initiative will help the City Council make informed, long-term and strategic decisions regarding not only our Public Safety Department, but the public safety of the community as well.
There are many other key current and upcoming projects and initiatives worth highlighting. While I have limited space here, I'll be touching on many more items in my annual State of the City presentation, which will be shared with you through a video in March. For now, here are some highlights:

Ongoing pandemic response
The federal government is leading the COVID-19 vaccine dispersal, distributing vaccines to each state weekly. Then, each state distributes the vaccines to regional distribution sites, generally county Public Health Departments.

Washington County Public Health is required to follow Minnesota Department of Health guidance for allocating and prioritizing the COVID-19 vaccine. They are currently working through Phase 1a1, which includes emergency medical services (EMS) personnel. Our Fire/EMS staff have been given the opportunity to receive the vaccine, and police officers are next in the queue. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present many challenges to our local businesses. In addition to helping connect businesses to federal and state financial support, the city took some steps to allow flexibility its regulations to address the challenges our businesses are facing during the pandemic. Two examples include making changes to regulations to allow for greater outdoor dining opportunities and making procedural modifications related to commercial code enforcement to help navigate impacts from state-issued executive orders. Additionally, the city provided refunds to those businesses which held liquor licenses but were not able to sell liquor due to the pandemic.

Residents should continue to get their information about the pandemic from official sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota Department of Health, and Washington County.

Development
Despite the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the city experienced a significant amount of new commercial construction in 2020, with five new commercial buildings adding more than 172,000 square feet of new space. 

The largest of these new commercial projects is Kindeva Drug Delivery, a 137,000-square-foot facility being constructed north of Hudson Road and east of Settlers Ridge Parkway. Kindeva specializes in solving complex drug delivery challenges for its pharmaceutical and biotechnology customers and will bring about 150 jobs to Woodbury in 2021, with additional job growth anticipated. Construction is underway and they plan to be open for business this summer. 

Complementing the new commercial development are some exciting redevelopment plans near Valley Creek Road and I-494, one of the major gateways to the city. The removal of the Key Inn and the former Spire Credit Union building will set the stage for new development, which includes the future construction of a Chick-fil-A restaurant, remodels of the multi-tenant office buildings at 1800 and 1802 Woodlane Drive, as well as a future office building and a multi-tenant financial/retail use. Two other redevelopment projects in this vicinity include the former MGM Liquor site, which will be razed to make way for a Hi-Way Credit Union branch, and the former Barnes & Noble site, which will be redeveloped as a Chase Bank branch. Finally, another addition to this gateway area, is the new Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin Robins which opened in mid-2020 near Pizza Hut southwest of Valley Creek Road and I-494. The city is excited about the level of reinvestment and transformation that is happening in this very visible entrance to our community. 

Take a look at the Development Map to learn more about what's coming soon.

Road construction
As usual in Minnesota, we'll be busy repairing and enhancing our local roadways beginning late this spring.

Washington County will be working on phase two of the Woodbury Drive improvement project between I-94 and Tamarack Road that began last year. This year's work will involve the reconstruction of Tamarack Road, Commerce Drive, Rivertown Drive and Hudson Road.

Further south, the county is expected to begin work on Woodbury Drive between Bailey Road and Dale Road. This project will increase capacity with a four-lane divided roadway design and includes the addition of a roundabout at Dale Road. 

In addition, the intersection at Lake Road and Pioneer Drive is proposed to be reconstructed this year. At this time, a single lane roundabout or traffic signal upgrade is under consideration for traffic control, replacing the existing four-way stop. The project will include various pedestrian improvements at Lake Road and Pioneer Drive, as well as at Blue Ridge Drive and Juniper Lane. Construction is anticipated to begin in May or June and wrap up in October. 

In conjunction with the Lake Road/Pioneer Drive intersection improvements, portions of Lake Road between Woodlane Drive and Pioneer Drive will be converted from a four-lane roadway to a three-lane roadway. This part of the project could take place in 2021 or 2022, depending on the availability of grant funding. 

Public engagement
As we move forward, I encourage you to engage in these activities. The City Council generally meets three times per month: Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month and one workshop discussion takes place on the third Wednesday of the month. Most of these meetings take place in the Council Chambers at City Hall, but residents are encouraged to join virtually during the pandemic. We are also planning two virtual "town hall" sessions this year on specific topics yet to be determined. Watch for more information about these sessions via the city's website, social media accounts, InTouch email notification system and this newsletter.

In an effort to increase our communication and engagement with our residents and businesses beyond formal Council meetings and workshops, the City Council also is planning to have a presence at many our annual community events in the future. So once we can hold favorite community get-togethers safely again, come find us. I look forward to seeing you all soon!