From the LoGro Archives, Dec 1, 2007: Wondering about the Xmas trees for sale at The Crossing

Xmas trees for sale Ross and I noticed yesterday that someone’s preparing to sell Christmas trees on the empty lots at The Crossing. We’ve both chatted a bit with folks about this but haven’t been able to determine who’s selling the trees.

Some people commented that it’s good to see the empty lots being put to use, especially with something as visually pleasing as Christmas trees and antique tractors.

Others commented that if the vendor for these trees is not from the Northfield area, it undermines the sale of trees from local merchants such as Lansing Hardware, Just Food, etc. And since The Crossing is a development that’s getting Tax Increment Financing (TIF) via the City, this seems inappropriate.

I’m trying to blog this with a neutral-point-of-view, wikipedia style since all three of us have conflicts of interest regarding The Crossing. (I’m being sued by the developer, Ross used to work for the developer, and Tracy continues to sleep with my attorney, though it’s not clear what she’s hoping to gain from that.)


  1. John Thomas said:

    I think it is fine. It is a free market economy, and I am confident that if a local vendor wanted to use that lot, they could have engaged the developer. I would like to think that the local market can stand a few outside vendors occassionally. It might just be someone local, as I would assume that someone would not just haul a couple of antique tractors a couple hundred miles just for show. (Diesel is just to expensive, and it would be an unnecessary cost.)

    Also, the amount of $$ that the developer is obtaining for the 3 weeks rental of the lot is probably very minimal.

    Is the discussion therefore, about possible attachments and stipulations about what can and cannot be done on a property that uses City TIF? If so, what other restrictions do you feel should be appropriate?

    I know where I will by buying my tree, as I have done in years past. It will neither be at this location, or at Lansings Hardware. I prefer to support the co-op, and what it stands for.

    I also know that I would love to see some new businesses grow into that complex.

    December 1, 2007
  2. Dan Bergeson said:

    Ed Kuhlman pointed out to me last evening that this location is the second choice for the tree sellers. Apparently, the business operators are neighbors of Ed’s and last week were planning to sell the trees in the front yard of their residence. Ed and his neighbors understandably thought this an inappropriate use of the homestead and pointed this unpermitted commercial activity out to City Hall. Next thing you know, there are Christmas trees at the Crossing.

    They don’t seem to be highly motivated to get underway, in my opinion: no lights, no signs, trees lying down. What next?

    December 1, 2007
  3. Jon Denison said:

    I wondered the same things when I saw the trees down at the Crossing, so I asked staff at city hall some questions concerning that. I was then informed it was a local person who was selling them from their yard (and as that is not allowed under current city ordinance) were advised to find an alternative solution and even recommended that particular site as a solution. And it has apparently worked out for all parties involved and I don’t see an issue with it as long as the trees are kept out of the right-of-way and they don’t become an unsightly mess.

    December 1, 2007
  4. Ross Currier said:

    Jon –

    So you have confirmed that it was City Staff who recommended the Crossing site to the part-time tree vendors.

    – Ross

    December 3, 2007
  5. Jon Denison said:

    If they did or did not, I do not see that as an issue. I would expect staff to be helpful with creative solutions when possible. Staff does, after all, stress customer service. This city is always struggling with a business-difficult image to overcome.

    December 3, 2007
  6. barb Kuhlman said:


    Regarding the Christmas trees at the Crossing, I came home one day and saw a large truckload of trees being unloaded in our neighbors front yard. For several days previously, he had been building what we guessed must be a humongous fence for their dogs. Instead, it turned out the “fence” was just supports for the Christmas trees. I called the community development and building inspection office and spoke to someone there, whose name I unfortunately cannot remember, to see if it was permissible to sell Christmas trees in the neighbor’s front yard. Of course I was told it was not permissible to have a retail business in a residential neighborhood, and the staff person said he’d be out to see what was going on.

    A few hours later, I received a call back from the city staff person. It turns out the neighbors had actually called the city to see if a permit to sell Christmas trees was needed, and was told no. Evidently that conversation did not include the intended location of the tree lot. I believe, and I stress the word believe, because of the misunderstanding with the city staff when the neighbor asked about needing a permit, and since the trees were already unloaded in his front yard, that the city staff did assist in finding a place for them to sell the trees.

    We certainly didn’t bear these folks any ill will in calling the city. I think they are just some enterprising folks who wanted to make a little extra money at Christmas-time. We actually hope that these folks will be able to sell their trees. They have certainly gone to enough work to do this, as that whole truck load of trees in his yard had to be loaded and unloaded again, trailer-ful by trailer-ful, to be moved to the new site.

    December 4, 2007
  7. Ross Currier said:

    Hey Jon –

    I’m all for city staff coming up with creative and business-friendly ideas. I just know that during special sales times like Crazy Daze, long-time local businesses often question the appearance of one-time competitors. I suppose if local retailers, who provide jobs and pay taxes all year long, like Just Food, Lansing Hardware, Menards, and Switzers, have an issue with the City’s support of the tree sales on the Crossing site, they can bring it up with you.

    – Ross

    December 4, 2007
  8. Mary Therring said:

    After reading all these posts, it seems to me that some people may be attempting to look for a dig against The Crossing for their own personal gain. I have a hard time understanding what the real problem is, as I am quite confident, if it were another “local” retail vendor other than The Crossings promoting the sales of x-mas trees in their lot, we would not be reading on this blog.

    It seems to me that this organization looks for any possible reason they can to speak negatively about The Crossings.

    Why is this such an important deal for 3 weeks out of the year, when The Crossings was probably just trying to be helpful, to one of your locals?

    December 4, 2007
  9. kiffi summa said:

    It’s not about the Crossing; it’s about a town that is so messed up that it can’t even allow Christmas trees to be sold from the edge of the Mayor’s hardware store lot. A town whose city council is so adversarial with one of its own colleagues, that they will blame him for everything, even where “his Christmas trees are placed for sale. A town whose city council are all so invested in themselves, that they can’t be invested in us. A town whose city council can’t speak in public about their problems , so they keep getting in deeper and deeper, trying to protect themselves, and taking one more hit at someone else.

    Isn’t it a shame …

    December 4, 2007
  10. Rob Hardy said:

    Kiffi, elsewhere you say that a city employee “had gotten two calls from drivers who said they could not see to turn into the street because of the trees” on the boulevard in front of the Mayor’s store. Would the City have been responsive to its citizens if it had ignored those calls from drivers? Would it have been better if the City employees had said, “I’m sorry, but he’s the Mayor, he doesn’t have to abide by the city ordinance”? There are a lot of problems with city government at the moment, but I don’t think Christmas Treegate is one of them.

    December 5, 2007
  11. kiffi summa said:

    Rob : I agree , it should be minor, except for one thing…the complaint of not being able to see the traffic coming because of a Christmas tree on the boulevard is a “bogus” complaint, IMHO, because if there is a car LEGALLY parked in the diagonal parking space there, you have to go out, WAY past the tree in the boulevard to see if any cars are coming.
    Of course staff should investigate complaints, but they should not issue citations on “bogus” complaints.

    December 5, 2007
  12. Kiffi,

    “If” there is a car legally parked there. Sometimes there are not cars parked there, at which time a driver would notice that trees blocking his/her sight line. Perhaps that’s where the complaint generated.

    I agree with Rob. I suppose it’s possible to make this seem like a scheme against the mayor, but I would need much more convincing.

    Now, it seems, we have conspicuously crossed our Christmas conifer conversations. Hopefully, Griff will send Tracy out to spank me for the offense.

    December 6, 2007
  13. Jon Denison said:

    How can it be left up to one person to decide if something is a “bogus” complaint? A complaint is a complaint and should be given it’s due process regardless of source.

    December 6, 2007
  14. kiffi summa said:

    Actually “bogus” is an evaluation… a qualification, if you will… and I say posts 10, 11,12, ans 13 are all decidedly “bogus” BECAUSE they should have been on the other thread!

    Laugh, boys, laugh!

    December 6, 2007
  15. Julie Bixby said:


    Do you think that the “interpretation” (in some areas) of the Building Code should be left up to ONE person? Or do you think it is important to have a Building Code Board of Appeals? (How about a X-mas tree BOA?) Sorry, I couldn’t help that one!
    I am serious about my question.


    December 7, 2007
  16. Jon Denison said:

    I believe that the council hires qualified, experienced staff and we should respect them and their ability to do the job the city has hired them for. If issues become a recurring event, then the council has an obligation to the citizens to make inquiries and ask for evidence so the issues may be corrected in whatever form that may take.

    Now, as for the “local” building code board of appeals…I believe I stated my position at the dais when it was last discussed by the council. I don’t want us doubling up on something that I hear is offered by the state for free. A presentation was made to us by a gentleman from the state inspector’s office and someone from Owatonna. Both told us their appeals boards are rarely used. I’ve not made up my mind about it either way. I feel I need some more information and I expect to have some questions answered the next time this topic comes back to us.

    December 7, 2007
  17. kiffi summa said:

    Julie : I think it’s quite obvious that there has been a bit of a “stall” on this issue of the Building Code Board of Appeals. The City Council has not been elected by either Owatonna, or the “state”, and so I think they are primarily obligated to listen to the local residents who elected them, and expect more than the convenient”Party Line” … Don’t accept boilerplate cliches in place of substantive answers.

    December 8, 2007
  18. Julie Bixby said:

    Jon writes:

    “I believe that the council hires qualified, experienced staff and we should respect them and their ability to do the job the city has hired them for.”

    Jon, I agree, except, what happens when some?, many?, most? think the jobs are NOT being done satisfactorily? Do those (tax paying citizens) who pay their salaries, just sit back and let them continue? Do you expect people to turn a blind eye?
    Do you work for the people of your ward, those who elected you, or for the city staff?
    People vote for candidates who claim to represent them, their ideas, wishes, concerns…
    Correct me if I am wrong and I mean this with all due respect to you as a council person, but it appears to me that as far a you are concerned the staff is always right, do an excellent job and none of us should worry about what is happening at city hall. I, along with many others, some from your ward, do not see it this way.
    In a situation like this what do citizens do ? To whom is the council’s first priority?
    As far as the BOA goes, the process would go much more quickly if we had a LOCAL BOA. Each city is a smaller version of our state government, which is a smaller version of our national government. Wouldn’t it seem prudent to establish our own BOA in imitation of our state and in thus doing we would take on our own struggles and leave more time for the state government to govern the state?

    December 8, 2007
  19. Anne Bretts said:

    Enforcing building codes in old towns is a very tough job. It would seem that if there is sufficient public concern (a petition or a number of complaints) the council could get a panel (perhaps some former state officials or local officials from another community) to review the building department’s rulings over the past three years to see whether the enforcement has been too rigid or whether the frustration raised here should be focused on the code itself rather than the enforcing agent.
    It concerns me that given the politicization of every decision in government here, appointing a local appeals board would just create a new body to be attacked and second-guessed.
    Another solution would be to actively use the state process for a year and see whether there are enough cases to warrant a local board.

    December 8, 2007
  20. kiffi summa said:

    Many people who have been actively involved in, and affected by, the decisions made by the building official in interpreting the code, have worked on this problem, discussed it at length, cited examples, testified to discrepancies between rulings, and the time has come for a LOCAL BOA.

    The problems are not so much with new construction; the problems come with interpretation and its relationship to old, possibly historic, buildings.
    Businesses have not been able to move ahead because of constant roadblocks; in Norman’s case even after an evaluation by the state ADA representative, in his wheelchair, in Norm’s building. It has been proven an evaluation by a state official doesn’t even carry enough weight , in this case!

    Building owners in the downtown and the NDDC have lobbied long and hard for this needed reform. How many impediments to economic success can the DT sustain? The buildings are the DT’s “hardware”; we have to have the hardware before we can fine tune the “software.

    The time is long past for a LOCAL Board of Appeals to happen.

    December 8, 2007
  21. Jon Denison said:

    How do you quantify “some”, “many” or “most”? Is “some” you? Is “many” you and your neighbor? Is “most” you and your socio-economic peers? I’ve received phone calls and letters from both sides of the issue. Some from residents of my ward, some from residents of Northfield in whole. And last time I checked, Northfield was a part of the State of Minnesota. We will be addressing a local BOA at our council work session on Mon. and I for one certainly have some questions, because frankly I don’t think I have enough information to make a decision either way.

    Sorry Ross, Griff and Tracy about the tangent this thread seems to have taken. Maybe these last few comments should be moved to a new thread since the subject of a local BOA is a hotly debated one and is coming to council soon.

    December 8, 2007
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Jon, good idea. I think after Monday’s council meeting, one of us will write a Building Code Board of Appeals blog post so all discussion can continue there. I see there’s a PDF addendum to the council packet for it but the PDF doesn’t load/work. I’ll alert Deb Little.

    December 9, 2007
  23. kiffi summa said:

    Jon: Surely you are aware of the letters and presentations from the NDDC in support of the issue. That organization is supporting the needs of the affected population.
    Single building owners, architects, contractors do not like to SINGLY cite their problems, because they are afraid of reprisal.

    If this is coming to the council on Monday, it would be difficult to know; because as of 2:40 PM, Friday there was no packet available at City Hall . I have not heard this “hotly debated” at the council level , or indeed anywhere, except by the affected parties and professionals, and then there IS no “debate”.

    As for advice from the “State”, the State ADA expert ‘s advice was not honored by the local official.

    I can recall only you (at the council level) and Mr. Roder clearly expressing doubts, at your “dais”.

    If you have “received letters and phone calls from both sides of the issue” it would be helpful for you to bring those letters or records of calls to the Monday discussion. I can’t imagine why any citizen would complain to you about the establishment of a Local BOA; it is those who have been negatively affected that have carried the discussion.

    December 9, 2007

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