Events still cause tension between Stillwater library and neighbors

The Stillwater Public Library terrace was added with the intention of renting the space for events. (Gazette file photo)

A decade-long dispute continues between the Stillwater Public Library and its neighbors, but both sides hope for resolution after the city council weighed in earlier this month.

Since completion of a library expansion in 2006, the library and nearby residents have been at odds over the neighborhood disruption caused by events at the facility. Now the city council has asked the library board to do something about it, before the council will clarify the library’s authority to host events.

When the city council approved the library expansion over a decade ago, it clearly intended to allow events as a source of revenue, city staff says. However, a review of meeting minutes by city staff did not find any specific permit issued or conditions of approval for events.

That’s become a point of contention with neighbors, because city zoning code doesn’t allow events even by special use permit in the Public Administration zoning district where the library sits.

Suzi Quaderer, who has lived near the library 15 years, says allowing events at the library was an “experiment” with no public hearing, and the result has been problems with noise, traffic, parking and the like.

“There are no other — that I’m aware of — non-residential properties in the city that can have outdoor events without some sort of permit and guidelines from the city,” she said.

Quaderer isn’t opposed to the library hosting events, but she’d like to see conditions governing them, beyond the citywide prohibition of outdoor amplified music after 10 p.m.

“The library is a beloved institution in this town, and I’m not trying to shut it down — I’m not trying to shut the events down,” she said. “We just want a little more peace and quiet than we’ve had. … Most of us were here before the expansion.”

Restrictions she’d like to see include limits on hours of operation, the number of events in a week and the number of occupants.

Quaderer and others have brought their concerns to the library and city council in the past, and she said the library has made some changes, but she doesn’t feel they’ve gone far enough.

Library board president Mike Keliher acknowledges events have been a point of tension with neighbors, and says for past few years the library has been in contact with them and sought to address concerns appropriately.

He says the board has made changes to its event policy and the conversation is ongoing.

“The bottom line is balancing the importance of the library having events of this sort, with making sure the library continues to be a productive and constructive part of the community,” Keliher said. “We don’t want the library to be on anyone’s bad side.”

The library board and city council have discussed the library’s events operation in the past, and the discussion was raised again in a city council discussion earlier this month.

Council members believed the library should be allowed to host events. Although they didn’t favor a special use permit, they felt the council should somehow formalize its approval for the library to host events.

“This seems like a no-brainer thing to do, but for the operational concerns over the events,” Councilmember Tom Weidner said. “It seems clear that [the library terrace] was built for it … and this is just housekeeping, but for the problem of the complaints about the activities there.”

Mayor Ted Kozlowski asked if the council needed to set specific conditions for events at the library, as it does for events at other locations in the city.

“It’s tough for me personally to continue to allow this to happen when I haven’t seen … much evidence from the board and executive director … looking to remedy this,” Kozlowski said. He did acknowledge that there is a change in leadership underway at the library, after the previous director’s retirement earlier this year.

Councilmember Doug Menikheim, who is on both the city council and the library board, said the library board is moving in the right direction and is having the right conversations. He suggested the council clarify its approval of events, and then allow the library board manage its events policy.

Ultimately, the council took no action except to request the library board review and update its events policy with input from the neighbors and share it with the city council for review at a future meeting. The council is also expected to take action at a future meeting to formalize approval for the library to rent out its facilities for events.

Keliher called the council’s request “perfectly reasonable,” and said the library board discussed the issue during its June meeting to come up with a plan.

“We will establish a task force of two or three or so trustees to work with the neighbors and … spearhead the process of digging into what some of the outstanding problems are [and] what are some reasonable and feasible ways to address those things,” Keliher said. “In short, I hope we can make as few changes as possible with the greatest impact possible.”

Keliher said he’s optimistic a solution can be found, adding that residents have been patient.

Quaderer, who attended the June library board meeting, said the board seemed receptive to neighbors’ concerns. That left her feeling optimistic, but she also wants to see action soon.

“I think if this works, it’ll be wonderful, but it’s been 10 years, and I wanted the city step in and put an end to it now,” she said.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]