By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Colfax Zoning Board of Appeals has recommended Business 2 zoning for the Colfax Railroad Museum’s Soo Park to accommodate the miniature train ride.
The Colfax Village Board decided to sell the Soo Park parcel to the railroad museum but the parcel has never been zoned. Before the railroad museum can develop the parcel, the piece of property must having a zoning designation, said Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, at a meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals September 6, which included a public hearing on the zoning for the parcel.
The Colfax Village Board will consider the zoning board’s recommendation at the September 10 meeting, she said.
The Colfax Railroad Museum plans to install a miniature train ride and to build a pavilion in the middle of the parcel where the trees are located, said Herb Sakalaucks Jr., curator of the museum.
A contractor will come in and grade the site to make it level for the miniature train ride, and drainage pipes will be installed to drain the parcel, he said, noting there was no standing water on the site after three inches of rain earlier in the week.
The museum currently has a grant application pending with Wells-Fargo to finish the gray wooden depot on Main Street as an events center and a library for train materials owned by the museum, Sakalaucks said.
The grant also will fund development of a parking area by the wooden depot and an L-shaped addition to the garage for an engine house, he said.
The wooden depot will have space available for a gift shop, and the events center would be intended for small birthday parties for children, Sakalaucks said.
The plan would be to rent the facility for birthday parties for $250 to $300 with unlimited rides on the miniature train. The regular cost to ride the train would be $2 for children and $3 for adults, he said.
Plans for development of the site also include an entrance by the gray wooden depot and an exit on Park Drive so people are not backing out onto Main Street. And the plans include developing that portion of the connecting street on Park Drive at no cost to the village, Sakalaucks said.
A fence will be built along the tracks to keep children off the railroad tracks, he said.
Mike Kiekhafer, chair of the zoning board, wondered how the Colfax Railroad Museum’s miniature train ride would compare to the miniature train ride in Carson Park in Eau Claire.
The Carson Park train ride is 15-inch gauge, and the Colfax Railroad Museum’s train ride is a 7 1/2-inch gauge, Sakalaucks said.
The plan will be to keep the Soo Park area “as park-like as possible,” Sakalaucks said.
Gene Gibson, zoning board member, wondered when the railroad museum would find out about the Wells-Fargo grant.
Sakalaucks said he was expecting to hear about the grant within a week or so.
The railroad museum received a letter of support from Cardinal Glass for the grant application, and Cardinal Glass keeps the company’s retirement funds with Wells-Fargo, he said.
“We are very hopeful,” Sakalaucks said.
After the public hearing had been closed, Jason Johnson, zoning board member, said he had been worried what the miniature train ride would look like but concluded it will not change the landscape substantially.
Kiekhafer said he was glad to know the train ride would be smaller than he had thought it would be initially.
The miniature train ride is a way to generate funding for the museum and a way to bring tourism into Colfax, Sakalaucks said.
The Colfax Railroad Museum is not planning to add more train equipment other than the miniature train ride, he said.
The museum has already received a $2,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Dunn County to help defray the cost of installing the miniature train ride.
The Business 2 zoning includes amusement parks, Niggemann noted.
Johnson said he wondered about gift shops and how that would fit into the zoning.
The gray depot is already zoned industrial and is separate from the Soo Park parcel, Sakalaucks said.
The Colfax Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a motion to recommend the Colfax Village Board zone the Soo Park parcel as Business 2.
The Soo Park parcel was given to the village about one hundred years ago and was intended to be a park, although somehow, the parcel was never properly deeded to the village until recently.
The village board agreed to sell the Soo Park parcel to the Colfax Railroad Museum earlier this summer.
The village still owns a parcel on the south side of Soo Park containing a curved, platted street, which at one time had been intended to be developed as a “park drive.”