Coon Rapids commission chairperson resigns after 32 years

Donna Naeve has resigned as chairperson of the Coon Rapids Planning Commission after 32 years.

Donna Naeve
Donna Naeve

But she will continue to serve on the commission, to which she was first appointed by the Coon Rapids City Council in 1972 – 40 years ago.

Friends hosted a community reception Dec. 13 at the Harvest Grill to celebrate “Donna Naeve’s singular service” as chairperson of the commission.

According to Naeve, she resigned as chairperson in October to address some health issues and also to spend more time on the work of the Coon Rapids Mortgage Assistance Foundation, of which she has been a member since 1996 and board president for the past two years.

The foundation was established in 1979 to allow the city to issue low interest housing bonds to boost new housing construction at a time of high interest rates.

Mortgage payments from homeowners who benefited from the bond issue paid off the $45 million in bonds, and the money that has built up in the foundation coffers over the years has been allocated to housing projects in Coon Rapids.

Naeve has one year left on her term as a Planning Commission member, which she plans to complete.

She will probably step down at the end of her term, but it depends on the make-up of the commission at that time and if there are new staff, according to Naeve.

Naeve feels her long tenure on the commission gives her much to offer newcomers at both the commission and staff levels.

In the early 1970s, Naeve had been very active in community groups in Coon Rapids, notably the Coon Rapids Federated Women’s Club, the Coon Rapids Snowflake Association and the Mercy Hospital Auxiliary, but she was interested in a role in city government, although not elective office, which as why she applied for a Planning Commission vacancy, she said.

“There was a movement to appoint a woman to the Planning Commission,” Naeve said.

And when Naeve was named to the commission by the council in 1972, she was the first woman to served on it.

That has changed since then, according to Naeve.

Typically, there have been three of four women on the commission for many years, Naeve said.

“It provides good balance and good representation,” she said.

And when long-time commission chairman Don Olson resigned, the council appointed Naeve to succeed him as chairperson in 1980.

“There was always something new happening, new staff and new commission members who I tried to help as they came on board,” Naeve said.

And she said melding her role as commission chairperson with her market research business that took her all over the world was an asset to both jobs.

In her years as commission chairperson, Naeve has seen Coon Rapids move from a developing community to a more-or-less fully-developed city, now in redevelopment mode.

In the 1980s and 1990s, especially, the commission was meeting two or three times a month, often to 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning, to deal with the many development projects on the commission agendas, according to Naeve.

“It was a very intensive process for the commission with public hearings which brought many residents often raising many concerns,” Naeve said.

As chairperson, she said her job was to make sure citizens were heard and that they understood the process, she said.

For many residents, it was the first time they had appeared at a public hearing, Naeve said.

Now there are few items on the commission agenda – this month’s meeting Dec. 20 lasted a half-hour – and there have been some months when a meeting has not taken place, she said.

But whatever the project, the role of the commission has been to make sure the city’s best interests are maintained when dealing with developers and their projects, according to Naeve.

A quasi-legal body under state law, the commission has been given more power by the council over the years to make decisions on site plans and conditional use permits with only appeal back to the council, Naeve said.

Naeve counts the Riverdale shopping centers as the biggest achievement of her tenure as Planning Commission chairperson, even though the enclosed mall that was in the city’s original plans for the area did not materialize, she said.

The outcome was good for city and the commission was able to put in place strong design standards that the developer had to follow, Naeve said.

Her main disappointment has been the implementation of the Coon Rapids Boulevard framework plan for development and redevelopment along the boulevard and the expediency that has sometimes taken place in project approvals that deviate from the plan’s concept, according to Naeve.

But when the council has disagreed with the commission’s recommendations, it always makes clear its reasons, Naeve said.

And the commission has been able to diffuse a lot of issues before they reach the council, Naeve said.

“I think the council appreciates that,” she said.

According to Naeve, the role of the commission is to “study, learn and advise” the council on planning items, while the council often has other issues to deal with of a political nature.

Naeve retired from her market research business eight years ago.

In the late 1980s, she was joined in the business by her husband, dentist Dr. Jim Naeve when he sold his Coon Rapids dental practice.

Residents of Coon Rapids since 1964, the Naeves have three adult children – Susan, a professor in the audiology and sign language field at Central Michigan University who has two children; Laura, who lives in Richfield and operates her own cookie business; and Robert, who lives in north Minneapolis, works in the banking and mortgage area and has two children, the youngest of whom is two years old.

Naeve enjoyed the reception in her honor a great deal and was reunited with several people she had not seen in many years.

One of them was Peggy Reichert, who was city planner in Coon Rapids in the late 1970s and 1980s, and came with her husband, Naeve said.

In addition, there were 20 to 30 couples that Naeve and her husband have “hung around with” for 40 to 50 years celebrating birthdays with “crazy parties,” she said.

And there were three past mayors – Lonnie and Dave McCauley and Bob Voss – as well as present Mayor Tim Howe were at the reception, according to Naeve.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]