‘Eyesore’ storage containers scrutinized
Should an Alexandria resident who is getting rid of trash or doing a building project be allowed to put a portable storage or shipping container in front of his house for months on end?
At its meeting Monday, the Alexandria City Council voted 3-1 to approve the first reading of a zoning text amendment that would require 14-day permits for such containers. If the work isn’t completed by that time, the applicant would have to pay for another 14-day permit.
Details of the ordinance are still being worked out and will be brought before the council for a second and final reading. The council will also have to determine the cost of the permits.
The city’s planning commission recommended the changes. City council member Owen Miller wanted to refer the matter to the city’s legislative committee but council member Todd Jensen, who also serves on the planning commission, said the commission has been studying the issue for months and it didn’t need to be “farmed out” to another committee.
Miller said he had questions about who in public works would issue the permits, how right-of-ways for the containers would be determined and who would request the permits.
Council member Roger Thalman pointed out that the city already has a right-of-way permit process, which could be followed for obtaining container permits as well.
City Planner Mike Weber said that putting in too many specific administrative steps in the ordinance could make the process less effective.
Weber added that some changes to the ordinance could be made before final action is taken.
Council member Virgil Batesole voted against the motion. He wanted to delay taking action until Miller’s questions could be answered. Dave Benson wasn’t able to attend the meeting.
BROADWAY PROJECT REVISITED
Differing views about next summer’s Broadway reconstruction project surfaced for the second straight council meeting.
During the public comment period, Ron Moritz, owner of Yesterday’s Antiques, said that an overwhelming majority of downtown business owners are “on board and excited” about the project, which will make Broadway more pedestrian and bicycle friendly with bump-outs, wider sidewalks, benches, trees and landscaping touches. He described it as a much-needed facelift that will reflect well on the whole community.
Seconds later, Judy Collins, owner of Viking Pawn Shop, said that many businesses aren’t at all happy with the project. She said it doesn’t make sense to widen the sidewalks and sacrifice the width of the road.
She said that Broadway, used by 20,000 vehicles a day, is too busy and unsafe for bicyclists. She also objected to the bump-outs, saying drivers would end up blocking traffic because they wouldn’t know how to park. She said the city would also have to constantly replace trees because they wouldn’t survive all the salt from the road. She was also concerned about people putting cigarette butts, gum wrappers and other trash in the receptacles around the trees.
Collins said the residents In Douglas County who live outside of Alexandria just want a place on Broadway to park, do their business and go. She said they don’t want to stick around on the benches and sidewalks.
Mayor Sara Carlson reminded Collins that Broadway is a state highway and the state has the final say on how the road is designed.
Collins said that she was told the city’s input was important and that it was never too late to make amendments to the plan. Carlson encouraged Collins to meet with the city engineer and city planner, who could help answer her questions and concerns. Batesole said he would take Collins’ comments seriously and noted that the council still hasn’t made a final decision on Broadway. Carlson added that the city always encourages people to state their feelings.
IN OTHER ACTION
In other action, the council:
•Recommended seven applicants to be appointed to the Alexandria City Charter Commission. The chief judge of the 7th Judicial District will make the appointments. The council recommended William Bevill, Bill Jewett, Dan Ness, John Perino (all two-year terms), Susan Brede, James Korkowski and DuWayne Paul (four-year terms). The length of terms was decided alphabetically. Alexandria functions under a Home Rule Charter that was last amended on November 2, 1976. As described in Minnesota Statutes, the duties of a charter commission are to study the local charter and government to make sure the rules are being followed. The city called for applications, considered their qualifications and by a consensus vote at work sessions, decided which candidates to recommend.
•Agreed to change the location of a pedestrian refuge island that is scheduled for construction on 3rd Avenue East (Highway 29/27) next year. A 2010 agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation initially called for the island to be located at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street but things have changed since then, noted City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven. Jefferson High School will close at the end of this school year and Kenwood Street is now a through-street. The island will now be located one block east of Jefferson Street, at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Kenwood Street. In related action, the council agreed to pay Widseth Smith Nolting and Associates $24,176 for the engineering work on the crossing, based on a total project cost of $111,212. State and federal funds will cover all but $1,616 of the cost.
•Agreed to assign the tax increment financing contract from Peaceful Bliss Assisted Living LLC to MS Alexandria Health Holdings, LLC. Five years ago, Peaceful Bliss used TIF to build a $2.4 million 32-unit assisted leaving facility and 10-unit memory loss clinic on County Road 82, west of the Alexandria Area YMCA. The TIF agreement requires 20 percent of the units to be leased to individuals or families at 50 percent or below the county’s median income level. Meridan Senior Living, which operates assisted living facilities in target markets throughout the U.S., is purchasing Peaceful Bliss. It will continue to meet the TIF district requirements until the agreement ends in 2023.
•Was reminded that the city’s truth in taxation meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 9, beginning at 7:15 p.m.
•Encouraged residents to attend a holiday open house at City Hall on Friday, December 13 from 2 to 4 p.m. Coffee, apple cider and cookies will be served. The mayor and city council are hosting the event.
•Approved on-sale liquor license applications from 11 restaurants in the city. They include Angelina’s, Bennigan’s, D. Michael B’s, Depot Express, Doolittles, Garden Center, Holiday Inn, Mi Mexico II, Raapers, Tennessee Roadhouse and Zorbaz. The fee is $4,500 per license. Bug-A-Boo Bay and the Alexandria Golf Club are expected to apply for seasonal licenses this spring. To obtain an on-sale liquor license, businesses must show that at least 55 percent of their business is coming from food sales. Thalman, noting that Depot Express is just a few percentage points within the requirement, suggested lowering that percentage to account for happy hour food that is given away. He asked city staff to look into the origin of the 55 percent requirement and see if the percentage could be adjusted.
•Recognized workers from Alexandria Light and Power for their outstanding work responding to a power outage on November 18. A semi-truck hit and damaged a transformer near Elden’s Fresh Foods, knocking out power in the area. Elliott Christensen, owner of Elden’s, told the city he was impressed with the quick work of the ALP’s staff in finding both a temporary and permanent fix.
•Received information about the third annual Santa for Seniors project. Last year, young people in the community delivered 203 baskets to area senior citizens. The goal this year is 420 baskets. To donate, make checks payable to Santa for Seniors and mail to: Santa for Seniors c/o United Way, P.O. Box 1148, Alexandria, MN 56308. For more information, call (320) 834-7800.
•Approved a $5,000 revolving loan fund request from Judy Meyer, owner of Ben Franklin at 624 Broadway. The money will be used to replace an existing awning. The loan will be paid back in four years at a 1 percent interest rate.
•Was informed that CenterPoint Energy is proposing a rate increase that will add about $4 per month to the average residential bill. The Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a final decision about the rate request next June. A series of public hearings are being held. The nearest meeting is in Brainerd on Monday, December 2 at 7 p.m. at the Central Lakes Community College, 501 West College Drive, Room E203.
•Was informed that the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority will not proceed with its recent pre-application to obtain housing repair funds through the Small Cities Development Program. There wasn’t enough interest to submit the application.
•Agreed to start the process of conveying a portion of the right of way on Aga Drive to Alexandria Clinic. The clinic wants the additional land to expand its parking lot. There is an excess amount of right-of-way there now that isn’t needed, according to Schoonhoven. The clinic will pay for a survey and the value of the property will be determined and presented to the council at a later time.
•Agreed to Zion Lutheran Church and School’s request to add two or three additional handicap parking spaces on Maple Street.
•Granted a loading zone permit to the Village Cooperative, a 28-unit owner-occupied senior housing complex at 515 Jefferson Street, the site of the former Washington Elementary School. Two stalls in front of the main entrance on Jefferson Street will be used for loading and unloading and to help residents move in and out. The annual fee is $180 per stall.
•Issued a conditional use permit to Nancy and Joe Haack to open a nutrition counseling and dispensary in a residential business zone at 1407 Hawthorne Street. Three parking stalls are required.
•Agreed to correct the protected waters identification number assigned to Lake Winona. The Department of Natural Resources requested the action, which changes the number from 21-81 to 21-55.
•Was informed that the Greater Minnesota Partnership will hold a regional meeting in Alexandria to gather input about infrastructure, business incentives, tax policies and other issues affecting economic growth. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, December 3 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the West Central Initiative in Fergus Falls.
•Approved the following licenses: excavating – Rollin Gust; and temporary liquor – St. Mary’s Church to sell alcohol at an event on February 15.