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Public hearings draw big crowds

Alexandria's "phase 4" waterline project will bring city water to the following areas - Bay Lane, Center Avenue, Tolena Road, Bay Cliff Lane, County Road 70, Parkview Road, Cherry Lane, McCauley Lane, L'Homme Dieu View, Scenic Drive, Skyline Drive, Brigitta Drive, Government Point Road, Fluegel Lane, Berg Avenue, Boys Avenue, Van Avenue, Ridgeview Terrace, Meadow Lane, Scenic Heights Road, Floding Circle, White Oaks Circle, Whispering Oaks Drive, Royal Court, Wildflower Lane, Rachel Drive, Springdale Str...

Three public hearings dominated a three-hour Alexandria City Council meeting Monday. So many people packed into City Hall that extra chairs were needed.

Eight residents raised questions about a massive $8 million waterline extension project the city is doing over a three-year period as part of its phase 4 orderly annexation agreement with Alexandria Township. The newly annexed area affects about 1,500 residents who became part of the city in January.

The water extension will be done in three phases over the next three years, starting with the northern neighborhoods near Lake L'Homme Dieu in 2013, proceeding with properties near south Lake L'Homme Dieu in 2014 and ending with properties on the northwest side of Lake Geneva in 2015.

The city is paying just over 50 percent of the cost and property owners will foot the rest of the bill through assessments, such as $6,500 per lot for single-family platted residential properties. Owners have the choice of paying the money up front or having it spread on their property taxes over 10 years at an interest rate of 7 percent. Final assessment hearings won't begin until next year.

Most of those who spoke objected to the 7 percent rate, saying it was much higher than bank rates. Mayor Dan Ness later noted that the 7 percent rate has been the city's policy for many years. Ness said the city wasn't in the banking business and preferred getting the money up front. If residents can find lower rates elsewhere they should do so.

Bob Annen, representing the Lake L'Homme Dieu View Townhome Association, asked how the procedure will work for city officials to meet with them. Townhomes, since they have common areas, are set to be assessed at $5,200 or will be based on a connection charge formula. Assistant City Administrator Marty Schultz said the city will send out letters requesting meetings with all the affected property associations.

Steve Steinle, a Berg Avenue property owner, said that if there's relief for townhome owners, there should be consideration for those with unbuildable wetland properties, such as his 82-year-old mother, who is facing a double assessment. City Administrator Jim Taddei said the city does offer deferred payments, based on age and income.

Steinle noted that his family purchased lots on Government Point decades ago with the intention of protecting the land and wildlife from development. He said his family would hate to sell the lots just to pay the assessments.

"I think this is a big burden on a lot of people," Steinle said, adding that the city should consider the effect its growth has on residents coming into the city. He also felt that as a new city resident, he wasn't getting something in return.

Donald Grant of L'Homme Dieu View wanted to know why the assessment increased $1,000 from the assessments the city approved for the phase 3 waterline extension. Later in the meeting, council member Sara Carlson told the city engineer to look into the cost history of the extensions and why they've increased.

Grant also wanted confirmation that each homeowner can continue to use their existing well system until it fails. City staff said that was the case, adding that a homeowner with a well system can still run a waterline all the way into their house as long as they don't connect to it.

Dave Holtz of Brigitta Drive asked how residents in annexed areas could request street improvements. Schultz said that residents could present a petition. He added that the county and city are working together to improve County Road 70 in the extension area.

Helen Fahrenholz, who lives along Highway 29 North, said she had no idea that the annexation was happening. She questioned why residents weren't allowed to vote on it first.

After the public comment period ended, council member Virgil Batesole asked questions about how the city should pay for the project. Schultz noted that the only thing before the council that night was to order the improvements and plans for the project. He said the city could determine the funding details next spring or the fall of 2013.

The council voted 5-0 to proceed with the waterline project.

THOMAS DRIVE

Another public hearing, a final assessment hearing for the Thomas Drive project, immediately followed the waterline discussion.

The road will be surfaced between South Oak Knoll Drive and East Oak Knoll Drive and is expected to clear up persistent drainage problems that have made driving hazardous. The total cost is $310,979. The city's share is $122,196, which includes $60,000 from the storm water utility fund. Benefiting property owners will pay the rest in assessments totaling $185,668 - or $6,980 per lot.

Jeff Karrow, who lives on Thomas Drive, supported the council's decision to do the project. He said the road has been treacherous in the past, with a school bus and a garbage truck getting stuck in deep mud. He said the project is an investment that he can clearly see will improve his property.

Another resident, Jeff Thompson, wasn't convinced that the drainage problems would go away when the road is surfaced. He said problems started when the road was torn up decade ago.

Tom Pappenfus said the 7% interest rate the city was charging owners to spread the assessments over 10 years was too high. He also felt the assessments were unfair.

Roxanne Thompson wanted to know why retention ponds weren't considered for the area. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said that the plat is an old one that didn't require ponds. He said this project will flow water into ditches and a natural pond.

The council voted 5-0 to adopt the assessments. It also approved an option that would allow it to pursue low-interest bonds to help pay for the project at a later time.

PARKING LOTS

A third public hearing focused on reconstruction of two city parking lots downtown - the Hawthorne lot, at an estimated cost of $238,432, and the 7th Avenue East lot, at a cost of $117,748. The city's share in the cost of the projects would amount to 29 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Business owners in the downtown area will be assessed the rest of the cost, based on building size, number of rental units, available parking and proximity to the site.

The hearing sparked just one comment from business owner Betty Ravnik, who wanted to know what the options will be for rerouting plumbing lines from underneath Broadway to the back of her building.

Al Crowser, general manager of Alexandria Light and Power, confirmed that the city's goal is to eventually remove all of the water lines out of Broadway (with the exception of some lines serving properties on 7th and 8th Avenues). He said waterlines will be replaced and removed in 2014. Waterline stubs will be put in when the parking lot projects are done this fall.

The council voted 4-0 to establish a downtown parking assessment district and order the improvements and preparations of plans. Council member Sara Carlson recused herself from the discussion and vote because she is a downtown property owner.

Read Friday's Echo Press for more council coverage.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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