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Should Alexandria residents be allowed to have chickens and bees?

Should Alexandria residents be allowed to keep chickens and bee hives on their property?

It’s an issue the Alexandria City Council is grappling with and it wants to hear what residents think.

Alexandria City Planner Mike Weber talked to the council about it Monday night, noting that it was discussed at the Alexandria Planning Commission’s June 16 meeting, which included public comments.

Right now, city code prohibits the keeping of animals “not in transit.” Weber noted, however, that many other communities have revised their ordinances recently to allow beekeeping and chicken raising.

Urban agriculture is a growing trend. Weber said he’s received a lot of inquiries about the issue, including from Fleet Farm, Walmart and Menard’s, which provide beekeeping kits.

A representative from Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool in Alexandria attended the planning commission meeting and said that the school plans to have three or four chickens for students to raise as part of their outdoor classroom.

At the planning commission level, members discussed the pros and cons of the issue:

On the one hand, it would make sense to allow city residents to raise chickens or have beekeeping operations on their own property, under certain conditions.

On the other hand, neighbors may object, especially those who are allergic to bees or worried about the smell from chickens.

There was talk of allowing neighbors to have “veto power” over such operations. Some of the other issues that would need to be resolved include licensing requirements, allowable lot sizes, enforcing the regulations, and what would happen when the chickens “age out,” since butchering is not allowed within the city.

Weber said he’ll bring back the chicken and bees issue back to the commission meetings under “old and other” business over the next three to four months to allow more public input. He’ll also continue to gather data from other communities.

In other action, the council:

--Presented a plaque of appreciation to former City Attorney John Lervick, who is retiring from practicing law on June 30. Lervick served the city for 39 and a half years, working with seven different mayors and dozens of council members. He described the work as enjoyable and rewarding and noted that he had a "good team" behind him, those at the law firm of Swenson, Lervick, Syverson, Trosvig, Jacobson and Schultz.

--Issued a special event permit to Raaper’s Eatery and Ale to hold a block party and street dance from Broadway and Third Avenue to Broadway and Sixth Avenue on Friday, July 18 from 5 to 11 p.m. About 750 are expected to attend the event to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the Broadway reconstruction project. Mayor Sara Carlson called the event, which will include a live band and beer garden, a "once in a lifetime" celebration beause it's very rare to close a section of Broadway. "It's now or never," she said. The permit was approved on the condition that organizers draw up a site plan showing where everything will be located. Festivities are still being planned but activities may start in the early afternoon and include a bean bag tournament and a vintage car show. The timeline is a bit tight; the road work where the dance will take place is set to be completed just a week before the event.

--Approved the annual city audit performed by CliftonLarsonAllen. The audit showed the city had just over $10 million in unassigned fund balances in 2013, enough for about five and a half months of expenditures, which exceeds the state recommendation of five months. Expenditures increased significantly, going from $15.6 million in 2012 to more than $22.1 million last year. Most of the increase came from public works spending, which surged from $3.7 million in 2012 to $9.5 million last year, largely because of a waterline extension project to the phase four annexation area. The city issued new debt to pay for the project. The city’s total revenues were $16.7 million in 2013, up from 2012’s $15.2 million. As in past years, most of the city’s revenues, $7.2 million, came from taxes. Other revenues in 2013 included intergovernmental revenue of $3.78 million, special assessments of $1.94 million, charges for services of $1.73 million, other revenue of $1.26 million, licenses and permit fees of $487,356, interest of $134,023 and fines and forfeits of $109,684.

--Assigned the tax increment financing (TIF) contract and note from Peaceful Bliss Assisted Living, LLC to Claddagh Senior Living, LLC. Peaceful Bliss is a 32-unit facility located along County Road 82, west of the Alexandria YMCA. It received a housing TIF district in July of 2008. Claddagh Senior Living, one of the leading providers of assisted living care services for seniors in southeast Minnesota and west central Wisconsin, is purchasing Peaceful Bliss.

--Was informed of LifeRight Outreach’s seventh annual hog roast fundraiser on June 28 between 2 and 5 p.m. About 300 are expected to attend. No permit was necessary because it's all taking place on LifeRight's property.

--Issued a special event permit to the Alexandria Fellowship of Christian Athletes to hold Lakes Area Endurance races at the Alexandria YMCA on June 27-28. Events include a one-mile fun run, a 5K, a quarter-marathon and a half-marathon. About 120 are expected to participate.

--Issued a special event permit to Lasting Imprint to hold its fifth annual Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Walk and 5K at City Park on September 6. The permit is contingent on confirmation of liability insurance coverage. More than 300 are expected to participate.

--Approved Kinkead Cemetery Association’s request to vacate "walkways," which are actually just unmarked sections of grass, in the south lawn portion of Sunset Memorial Park. The association plans to re-plat the area with new lots of different dimensions.

--Canceled the city’s annexation agreement with LaGrand Township, which was set to automatically renew on July 12, 2015 unless it was canceled by July 12, 2014. Staff was directed to inform the township. During the next year, the city and township will develop a new agreement. The original agreement, approved in 2004, guided both the city and township through the orderly annexation process. It spelled out the city and township obligations and how taxes would be portioned on newly annexed properties.

--Agreed to accept a feasibility report that studied the possibility of extending sanitary sewer for about 700 feet along 22nd Avenue to serve the Russell Johnson farmstead property. The report estimated the project cost at $85,641.

--Approved resolutions to call for bids on three projects -- the waterline extension in the phase four, part two annexation area; Boys Avenue Street paving and drainage improvement; and installing sanitary sewer along a portion of Kenwood Drive. The council had previously rejected the bids because they were well over the estimate. 

--Voted to contribute $250 to the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program of Alexandria and Douglas County, which helps families with military members. The money will come from a $1,000 prize drawing that council member Owen Miller won while attending a League of Minnesota Cities conference. The remaining $750 will also go to a city cause.

 --Heard an update from West Central Initiative (WCI) that focused on economic development in Alexandria and WCI's impact in the nine-county area. See Friday's Echo Press for a follow-up story.  

--Approved an agreement to lease the parking lot of the former Runestone Electric Association adjacent to City Hall from July 1 to October 31 for $1.

--Approved the following licenses: charitable gambling – Alexandria Lions Club, Viking Sportsmen; heating – Market Mechanical of Brooklyn Park, Weidner Plumbing and Heating of St. Cloud; massage therapist – Amy Feeken of Glenwood; peddlers – Kenneth Velier for Willow Fruit and six representatives for All Pro Xteriors, Inc. of Alexandria.

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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