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City sewer project angers township residents

LaGrand Township residents living near the city limits in southwest Alexandria aren't happy with the city's latest storm sewer project.

To build a drainage basin on city property near the airport, work crews are digging up 250,000 cubic yards of soil and piling it 15 feet high just a short distance from the residents' backyards.

About 25 residents from Westwood and Ridgeway Drive showed up at Monday night's Alexandria City Council meeting to express concerns about the project - which they say they knew nothing about.

The residents told the city that the sand piles are ruining the views from their backyards and creating dust and dirt that's blowing everywhere.

They don't like the noise from the heavy machinery. They're also worried about erosion from the basin, if their well water will be impacted, problems with mosquitoes and the risk of their property values dropping.

A representative of the neighborhood, Mark Maloney of 914 Westwood Drive, told the council that the project should be put on hold until a special meeting could be held to address the residents' concerns.

Maloney said that by not informing township residents about the project, the city was "not being a good neighbor."

In response, Mayor Dan Ness said the city was made aware of the concerns late last week and wanted to schedule a meeting with the residents and the engineer to address the problem.

After a quick check of calendars, a meeting was scheduled then and there. It will take place tonight, Tuesday, at City Hall at 7:30 or 8 p.m., depending on when the city finishes a public meeting about storm water.

City Administrator Jim Taddei said the city has records showing that more than 800 letters were sent to city and township residents in the affected neighborhoods back on January 10 about the southwest storm sewer project. Residents at the meeting said they didn't receive such a letter.

Taddei said the letter didn't get into the specifics of the project, such as the sand piling, but he said notifications were sent out. He added that the LaGrand Township Board was also notified and that the city held a meeting about the project, which drew about 50 people.

Jason Melville, another Westwood Drive resident, said the city should stop the project right now before any more topsoil is ripped up. He also said there was no reason why the city couldn't send a water truck out to the site to control the dust.

Public Works Coordinator Bryan Bjorgaard responded by saying that it would be nearly impossible for a water truck to keep up with all the soil and gravel that's being moved around. The city is also under a contract with the company to do the work.

Another big topic at Monday's meeting was Alexandria's biggest parking lot - the Fillmore lot between 5th and 6th Avenue.

A compromise was reached for rebuilding the lot.

At a special meeting last Thursday, 15 out of the 19 business owners supported an option that's $7,000 less than the city's original proposed assessment of $234,000.

The council went along with the compromise Monday night, ordering the improvements and preparation of plans.

The approved design doesn't contain as much green space as the first proposal, which drew a thumbs down from many business owners when the council presented the plans last month.

The compromise also omits the "center plaza" or concrete area that the city proposed to build between the parking lot and businesses' rear entrances.

It does, however, retain a sidewalk that customers could use to walk from business to business without having to step out into traffic in the alley.

The compromise, referred to as "Option C," calls for a total of 135 parking spaces - eight more than the original "Option A" plan.

There are currently 154 spaces in the Fillmore lot. Some spaces will be lost in order to bring the lot up to code for handicap accessible spaces. The other spaces will be taken up by trees or landscaping that are also required under city code.

Downtown business owners also considered but rejected an even more scaled-back plan, "Option B." At an estimated cost of $214,000, it was the cheapest route. It would have provided the barest amount of green space and four more parking stalls than Option C.

The total cost of the project is estimated at more than $412,000. The city and its utility, Alexandria Light and Power, would cover about 40 percent of it.

Property owners in the central business district would pay the rest through assessments, based on how close the business is to the lot, how big their building is, and whether the business is providing its own parking.

According to preliminary estimates, the assessments on the 11 businesses with rear entrances to the Fillmore lot would range from $1,020 to $9,690. Combined, these businesses would cover about 22 percent of the total assessment; other downtown property owners, around 90 of them, would share in the rest of the cost.

City leaders emphasized that the figures are still rough and will change depending on how the bids come in. A public hearing about the assessments will take place July 28 at City Hall at 7:15 p.m.

A similar assessment approach is expected to be used when the city improves the two other city lots sometime in the future.

The Fillmore lot will be completely removed and resurfaced. Overhead electric and cable lines would be buried underground and a new watermain would be installed so businesses would have their own independent lines and sprinkler system capability.

The alley would remain a one-way but vehicles would be able to enter or exit every parking row from the alley or from Fillmore Street.

The city hopes to start the project after Labor Day and complete it this construction season.

In other action, the council:

--Received an update about the Minnesota Senior Games that will take place in Alexandria July 21-24.

More than 230 athletes ages 50 and older have already signed up to compete in 19 sporting events, according to Fritz Bukowski, Lakes Area Recreation director and coordinator of the Minnesota Senior Games.

"These are real serious athletes who want to come here and compete but have fun too," he said.

Events include archery, basketball, cycling, shuffleboard, swimming, volleyball and more.

The athletes who finish in the top two or three in the various events will go on to compete in the 2009 National Senior Games in San Francisco, Bukowski said.

--Approved Lakes Community Church's request to hold "Heat in the Street" at Legion Park on July 24 from 4 to 9:30 p.m. It's a youth event that encourages teens in the area to live lives of honor, character and integrity.

The event will include a three-on-three basketball tournament, live music and motivational speakers.

The park board recommended the city to approve the request.

--Was informed that the Alexandria Police Department will host Community Night Out on Tuesday, August 5 from 5 to 7 p.m. at City Park.

Held in conjunction with National Night Out, the event encourages interaction between residents, the police department and other city departments.

--Agreed to participate in Douglas County's Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Douglas County Emergency Management is finalizing the plan to coordinate how the local area will respond to hazards that threaten the county. The plan will be sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make the county eligible for disaster relief.

--Was informed that the CenterPoint Energy has awarded a $2,500 grant to the city's police and fire departments.

The money will purchase a CPR training dummy, a water safety flotation device and defibrillator training equipment.

--Approved a request from Brandl Auto Connection to hold a used car sale at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on July 15-19 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

--Approved a tax increment financing (TIF) application from Peaceful Bliss Assisted Living, LLC.

The tax break will help the company build a 32-unit assisted living facility near the intersection of County Road 82 and East Lake Cowdry Road.

The project is expected to cost $2.4 million.

With TIF, taxes on property that would not have otherwise been developed are frozen at the current amount for a specified period of time, in this case 13 years.

The difference between the current and new tax, the increment, is used to help cover the project's costs. Peaceful Bliss' increment will amount to about $24,076 per year. The city will retain 10 percent of that for administrative fees.

The project will increase the city's property tax base by roughly $2.2 million, according to the application.

Since it is a housing TIF district, the developer is required to rent at least 20 percent of the units to people with incomes at 50 percent or below Douglas County's median income level.

--Approved a final reading of a new erosion and sediment control ordinance.

Approved by the city's planning commission in May, the ordinance codifies the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's minimum rules. Among other things, it allows the city to inspect construction sites to make sure pollutants aren't getting into nearby lakes and wetlands.

Alexandria's ordinance is stricter than the state rules in one aspect: It takes effect whenever more than a half-acre of land is disturbed. The state guideline is one acre.

--Called for bids for paving work at the city street department garage. The bids are expected to be opened on August 20.

--Gave final approval to sell two city-owned parcels at the Airport Industrial Park to SunOpta for $40,530.

The company agreed to assume the special assessments on the property, which amount to $53,690. The assessments will be spread over 10 years at an interest rate of 7 percent.

The parcels, located near Iowa Street, south of 36th Avenue, cover 5.73 acres.

SunOpta wants the land to install an additional parking lot and future driveway access from Iowa Street.

--Was informed that city council member Harvey Weisel will soon be leaving for a camping trip to Alaska and Canada.

Weisel said he will be gone until October 1. He'll remain in close contact with the mayor and city administrator via cell phone and a laptop computer.

Weisel added that he plans to complete an absentee filing for re-election to another term on the council.

In his absence, council member Sara Carlson agreed to take over Weisel's spot on the joint planning board with Alexandria Township. Carol Bigger will sit in for Weisel on the Runestone Community Center Board.

--Was informed that the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities will have a luncheon in Alexandria on August 5 to update the council on its activities.

--Was reminded that the city will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, July 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the city council chambers to discuss the city's storm water pollution prevention plan.

--Was informed that the latest estimates from the state demographer's office put Alexandria's population at 11,481 as of April 1, 2007. That's up about 100 people from the previous year. The number of households is estimated at 5,438.

--Was informed that the West Central Initiative Transportation Advisory Committee will hold its annual meeting on Friday, July 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the WCI office at 1000 Western Avenue in Fergus Falls.

--Was informed that the Minnesota Department of Transportation will conduct a public meeting on a statewide transportation plan on Monday, July 21 from 12:30 to 4 p.m. at the WCI office in Fergus Falls.

--Issued an excavating license to Voss Companies/Zacher Excavating.