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City ditches Thomas Drive road project

Call it a sign of the shaky economic times.

A plan to improve Thomas Drive - one of Alexandria's few remaining gravel streets - has been put on hold.

Eight property owners in the area submitted a petition to the Alexandria City Council opposing the project, which had been initiated by another group of property owners in the area last month.

They objected to the estimated $250,100 cost of the project and the assessments tied to it - an average of $7,146 per lot.

At a public hearing before the council Monday night, the owners said the assessments would create an economic burden and make it difficult to sell their lots.

"The time is wrong," said Marge Lusty, a property owner. "There's so many things going on in the city and county right now with the jail; the economy is bad. Now is not the time."

The council agreed. It voted 3-0 to abandon the project, at least for now. Council member Sara Carlson said it's possible that the city would reconsider the project in a year or two.

"If the costs were lower and times were better, we'd be doing this," Carlson said.

Property owner Tom Pappenfus gave the city three reasons to stop the project. He said it wasn't "necessary and cost effective," which the original petition maintained; a substantial number of people in the area - 18 people owning 15 parcels - were opposed to it; and the project would devalue property owners' land.

"Our values aren't going up; they're going down," Pappenfus told the council. "You're asking us to incur a cost we can't recover. It just doesn't equate."

The push for the project began on on October 14 when the council received a petition from the required 35 percent of the property owners to study the cost of paving Thomas Drive and making drainage improvements.

The 23-foot-wide gravel road, just shy of a mile long, is located between South Oak Knoll Drive and East Oak Knoll Drive, east of Discovery Middle School.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said there are "pretty significant drainage" issues along Thomas Drive. Inadequate culverts and clay soils have caused yards to flood.

After they received the petition, the city ordered a study of the cost and feasibility of the project, which were presented at the council's October 27 meeting. The city planned to spread the assessments over a 10-year period at a 7 percent interest rate.

Monday's testimony brought the road project to a halt.

"In the future, I'd like to hear from the people who are for it," said council member Dave Benson. "But at this time, it's clear the project should not go on."

In other action, the council:

--Approved a request from the Runestone Museum Foundation to block-off portions of 2nd Avenue and Broadway this Friday for the "Christmas in the Fort" event.

The annual kick-off to the holiday season, which includes lighting up the downtown Christmas lights, will begin at 3:30 p.m. and conclude at 5:30 p.m.

The museum was given permission to block 2nd Avenue from traffic one block east of Broadway, and also to block Broadway from north of Downtown Liquors to Big Ole Central Park.

--Approved a request from the Alexandria Beetles to block-off Elm Street between 4th and 5th Avenue during the team's 34 home games at Knute Nelson Stadium.

Beetles' staff and interns will set up the barricades each home game and manage the handicapped parking on 5th Avenue, as they did during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Homeowners in the area will be notified of the street closures.

--Approved the tentative 2009 racing schedules for Viking Speedway and the Runestone Go Kart Association.

The speedway season is set to begin with a test-and-tune on Friday, April 17, followed by the season opener the next night. A total of 33 racing events are on the schedule.

Another major WISSOTA event, drawing drivers from five states and Canada, may be added in September but nothing is confirmed yet, speedway representative Burt Pexsa told the council.

As in the past, all Saturday night races must end by 10:45 p.m. Thursday night events that happen on a school night must be over by 9 p.m.

Council members thanked the speedway for sticking to the curfew last season. Mayor Dan Ness said he had heard no complaints of a curfew violation.

The go kart season will open on Friday, May 8 with a test-and-tune. Opening night is set for Friday, May 29. Fifteen races are on the schedule.

--Issued 2009 on-sale liquor licenses to seven businesses - Doolittles Woodfire Grill, D. Michael B's, Garden Center Lanes, Bennigan's of Alexandria, Holiday Inn, Raapers Sports Bar and Grill and Depot Express.

All of the licenses are renewals. None had any problems with unlawful sales, according to City Attorney John Lervick.

Two other establishments that currently have on-sale licenses, Bonito Mazatlan and Whiskey Creek Woodfire Grill, have not yet submitted applications.

A public hearing was held before the licenses were approved. No one from the public spoke.

The Alexandria Golf Club, which has a liquor license through the county, will be annexed into the city next year, noted Mayor Dan Ness. He said since the club's license with the county is effective through June 30, 2009, the city will let it operate under that license until then.

--Agreed to vacate an alley in Holes Second Addition north of 4th Avenue that Alexandria Concrete has used to store materials.

City Planner Mike Weber explained that alley, platted in the 1800s, was never built and is not serving a public purpose. Each of the parcels adjacent to it has access to either Park Street or 4th Avenue East.

The alley is not able to serve a broader purpose, such as providing a connection for pedestrians or vehicles, since it runs into a retaining wall the Minnesota Department of Transportation built along Highway 27, added Weber.

If Alexandria Concrete decides to move in the future - which it has indicated it will do - and sells off both parcels of land, the land would need to be replattted and the alley could be reconveyed then, Weber said.

--Approved a subdivision application for "Graceful Acres" requested by Cal Martinson.

The sole purpose of the platting the vacant land is to allow Martinson to convey additional land - 165 feet along Hazel Hill Road - to Grace Baptist Church, according to Weber.

The church is located on land previously acquired from Martinson and since the land was previously split, a plat is required to provide the mechanism for the transfer.

--Approved a subdivision application for Orrin Johnson's "Johnson Estates."

The property is located between Rosewood Lane and County Road 46, just north of County Road 23.

The plat is intended to create conveyable parcels or outlots in a single-family residential zone.

A maximum of 12 houses could be allowed, Any further development would need to come before the planning commission.

--Requested an advance in state funds for the municipal state aid street projects in 2009.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven recommended the council to take the action, which it has done routinely in the past.

It will allow the city to receive $931,550 in advance funds to pay for street improvement projects, including the Dakota Street project, next year.

--Agreed to pay Larson Allen $44,100 to conduct audits for Alexandria Light and Power, the two city-owned liquor stores and the city for 2008.

The fee is about 6 percent more than the amount the city paid in 2007, $41,600.

--Was reminded that the city's truth in taxation hearing is set for Monday, December 1 at 7 p.m.

The city is proposing a 2009 tax levy of $4.5 million - a 7.39 percent increase from this year's levy of just over $4.2 million.

Overall, expenses are budgeted to increase about 10 percent from 2008 and revenues are projected to increase about 13 percent, according to City Administrator Jim Taddei.

If needed, a continuation hearing will take place at the regular council meeting on December 8, along with the adoption of the 2009 budget.

--Issued a license to Hi-View Tree Service, a new applicant.

--Approved 2009 licenses for club on-sale liquor, wine, off-sale retail liquor, excavating contractors, garbage haulers, heating contractors, individual massage therapists, motorized vehicle racing, off-sale beer, on-sale beer, on-street parking, off-street reserve parking, pawnbrokers, set-up liquor, sign hangers, taxi cab services, tattoo and tobacco