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Council asks Legislature to help pay for community center expansion

The Alexandria City Council is seeking a new way to help pay for an expansion of the Runestone Community Center (RCC) -– have the state cover half the cost.

At its meeting Monday night, the council voted to submit a request to local legislators to include $4.25 million in the Legislature’s bonding bill for the project.

The expansion, which would add a third rink, is estimated to cost between $8 and $8.5 million. That's lower than previous estimates of about $10 million because it doesn't include renovation work.  

In addition to the state kicking in money for the project, Bobbie Osterberg's motion calls for $2,125,000 to be raised through private donations. The city will explore options to cover the remaining costs, such as selling bonds or calling for a voter referendum.

The 2016 legislative session, set to begin on March 8, is a non-budget session and one of the priorities is passing a bonding bill for projects around the state.

After checking with State Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, City Administrator Marty Schultz said that one of the key factors on whether projects are included in the bonding bill is whether they have regional impact.

The RCC, Schultz noted, has always served more than just city residents for ice floor events, dry floor events, the fair and other activities.

An important part of the funding request, Schultz said, will be letters of support from organizations both inside and outside the city.

Over the next several months, the council could work to finalize the details and options on how to fund its share of the project, Schultz said.

The council may decide later to authorize RCC user groups to gather pledges for private funding. “A package of state/local/private funding may be most appealing to the Legislature,” Schultz said.

The renovation work may be funded through a combination of potential energy saving projects and other city funds. (See related item about an energy engineering study.)

There is no application fee for the bond request. If the state does provide funding, the city would likely have to establish a timeline for the project.

ANGER ON BAY LANE

An application for an after-the-fact conditional use permit to allow property on 808 Bay Lane to be used as a "group quarters" for up to five unrelated people drew heated responses from those living in the neighborhood.

The property, located on Lake L'Homme Dieu, is owned by Dean Mielke and is being rented to four college students. Five residents in the area urged the council to deny the permit. They cited a slew of problems – late-night parties lasting until 2:30 a.m., loud noises, shouting, bad language, junk left in the yard, loud trucks coming and going at all hours of the day and night, vehicles parked all over the property, and a property manager who lives more than 50 miles away.

One woman said that she just wants to raise a family in a quiet neighborhood. She said it wasn't fair that other residents in the area are obeying all the zoning rules while Mielke isn't.

A representative for Mielke told the council that Mielke disputes the accusations. She said a property manager is available around the clock, that Mielke has met with the tenants about their rights and responsibilities and that he's worked hard to improve the property.

Council member Todd Jensen, who also serves on the planning commission, said the commission agonized over the application but had no choice but to recommend it for approval since all the specific zoning requirements had been met. He added that the commission took the action with "great disgust" and added that Mielke, who was at Monday's meeting, offered no apologies for the actions of his tenants and was unwilling to work with the neighbors about their concerns.

Council members were also frustrated. Mayor Sara Carlson noted that a half-dozen upset neighbors indicates a problem and that it was highly unlikely they were making up stories.

Council member Virgil Batesole suggested changing the city's conditional use laws so the application could be denied. City Attorney Tom Jacobson and City Planner Mike Weber said that the city can't change the ordinance before acting on Mielke's application. It can only consider whether the application met all the existing requirements, which it did.

Weber added, however, that the property must abide by the city's rental registration requirements, which govern public nuisances such as noise and parking. If the owner doesn't comply with all those rules, the city would have grounds to revoke the rental license. The city would have to notify the applicant and he could appeal, Weber added.

Jensen made a motion to approve Mielke's conditional use permit, adding that he was doing it "regretfully." "Even though our hands are tied, there's no doubt in my mind that we will be looking at revoking the rental registration at some point," he said.        

The council approved the motion on a 4-1 vote, with Dave Benson voting against it.

Six conditions were attached. No signage is allowed; there must be one parking stall per resident; parking areas must be screened, any exterior lighting must be hooded and directed away from streets; Mielke must identify a local contact to act as property manager; and improvements to screening and parking must be completed by June 1, 2016.

Later in the meeting, the council approved Jensen's motion to have the planning commission take a look at the city's ordinances for conditional use permits to see if they could be tightened up in the future.

NEW HOTEL

The council approved a subdivision application that will clear the way for building a new Holiday Inn Express to the east of the current Holiday Inn.

A public road will be brought into the property and there are also 50 acres of land behind the property that will be available for future development, according to the applicant, Bill Schultz, who discussed the plans with the Alexandria Planning Commission.

The commission asked Bill Schultz to envision what the property would look like 10 years from now. He said the land has potential for anything from office space to a large retailer such as Kohl’s, or perhaps an implement dealership, more restaurants and a bit of retail.

Four conditions were attached: connection to public utilities; evidence of title; a developer’s agreement; and a waiver of the park dedication fee since it’s a commercial subdivision.

NEW RESTROOMS

There may soon be a new restroom facility at Big Ole Central Park.

The council authorized staff to request proposals for architectural services on the project. The total cost of the project is estimated at $200,000.

The park, located on the north end of Broadway, is a focal gathering point for many events all summer long, said Bill Thoennes, public works director.

“Along with the Big Ole statue and the Central Lakes Trail as a major tourist attraction, this park is very heavily used,” he said. “The addition of a permanent restroom facility would be a great benefit to this area.”

Several improvements have been made at the park in the past few years, including a Gathering Tree sculpture in 2012, a trail kiosk in 2013 and paver landscaping around Big Ole this past fall.

All the work is part of the Park Master Plan and fits in with plans to improve the north end of Broadway, Thoennes said.

LIQUOR LICENSES

The council agreed to renew on-sale and Sunday liquor licenses for 15 restaurants and clubs in the city.

However, the three clubs – the Eagles, Elks and VFW – were fined $500 each for exceeding the percentage limit for liquor sales as compared to food sales.

City ordinances require liquor license holders to collect no more than 65 percent of their gross sales from liquor. The percentages for the clubs were as follows: Eagles – 74 percent, Elks – 71 percent and VFW – 69 percent.

A second violation increases the fine to $1,000 and a third violation would result in the city revoking the license.

Representatives from all three clubs asked the city to waive the fine and give them more time to meet the food requirements. They noted that their clubs give back to the community.

Jensen said that the clubs were not forced to appply for a full liquor license. He added that they could have decided to stick with a club license, which allows them to serve members only, but the clubs wanted to "play it both ways" by catering to the public like a regular restaurant while acting like a club to qualify for lower liquor license fees. He said it would not be fair to local restaurants to apply separate rules for clubs.

Batesole suggested lowering the food sale requirement to help the clubs.

When Jensen responded that it wasn't the council's job to help them, a member from one of the clubs left the meeting, angrily saying it wasn't the club's job to help the council either.

City Attorney Tom Jacobson said the rules for the fines were clear-cut: If a license holder did not meet the required percentage of alcohol to food sales, they "shall be" fined.

The council voted unanimously to approve all three club's liquor licenses and the penalties imposed.

Besides the clubs, other businesses receiving licenses Monday included Angelina’s, D. Michael B’s, Depot Express, DJ’s Taphouse and Grill, Doolittle’s, Garden Center, Holiday Inn, Mi Mexico II, Pike and Pint Grill, Raapers Eatery and Ale, Tennessee Roadhouse and Zorbaz.

The council also renewed several other kinds of licenses including: pawnbroker – Viking Pawn; off-sale beer – Elden’s, Hampton Inn, Pilot Travel Center, Super America; on-sale beer – Sixth Avenue Wine and Ale, Great Hunan; taxi driver – Justin Firme for Roadrunner Taxi; tobacco – Downtown Liquor, Plaza Liquor, Casey’s, Jill’s Gas and Grocery, Mills Gas Mart, King Tobacco, Pilot Travel Center, Super America, Zorbaz; and wine – Sixth Avenue Wine and Ale and Great Hunan.

ENGINEERING STUDY

The council approved a $38,680 agreement with Apex Efficiency Solutions to conduct a directed engineering study of the city’s facilities, including the RCC.

Apex will review ways the city can be more energy efficient, such as replacing cooler systems at the two city liquor stores and replacing the west rink floor, refrigeration and dehumidification systems at the RCC.

Replacing the RCC roof will also be considered.

The existing west rink facilities are nearing the end of their useful life, Schultz said. Since the system doesn’t support summer ice, the city is losing potential revenue.

The city agreed to pay Apex $38,680 for the study. It won’t have to pay for anything if the study’s recommended projects don’t pay for themselves through energy and operational savings.

The city will pay $38,860 if Apex develops a self-funding project that complies with state law but the city decides to not proceed with a Guaranteed Energy Savings Performance (GESP) contract. If this happens, the city will get the money from its Planning Commission Development Fund.

If the city executes a GESP project within 60 days after the study is completed, Apex will be compensated through the GESP program.

CHARTER COMMISSION

Terms for four members of the city’s Charter Commission are expiring at the end of the year. The members are Bill Bevill, Dan Ness, Terry Rode and Roger Thalman. Terms are for four years.

Unlike other city boards, a judge decides who to appoint to the Charter Commission, based on recommendations from the commission and council.

The commission recommended the judge to re-appoint the four members.

The council decided to advertise vacancies for all city seats, including the Charter Commission, extending the deadline to December 15.

 Jensen, who made the motion, said he appreciates the service of the four members, but didn't want to turn away other good candidates that may be out there.

HEATING AT THE AIRPORT

The council accepted a quote of $23,860 from Ellingson Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning to replace the furnace in an airport hangar.

The hangar is being leased by Weber’s Aero Repair and Life Link III helicopter. The heat exchanger is rusting and is expected to fail soon.

The money will come from the airport operating budget and/or the airport development fund, which receives income from airport leases.

SPECIAL EVENT PERMITS

A special event permit was issued to the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society to hold a MS bike tour on the Central Lakes/Lake Wobegon Trail on July 21, 2016.

Big Ole Central Park will be used as a rest stop during the tour, which will run from 6 to 10:30 a.m. About 800 bicyclists are expected to participate.

A special event permit was also issued to the Alexandria Area YMCA’s Turkey Day 5K on Thursday, November 26 from 7 to 10 a.m.

The run will begin and end at the YMCA, using the Central Lakes Trail and County Road 22. About 150 participants are expected.

TRUCK PARKING

The council approved a preliminary ordinance that’s intended to stop large semitrailer trucks from blocking parking lanes on Broadway, while the drivers are loading or unloading.

Under the ordinance:

Commercial semitrailers attached to a truck-tractor would be prohibited from parking on Broadway from Third to 15th Avenue from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. They would have to be parked on a side street or alley.

They would be allowed to park on Broadway between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays for loading and unloading purposes, if reasonable access from an alley or adjacent street couldn’t be obtained.

PROPERTY CLEAN-UP

The council requested the county to assess seven property owners in the city for clean-up charges.

The city’s public works department cleaned up the properties and billed the owners for the service but they didn’t pay by the November 16 deadline.

The work included cutting long grass and weeds, maintaining trees and shrubs and removing junk and rubbish.

The property owners will pay assessments ranging from $248 to $1,761.

ANNEXATION REQUEST WITHDRAWN

At its November 9 meeting, the council gave preliminary approval to a petition for annexation from Leslie and Susan Bruns who own property on Voyager Drive (formerly known as County Road 44) in LaGrand Township. Schultz said the request has since been withdrawn because the Bruns are re-evaluating what they want to do with the property. The parcel contains about 0.47 acres.

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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