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Alexandria enacts new fence ordinance

Building a fence in Alexandria will soon require some extra steps.   

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At its meeting Tuesday night, the Alexandria City Council approved a new ordinance to regulate fences.

The purpose: To prevent fences that would be a hazard to the public or an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of neighboring property.

It’s also designed to ensure that fences are compatible with existing uses and other zoning regulations.

Some highlights of the new ordinance:

--Starting January 1, 2014, residents will need a permit to build a fence (boundary or partition). The fee will be determined at a later date.

--The permit must include a survey certificate that clearly describes the location of the proposed fence. Property lines must also be verified.

--In residential areas, fences can’t be more than six feet high in back and side yards, or more than four feet high in the front yard.

--Fences must be residential in nature, such as chain-link, wrought iron, vinyl or board and picket.

--Fences that are made from maintenance-free materials or can be maintained within the perimiter of the fence, may be constructed on the side or rear yard property line. If it requires maintenance, the fence must must built no closer than two feet from the property line.

--Barbed wire fences are prohibited but a conditional use permit to build one can be obtained for essential service structures.

--Snow fences are prohibited in residential districts from April through October (unless for marking tree preservation areas).

--No fence may obstruct natural drainage.

--Ornamental and/or privacy fences that enclose only a limited portion of a yard (25 percent) are allowed without a permit. Maximum heights are three feet for a brick wall, four feet for split-rail, picket or wrought iron and six feet for a privacy fence around a patio,, hot tub or pool.

Existing fences that don't comply with the new ordinance will be allowed but they can't be enlarged, extended or reconstructed unless they meet the new requirements.

The most contentious part of Tuesday's meeting, however, didn't have anything to do with fences. It came during a discussion of the audit fees that were being proposed by CliftonLarsonAllen. Council member Virgil Batesole said he met with an auditor from the company and found out that the audit does not look into whether the city is in compliance with its charter and other legislative controls for financial procedures.

Mayor Sara Carlson told Batesole that he was out of order. When Batesole objected to being interrupted, Carlson told him that she, not Batesole, was chairing the meeting. She told Batesole he had no authorization to meet with the city auditor on his own and that if the city is billed for the time the company spent answering Batesole's questions, Batesole would have to pay for it. She also told Batesole that the city charter states that the city is required to do an audit, only an audit.

After the council unanimously approved CliftonLarsonAllen's $45,900 fee to perform the city's 2013 audits, which is the same amount as last year, Carlson and Batesole clashed again. Carlson reminded the entire council that they should not be independently going to the city attorney or accountant without the council's prior approval. She cautioned that it would cost taxpayers money. Batesole disagreed and told Carlson she was out of order. Carlson responded with a bang of the gavel and told him, "I have the floor and you are out of order, sir."

The council then moved on to other agenda items.

In other action, the council:

--Officially swore-in new City Administrator Marty Schultz. He took the oath of office from City Attorney Tom Jacobson.

--Adopted the final assessments for the waterline extension project in the phase four, part one orderly annexation area in Alexandria Township. Single-family residential properties will pay $6,500. The assessable cost of the project topped $5.3 million. The city picked up about 54 percent of it and property owners will be assessed the rest. During the public hearing, four residents spoke. Most of their questions concerned the cost of the project. They wanted to know why the assessments weren't reduced when the bids came in well under the estimate. Schultz explained that the city was already covering more of the costs than it normally does for water projects. The city usually picks up only 30 percent of the costs. He added that with the low bids, the assessments could have been reduced by a couple hundred dollars but the city doesn't know how the bids will come in for the second half of the project next year. Sticking as close as possible to the 50 percent split will make the assessments similar in the newly annexed area, he said. The total construction cost to extend city water to all properties in the phase four annexation area is estimated at just over $8 million.

--Approved a request from Sara Roers to hold a first-ever “Big Buck Rush 5K” on Saturday, November 2 to benefit the Katya “Tya” Schmidt family. The race will also be a memorial to Jim Swor, Tya’s grandfather. Tya, 7, lives in Elk River and has been diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia and recently had a bone marrow transplant. Her parents grew up in Alexandria and she has many relatives in the area. The race will start at the New Testament Church, go on the trail along Lake L’Homme Dieu to Crestwood Drive and loop back. Entry fee is $20 for individuals, $30 for family and relay groups. About 100 runners are expected to participate. For more information, call Roers, Tya’s aunt, at (320) 815-5158.

--Approved a request to block off Douglas Street and redirect traffic for the First Lutheran Church’s Living Nativity event on November 30. A two-block portion of the street will be made into a one-way street so motorists can view the nativity scenes from their vehicles without worrying about oncoming traffic. 

--Agreed to pre-apply for a Small Cities Development Program grant that would fix up rental and commercial properties in Alexandria and Starbuck in 2014-2016. The Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) would administer the program, which is offered through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). If the application is approved, the city would transfer the money to the HRA. The HRA would process the invoices and pay the contractor. The application has no financial impact on the city, according to Schultz. The HRA currently administers a similar multi-city grant program for Alexandria, Starbuck and Osakis. Forty-three units were repaired using a $421,400 grant from DEED. Council member Virgil Batesole started to ask questions about the application but stopped when the city attorney said that, in his opinion, Batesole had a conflict of interest. Jacobson said that the program would provide funds for residential landlords, which includes Batesole. Batesole abstained from voting, noting that he was following Jacobson's advice.

--Updated its policy that allows senior citizens to defer special assessments imposed by the city if they are a hardship. The seniors must meet income guidelines to apply for the deferment: $22,300 or less for a single person, less than $25,500 for a family of two or less than $28,700 for a family of three. Applicants must not own non-homestead property and have less than $10,000 in liquid assets. The assessment will be deferred at an interest rate of 5 percent annually until it is paid through the death of the owner, the sale of the property, if the property loses homestead status or if the city determined that there would be no hardship in requiring immediate or partial payment.

--Rejected two quotes to pave Boys Avenue. The quotes, which ranged from $62,331 to $63,920, were well over the engineer's estimate of $46,000. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said the project will be re-bid next spring in conjunction with a waterline extension project.  

--Approved a request from the new owners of the Bella’s on Broadway buidling to restructure its revolving loan fund (RLF) agreement with the city. Bella’s received a $43,000 loan through the program in November 2009. New owners, AB Properties, LLC, are refinancing a larger financing package, which includes the RLF loan. The existing RLF loan is current, Schultz said. The principal amount remaining is $35,185. AB Properties will now assume the loan.

--Amended a previous council decision concerning a request from Brad and Magge Horning. They recently purchased property on Cedar Street and want to add on to their garage, which already encroaches 2.7 feet into Fillmore/Dean Melton Park. They requested the city to allow an expansion of the encroachment. The council considered selling a tiny portion of the park land to accommodate the request but rejected the idea because of concerns over the precedent that would set. The council voted to allow the encroachment permit to run with the land, not with the owners of the land, as it had been previously. That way, the Hornings will not have to tear down their garage but they won't be able to add on the park side of the garage.

--Approved a subordination loan request from Dennis Lang, who is refinancing a home equity line of credit for his property in The Preserve.

--Approved three resolutions that were all connected with Schultz being named the new administrator. The resolutions authorize Schultz to act on the city's behalf for signing corporate, municipal and deferred compensation documents. Batesole voted against the corporate resolution. He said he talked with an attorney for the League of Minnesota Cities as well as another attorney who said that the city's charter doesn't allow the council to delegate such financial powers. Council member Roger Thalman said he showed a League attorney the city's charter and the attorney said it was perfectly legal.

--Was informed that the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum's temporary on-sale liquor license for a June 21 outdoor event wasn't used because the event was cancelled due to bad weather. The event has been rescheduled for October 25. Since the fee was already paid, no council action was needed.

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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