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2 crashes at Third, Hawthorne in Alexandria prompt action

In his report about the city’s highway committee, City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven told the council about a vehicle/pedestrian crash on Third Avenue (Highway 29) and Hawthorne Street that happened on Aug. 24.

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ALEXANDRIA — Alexandria city leaders are looking into ideas to make the Third Avenue and Hawthorne Street intersection safer for pedestrians.

The topic popped up at the Alexandria City Council meeting Monday, Sept. 12.

In his report about the city’s highway committee, City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven told the council about a vehicle/pedestrian crash on Third Avenue (Highway 29) and Hawthorne Street that happened on Aug. 24.

The crash occurred at the same location and under similar circumstances as the vehicle/pedestrian fatality that occurred earlier this summer, Schoonhoven said.

SchoonhovenTim22.jpg
Tim Schoonhoven

City staff has been in contact with MnDOT regarding these crashes, and at the city's request, MnDOT has hired a pedestrian safety consultant that’s studying the corridor.

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The consultant is setting up a study review committee of local citizens to provide input. This review committee includes representatives from North Memorial EMS, the Chamber of Commerce, Explore Alexandria Tourism, the bike club, Economic Development, the Downtown Merchants Association and City staff. They plan to schedule public informational meetings yet this fall.

Other items from the highway committee:

  • A new speed study on North McKay showed that speeding isn’t an issue. Schoonhoven said the study, taken between July 29 and Aug. 2, determined that the average speed on the street is 31.5 mph – well below the posted speed limit of 40 mph. Schoonhoven added, however, that there’s a concern with bikers and pedestrians who travel along this corridor since the shoulder is only about 3-feet wide. The committee recommended the council to look into options to address pedestrian safety, including widening the shoulders and installing a trail or sidewalk. Douglas County is planning to install a trail along North McKay between County Road 82 and Highway 29 in 2026, Schoonhoven said.
  • Directed staff to remove restricted parking signs on Elm Street between 7th and 9th Avenues.
  • Directed staff to remove the "no parking" signs along the west side of Roberts Street. The city was contacted by a business owner on Roberts Street by McDonalds who requested to remove the signs. He said he is experiencing issues with people blocking the parking to the businesses on the east side of the street. The "no parking" signs were originally put up about one year ago at the request of the same business owner.
  • Directed staff to install "No Parking" signs for approximately 40-feet on either side of the Lincoln School delivery entrance on 11th Avenue.The school district is having an issue with delivery trucks making the turn into this entrance.
A special meeting took place at Widseth's Big Ole room on Tuesday, Nov. 2 between MnDOT officials, Mayor Bobbie Osterberg and city engineers after 2021 pedestrian vs. car accidents in Alexandria nearly doubled compared to 2020 and 2019.

Following are other items from the council's Sept. 12 meeting not included in other council stories.

Council approves HRA tax levy

The council approved the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s levy request of $306,669 for 2023, which will match its budget for next year.

The amount is well under the maximum levy allowed by state law, $344,237.

The HRA’s proposed budget includes $233,419 for personnel and $83,250 for expenses not related to personnel, including $30,000 in gap financing and $20,000 for reserves.

In a memo to the council, Jeff Hess, executive director of the HRA, said the past year has been “very active” for the HRA. It built and sold two single family homes, finishing a six-lot site the HRA acquired through tax forfeiture a few years ago. It plans to break ground on two more homes this fall that will be marketed in late spring of 2023.

Jeff Hess
Jeff Hess

The HRA has also been partnering with West Central Communities Action for the Launchpad Program, which provides short-term housing for those facing homelessness. The HRA developed a two-unit townhome and leased it back to WCCA for the Launchpad Program.

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“This has been an extremely valuable tool to address homelessness in Alexandria,” Hess said in his memo. “Currently, the HRA and WCCA have identified a second site to expand these services in the community.

The project could take place in early 2023, Hess said.

Also, the HRA was busy inspecting rental properties. So far this year, it has inspected 150 units and plans to inspect another 375 to 400 units by the end of the year.

The HRA is also partnering with DW Jones on the Twenty08 apartment building near the Central Lakes Apartments. Plans call for a 62-unit workforce housing facility. Thirteen of the units will receive tax increment financing to help low-income workers. DW Jones attained $499,000 in assistance from the Minnesota Housing’s Workforce Housing Program.

The project will go out for bids in early 2023.

Recovery Month Walk and Picnic

Unity Recovery received a special event permit for a Recovery Month Walk and Picnic on Friday, Sept. 16 from 5 to 8 p.m.

It will begin at Veterans Memorial Park with participants walking on the sidewalk along Broadway to Big Ole Central Park. A picnic will take place in the park after the walk.

Operated by Doug Paulson, Unity Recovery provides substance use disorder treatment and education in a small group setting, DWI classes and more. More information can be found by searching Unity Recovery on Facebook or by calling 320-219-7474.

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Lease for Big Ole Central Park

The council approved a nine-year lease agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation Big Ole Central Park property that’s part of the state rail bank program that converted abandoned railroad property into parks and trails.

The agreement is retroactive back to July 1, 2018 and will run through June 30, 2027. The city agreed to pay $1,200 per year, or $6,000 total, for the first five years and $1,432 for each of the remaining four years.

Street sweeper purchase approved

Sidewalks in Alexandria may soon be a little cleaner.

At the request of the park department, the council agreed to purchase a 2017 John Deere front-mount unit with a sweeper broom and snowblower attachments for $37,500.

It will be funded through the Public Works Equipment Fund.

Since Broadway was reconstructed, the city took over the cleaning of sidewalks on both sides of Broadway between Third and Seventh Avenues. The east side sidewalks are narrower and the parks department was unable to use the same equipment that’s used on the west side.

The city saved some money by buying a used unit. New models cost more than $50,000, according to the parks department.

Charter changes approved

Another step was taken in the process to change the city’s home rule charter.

The council gave final approval to amend two sections of the charter, which has been described as the city’s “constitution” or guiding document for its codes, rules and policies. The city’s charter commission recommended these changes:

Section 4.01, nominations and elections. Currently, it states that the council shall meet and canvass the election returns and declare the result “within three days after the election.” That would be changed to “in the manner prescribed by state statute.”

Section 12.05, vacation of streets. Right now, the charter states that no street or alley within the city shall be discontinued except by “ordinance.” This would be changed to except by “resolution.”

Under the process the city uses, a charter amendment may only be adopted by ordinance if it receives a unanimous vote by the council and is approved by the mayor.

Now that the amendments received final approval, citizens have 60 days to submit a petition signed by registered voters equal in number to at least 5% of the registered voters in the city or 2,000, whichever is less.

If no petition is made, the amendment will take effect 90 days after final approval.

New ground lease at airport

The council authorized the mayor and city staff to approve a new, 20-year ground lease at the Alexandria Airport between the city and Evan Fagen.

Fagen is purchasing a hangar from Dan Barber. The city charges a standard 10-cent per square foot rent for hangars for the first year and it increases annually based on the percentage increase in the consumer price index. Fagen’s hangar will use 4,320 square feet.

Annexation request approved

The council gave final approval to annex vacant property in Lake Mary Township on the south side of Cross Country Lane. The 2.53-acre parcel is owned by Gerald and Kolleen Roth and the annexation would provide city water.

Alley vacated on Fourth Avenue East

The council gave final approval to a request from Diane Rick to vacate a portion of a dedicated but unbuilt street, known as Fourth Avenue East, lying between Spruce Street and Temple Street near Ron’s Warehouse.

Rick is parking her vehicles there and wants to put in a sidewalk or pavers to help her get in and out of her car, especially when it’s wet or muddy. The city will retain a permanent access and utility easement over the existing right-of-way to protect existing stormwater structures.

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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