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Lanesboro City Council refuses to consider closing alley

Fri, May 9th, 2003
Posted in Features

Tempers flared as the Lanesboro City Council heard from developer Dan Anderson, Bethlehem Church Council President Eric Ruen, and Warren Kramer of Northcountry Cooperative Development on Monday, May 5.

Kramer first spoke to the Lanesboro City Council about his companys plan for developing the old school property currently owned by Anderson. Kramer described a housing cooperative in which people buy shares of stock in a building and form a corporation with elected directors running the day-to-day business of the building.

His dream is to "create a community cooperative" which would be available for general occupancy. Kramer stated the investment would be around $1.8 million with individual units going for between $100,000 and $120,000. The units would keep a loft appearance with high ceilings, open spaces, and large windows.

An enthusiastic Kramer extolled the merits of the old school with its large windows and fantastic view. He detailed the plan to create a play area at the trailhead (near the "bunny trail") as well as hiking trails and green space. Kramer emphasized a commitment to a quality, aesthetically pleasing, living area, opting to keep parking from the front of the building.

Kramer then went on to ask the council to consider vacating the alley running through the property. Kramer argued that the alley diminishes aesthetics, creates a dangerous environment for residents, and might cause environmental issues with the hillside. Removing the alley would, in Kramers view, improve the look of the building and enhance marketability. Since a portion of the current building actually sits on top of the plotted alley, Kramer added that there might be a problem with financing since clear title would be difficult to obtain.

Eric Ruen, Bethlehem Church Council President, presented the churchs view. The church, already cramped for parking space, feels the alley is essential to accessing the church. When asked how many spaces were currently available, Ruen answered that he didnt know, but added that the parking needs of a developed housing cooperative would make parking concerns even more crucial.

Council member Jerome Halvorson asked if the new housing would bring a benefit of new additional church members to which Ruen responded that, while this was a possibility, his primary concern was with the current members needs. Ruen said the members of Bethlehem Church were willing to keep an open mind, but also wanted to keep an open alley.

Further concerns with closing the alley were with fire and ambulance accessibility. Fire Chief Keith Eide stated that he felt it was in the best interest for both the church and the old school to keep the alley open to enable emergency runs to the buildings.

Council member Peggy Hanson asked what the standards were and suggested the developers would need to deal with the access issue.

Appearing ready to move on with the meeting, Mayor Steve Rahn stated, "The Church doesnt want the alley closed; the Fire Chief doesnt want the alley closed."

Hanson responded, "Weve been waiting ten years for this property to be developed. We are doing the entire community a disservice if we dont consider this (vacating the alley)."

Hanson went on to make a motion to vacate the alley, clarifying that this was merely a chance to give the topic a full discussion with a subsequent public hearing and that no vacation would be made unless it was in the interests of the public. Council member Joe OConnor seconded the motion.

Ultimately, the council refused to explore the topic any further with a 3 (Council member Kevin Drake, Halvorson, and Rahn) to 2 (Hanson and OConnor) vote against vacating the alley.

Angry developer Dan Anderson spoke up, "Im the building owner. For eight to ten years Ive been trying to get something going. Id like to know what the council is intending to do. Now we are back to square one. You have a building with a title that is unclearable. Its up to the city council to do something. Ive come with multiple proposals to you and you just say no. You have people willing to invest $1.8 million!"

Mayor Rahn responded, "Thats not the issue, were going to move on."

With that comment, the discussion was over and the council moved on to the more mundane business of the night, turning a deaf ear to the issue.

Other business

The council chose to accept a proposal to hold a Farmers Market in the park on Thursdays from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. With a $25 fee and their own insurance coverage, farmers from a 35-mile radius of the city will be able to sell farm produce. Heidi Dybing emphasized the goal of the market is to provide a source of fresh farm produce to local consumers.

The council decided to put the proceeds from the sale of the medical building in a thirty-day CD (one percent interest) at the local bank. In other financial decisions, the council opted not to purchase workmans compensation insurance for the council or administrative boards, and took a larger deductible ($500 deductible for a 4.5% discount) on the city employees.

In further action, the council decided to send a notice to Kirsten Mensing that her lodging establishment license would be revoked unless full payment of back taxes was made within five business days.

The final business of the council was a discussion of appropriate complaint procedure.

Following some letters to the editor complaining about the Lanesboro Police Department, city administrator Barb Hoyhtya sent complaint forms to the writers, none of which had been returned. In answer to a comment that people are afraid of retaliation from the police chief, Hoyhtya reminded the council that complainants could remain anonymous.

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