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Plans for Rushford motel placed on hold

Fri, Sep 26th, 2008
Posted in Government

Plans for a motel in Rushford have been placed on hold, and within the city government there appears to be all the makings of a showdown between the EDA and the Planning Commission.

At issue is the future of the Himlie Business Park north of town purchased by the city before the big flood.

A city staff report prepared for last Monday's Sept. 22nd council meeting (administrator Windy Block was absent having been called away suddenly) stated that the land was purchased by the EDA and city with the original intention of keeping Tri-County Electric Cooperative within city limits and building on the new site.

The report also said that motel developer Tom Serie, F & L Development, has been in discussions with the city since April 2007 about possibly building a motel in Rushford. When Tri-County decided to build west of town in Rushford Village, Serie began to look more seriously at the Himlie property as a motel site.

According to the report, the flood changed things considerably in that the city had lost a number of municipal buildings, including the Tenborg Community Center.

Eventually, an EDA-approved plan was placed before the city council with 4 options, running the gamut from F & L building just a motel, building a motel and community center (anywhere in town), and building a motel, community center, and rental housing on the Himlie property. This last proposition was always the one most clearly favored by Serie, the EDA, and city staff and, while it held the biggest price tag for the city, it also included more "perks" and discounts for the city from Serie's company.

Still, hearing voices of discontent from downtown business-people and worrying about the issue of cost, the council was not ready to go for the full project and voted to simply approve the building of a motel on the property. Serie had claimed throughout that he'd do whatever the city wanted; while he favored one option, any were fine with him as long as he had the city's support.

So it seemed a bit of a surprise at the beginning of the September 22 council meeting when mayor Les Ladewig read a letter from Serie saying thanks for your efforts but "because of obvious delays in total development" his company would postpone the motel project until the "city of Rushford is ready to go."

Not too much further in the meeting came the reason for the pull-out: an "unfavorable review" of the preliminary plat for the Himlie Business Park from the city's Planning Commission.

The report by city staff relayed how, due to the developer's expressed intention to begin construction this fall, the staff almost immediately began the preliminary platting process, per the City's subdivision regulations. In addition, cognizant that any community objections to the plan centered mostly around the wish to keep the community center downtown, "a general challenge was issued by the city council for any other development proposals concerning a 400-seat community center and/or 8 units of publicly owned market-rate rental housing to be brought forward on a timely basis," according to the report.

Officially, no other proposals came forward.

City Engineer Dean Otomo drafted a preliminary plat plan for the business park which the council approved at a special meeting September 15, directing the staff to send the draft to the Planning Commission for "review and comment."

After Otomo's presentation to the Planning Commission Sept. 16, a long discussion commenced with one failed motion to simply approve the plat as written and send it back with comments by individual commissioners. The final result was this motion: "To return the preliminary plat for the "Himlie Business Park" to the City Council with an 'unfavorable review' and to include the following reasons and/or comments from various Commissioners as follows:

1. Disagreement with the use of the R-3 (residential multiple) suggested zoning for the second phase of the plat.

2. Disagreement with the loss of residential lots that the suggested plat would bring if the area was to be used as an area for business and residential development.

3. Disagreement with the suggested use of C-A (Arterial-commercial) zoning that would enable a business use of the area listed as Phase 1.

4. The projected cost of the development as platted would be too great for the City to afford.

5. A lack of any available review or comment on this preliminary plat from the "other planner," (later identified as Dave Maroney--under contract with the Rushford Area Foundation (RAF) through a grant obtained by Rushford Community Foundation- hired for developing planning advice concerning the downtown business area for the RAF.

(The city staff's report noted that the commission offered no alternative suggestions for zoning in items 1 & 3.)

Mayor Ladewig read the above reasons without comment. EDA commissioner Gordy Hatleli in the audience expressed surprise that the Planning Commission had gone so far in expressing disapproval of the plan when, he thought, that was not the purpose of the "comment and review."

City Attorney Scott Springer arrived about this time and the mayor asked for his legal opinion on the Planning Commission's "negative opinion."

Springer reported that he'd studied the issue and the correct procedure and pronounced that it was a matter of "the cart before the horse."

Springer called the recommendation from the Planning Commission "premature" and said that procedures must be followed. The Planning Commission's role at this point should have been to see that the preliminary plat plan has been submitted and certified by the city clerk and to check whether the plan is in accordance with the city's comprehensive plan, the zoning plan, and the subdivision plan.

Beyond that, Springer said, the next step is a public hearing on the matter. The hearing should be set by the city council but conducted by the Planning Commission.

City clerk Kathy Zacher reported that since this is the comment period, she's in the process of obtaining comments from other entities as well, like the highway department.

The council indicated that it would continue with a plan to set a date for a public hearing on the plat matter, with the Planning Commission invited to conduct the hearing.

Creekside Playground

The council approved a plan for rebuilding Creekside Playground as presented by committee chair, Phil Gaddis.

The committee recommended Leathers & Associates, the same company that put together the first Creekside playground. Gaddis said this decision was made both because the committee was pleased with the Leathers bid and because so many in the community had expressed the wish to have a Creekside park similar to the old one.

The company was given the park's old blueprint upon which to base its bid, but the new playground will be slightly larger because it will be up to current code. Also, the new park will have a separate play area for 2-5 years olds.

The cost of the new playground will be between $120,000 and $140,000, depending on donations and volunteers. Gaddis reported that there's already some fundraising going on, plus there will likely be some FEMA money available to rebuild the park.

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