Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 22, 2001

Closed road, sewer back ups heat up Howard Lake council meeting

By Lynda Jensen

Two hot issues kept the Howard Lake City Council busy at its regular meeting a week ago Monday: a closed street, and reported sewer back ups at 11th Avenue by several residents living there.

Business owner Joe Drusch attended the meeting to strongly protest the closure of Ninth Avenue, including the lack of a public hearing about the issue.

"I depend on that street for school traffic," Drusch said. He described going through a year and a half of paperwork for expanding Joe's Sport Shop to add hardware, investing a half million in it - only to have his location downgraded by having this vital access cut off, he said.

With this cross street gone, there won't be a reason for people to stop, or cross the road, to patronize his business, Drusch said.

"There's about 100 cars that go down that street each day, and only 10 percent stop to get some pop," he said. Buying pop isn't much, but it makes the difference between survivial in a small town business, he said.

"I depend on that road," Drusch said. "The convenience of my business went right down the tubes."

Smith disagreed with Drusch, saying that his business should actually benefit from the increased traffic of a new bank with a drive through, and larger medical clinic, he said. "Now those customers are right in front of you," Smith said.

"I really believe that the traffic you pick up will be more," Smith said.

"I'm hoping you're right," Drusch said. "But can I take the risk?"

"I can't see the future. Maybe it will double my business, and I'll be happier than hell," Drusch said.

The new bank development and medical clinic expansion is planned to be located directly on top of this road.

Previously, news reports and a map on the front page of the Herald outlined tentative plans for the development.

Drusch also spoke with several council members previously about his concerns.

However, residents who attended the meeting were unsettled with how quick the process went, and some even accused the council of being secretive about the road closure, since there was no public hearing.

The city did not vacate the road, which requires a public hearing, Administrator Doug Borglund said. Instead, the road was closed, which does not require one.

Vacating a road means that public land is turned over to a private party, which is the same process that St. James went through for the road in front of the school. Drusch asked what the difference was between this road and the St. James scenario.

Borglund indicated that this was within the city's right to control traffic, although the two scenarios appeared to be very similar. Mayor Gerry Smith indicated that less intersections on Highway 12 was safer, he said.

The only reason that the process was speeded up was to save money by taking advantage of some unusual generosity from MnDOT, Borglund said.

MnDOT offered to continue pouring expensive curb and gutter along the street; an unusual move for the state since it is not known for its flexibility, Borglund said. "They wanted to know right then and there whether we wanted to do it," Borglund said.

The curb and gutter was planned for the development in the spring anyway, he said. "We would have had to close off Highway 12 to fix it later," Borglund said.

Borglund brought it to the council's attention during its land use meeting Oct 9. It was approved that night.

Following discussion, both Councilor Shelly Reddemann and Smith apologized to Drusch for the hasty decision.

"It was inappropriate to close the road during construction," Reddemann said.

Highway 12 businesses have been stressed already, and to add this weight was not right, he said.

"Right now, I can't answer your future," Reddemann said. "I do know this - that we begged people to bring a hardware store to Howard Lake. We need it in a small town," he said.

Smith apologized for what appeared to be the council's lack of consideration about the issue.

Councilor Tom Kutz indicated that he felt uncomfortable with how it was handled. "I think Joe should have been notified," he said.

Reddemann indicated that it would be a good idea to speak with the bank, to see how they felt about the issue.

Reddemann suggested laying sand over the newly made curb to open the road again during the construction period, until the time came when the bank would take over the land and develop it next spring or summer.

The council did so.

Reddemann also emphasized that Borglund and the city staff worked hard to help obtain financing for Drusch and his business, he said. "He wasn't forgotten," he said.

Darrel Drusch objected to the road closure by saying that both the ambulance and fire department use Ninth Avenue as emergency routes on their way out. "Our ability has been hampered now," he said, although he indicated it was his own opinion.

Darrel Drusch also questioned the city whether the development would even take place, since it was not approved by planning and zoning yet.

Smith assured him that the area would be commercial use regardless of what happened, and that the bank was sincere in its intentions to move there.

Backed up sewers

Resident Julie Hanson discussed the frequent sewer back ups she has been experiencing.

Hanson has several neighbors on both sides of the street with this problem, and in fact was told about it when she bought her house four years ago, she said.

However, her problem has been getting much worse, with two back ups in 10 days' time.

She has three children, two of whom usually sleep in what was their finished basement, she said. When the sewer backs up, it is unsanitary and unsafe there, she said.

Most of the other homes have unfinished basements and this is not as much of a problem for them, she said.

"The others are just living with it, but I can't," she said.

Hanson indicated she planned to fix the problem, but wanted to know if the city would hold up its end and fix the connection from the road to her house, or the sewer main, whichever was causing the problem.

Public Works Director Tom Goepfert indicated that Hanson and her husband, Chris, had roots in their line.

Hanson asked Goepfert how he knew this, since when they televised their lines he didn't get near the house.

In addition, since her neighbors on both sides of the road have the identical problem, she indicated the problem was under the road.

Another neighbor of hers, Doug Hall, agreed with this, as well as a handful of others living on 11th Avenue who attended the meeting.

"There was no obstruction until they got out to the street," Hall said of the televised lines.

Neighbor Joe Sherod put $4,000 into his basement only to have sewer back ups ruin it.

Goepfert admitted that there were problems with one of the cameras and that this aggravated the issue.

Goepfert indicated that all the lines there were bad ones. Reddemann wondered if there were drain tiles from the older homes putting water into the sewer system there.

It was decided to retelevise the lines there to come up with a plan. "Your property is up to you (for cost)," Reddemann said.

Munsons ask for delay to demolition

Donna and Al Munson, owner of Donna's Salon at Highway 12, asked for the city to allow them to continue operating until Dec. 28.

The council approved purchase of the property, with the Munsons to turn over the keys to the building by midnight Dec. 28; but not without a great deal of discussion about the date to vacate.

It was noted that part of this decision was up to the bank, since the property would change hands in 30 to 45 days.

Councilor John Swanson indicated that he just wanted to get it over with and would like to see that block demolished.

Reddemann concurred. "I want to see the building out of there," he said. However, he noted that there was no basement except in the front area and that this would make it easier to tear down, he said.

Allowing the Munsons to stay would not slow down the bank's plans a bit, City Attorney Chuck Paschke said.

Borglund told Swanson that it was unlikely the city would receive a break from the demolition crew, because there still was the property owned by the Peterson brothers at the end of that was in the process of being acquired.

That house, which is being traded for other land owned by the city, originally had a clause in it that allowed the family renting to stay there until Nov. 1, Borglund said. This is much the same situation, he added.

Smith noted that the business planned to hopefully relocate in town, and that giving them time would help preserve an existing business, he said.

Milo's equip. for sale

Mike Main asked if the Lions could purchase a deep fat fryer left over from the purchase of Milo's Restaurant.

Milo's has since relocated to what used to be the Red Rooster Cafe in Dassel and will open in November.

Reddemann indicated that although the liquor store took some items, what was left over would be available for organizations to choose from first, before it was sold to the private parties.

Railroad land buy

Three parcels of railroad property generated discussion as well.

The city will negotiate with the railroad for all three strips of land near the tracks, one of which is a parcel that the historic city hall sits atop.

Parking between the Old Town Gallery and city hall was also discussed. The 14 spaces may end up with two hours or less parking signs affixed to them, in an attempt to help Highway 12 businesses retain what parking they have left after the loss of on street parking.

Smith indicated that MnDOT approved the two hour limit signs if the council so desired, since the area was parking before the Highway 12 construction.

End of the Hwy. 12 Christmas tree

Smith reported that the battle to keep the Christmas tree suspended over Highway 12 and Eighth Street was a losing one, and that the council should consider other alternatives.

Goepfert reported that the tree was getting old and actually caught fire on some of its garland two years ago, he said.

Other possible locations were discussed, as well as the posts to hold up the tree.

It was decided to turn the matter over to the city engineer for ideas. Goepfert was instructed to bring back quotes on new decorations.

In other matters, the council:

· noted that the liquor store is holding up, but has lost 40 percent of its revenue over the past month.

· noted that the Saturday city wide clean up was a success, with good participation. About 55 percent of participants were from Howard Lake, 22 percent from Middleville Township, 19 percent from Victor Township, and 4 percent from miscellaneous, Smith said.

The clean up may be moved to Memorial Park next time.


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