Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 27, 2004

Fate of Howard Lake Industrial Park dominates council agenda

By Lynda Jensen

The future of the industrial park dominated discussion at the Howard Lake City Council meeting Tuesday.

The park is owned by Howard Lake Industries West, which is a group of citizens who previously pledged money to buy land and start the industrial park five years ago.

The group wants the city to purchase the remaining land, so that investors can at least break even on their five-year investment.

If the city did so, it would cost a net amount of about $125,000 for a buyout, said Rod Werner of Howard Lake Industries.

The land purchase idea received a cool response from the council, and skepticism from Mayor-elect Terry Ostgulen.

Since the park was formed, it has been slow to grow, with council members complaining about a lack of its promotion and marketing until recently.

Until last year, the park was hampered by excessive tax increment restrictions, collectively called “Green Acres,” which dictated the minimum wage and other issues – making it difficult for interested businesses to buy into the park, it was noted.

In addition, the park has accumulated $71,794 in back taxes and $174,000 in assessments, which generally can be recouped if the land is sold to a developer or to businesses in the park.

Werner noted that the investors were looking at an offer to purchase 30 out of 38 acres of land for residential development. This would at least return some of their money, he noted.

Ostgulen pointed out that the area is zoned industrial and a buyer would be assuming the city would be willing to rezone it.

Council Members Shelly Reddemann and Tom Kutz expressed reluctance about the land purchase.

“I’m not excited about purchasing this land at this time,” Reddemann said.

Pat Van Oss chided the council, saying “Is the next council going to spend half a million dollars on a park?”

Outgoing Mayor Gerry Smith went out of his way to thank the members of the group, calling them civic minded, saying that they made the investment to increase jobs in Howard Lake.

“It would be a dirty shame if we lost that park,” Smith said.

Cable has prospects

There are several items in the works for Public Access Channel 10, reported Neil Sideen.

Fourteen underwriters are on board for winter sports, which exceeded his expectations, Sideen said.

He will be trying to obtain donations of $2,000 for upgrading the computer to enable video contact with Iraq.

The cable department also wishes to conduct a telethon with local talent to bring in money, he said.

There is also the possibility of selling wireless Internet connections, he said.

There is a class starting in January for the high school that Sideen will teach, with payment going to the cable department. Sideen’s pay will be as a substitute teacher.

Sideen also noted items needing funds. “The van frame is rusting, and a playback deck is passed its life expectancy,” he said.

Ostgulen asked Sideen how many households subscribe to public access.

Fifty-five percent, Sideen answered, noting the statewide average is 45 percent.

Annexation rescinded

The council also agreed to rescind annexation of the Pat Borrell property located east of the Pit Stop.

An error in elevations caused the developer to think he had more land to work with than what is available after working out the shoreland overlay district with the Department of Natural Resources.

“They should have thought of that before they came,” Ostgulen said, saying that more time should have been spent preparing for the project to do it properly.

It was a fluke that the city was able to stop from completing the annexation process, since the application was not sent to the state yet.

“It hasn’t cost us anything. I don’t know why we should penalize them,” Smith said.

If the city allowed the annexation to go through, the property owner would have to pay Victor Township $16,000 and be taxed city taxes for agricultural land.

“This is one of few I’ve ever seen,” DeWolf commented of the request to rescind. The land will probably still be developed, but the property owner wanted to stop the process to rethink his plans, it was noted.

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