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Cokato property owners disagree over city-owned parking lot

July 20, 2009

By Lynda Jensen

COKATO, MN – Disagreements over a city-owned parking lot punctuated the Cokato City Council meeting Tuesday.

Two property owners are interested in buying the lot, which is adjacent to the south side of the Iron Horse bar. They are Reed Carlson, and Iron Horse owners Mark and Stacey Determan.

The parcel, which is 60 feet by 127 feet (Note, it was incorrectly reported as being 350 feet by 200 feet in print), was originally promised to Carlson by the city as part of an agreement that he demolish the blighted apartment building complex along Millard Ave. S., which was noted at the meeting.

However, during the course of that project, it was discovered that clear title couldn’t be obtained without spending $2,000, which was reported at the time.

This is something that both the city and Carlson were strongly opposed to paying, and the situation appeared to be at a standstill, Administrator Don Levens noted.

At that time, the council asked to have the subject placed on its next agenda, which didn’t happen. This oversight drew negative comments from council members Tuesday about Levens’ failure to do this. This was the first meeting that Levens attended after a three-month medical leave.

With the passage of time, business owner Stacey Determan approached the city about buying the lot.

“We’ve always had an interest in the parking lot,” Determan said. “Ninety percent of our customers use that parking lot to enter our business,” she added.

Foward Technology also uses the lot for employee access, it was noted.

Determan said that the city is spending money maintaining the lot, such as plowing it in the winter, and that she would be willing to maintain it, beautify the area, as well as fence off the bar’s trash receptacles there.

Council Member Butch Amundsen noted that another party may wish to use the property, and discussion ensued about the subject.

“My understanding is that you’re waiting so that (Carlson) can buy it years later for a buck,” Determan said. She is willing to pay the $2,000 right now, she said. She wondered why other businesses weren’t given the same chance to buy the lot in the first place.

Levens corrected the yearly figure to two years, not three, after the meeting, saying that a clear title is easier to obtain after two years, when the statute of limitations expires for the previous owner to challenge the transfer.

It is true that the city offered Carlson the lot for one dollar, Levens said.

Carlson has told the Determans that it will cost them $4,000 per year to have access to the lot, in order for him to maintain it. This would pay for fixing the tar, title insurance, and other costs.

Carlson also addressed the council. He noted that no one was interested in taking down the blighted building and that he followed through with all the conditions put forth by the council. “I, in good faith, did the job,” he said. “I thought we had an understanding.”

“They have to share expenses for upkeep of pavement and maintenance,” Carlson said of the Determans.

If Carlson does find someone to buy it, it’s possible the new owner would want the additional footage, he said; for example a bowling alley that would need the extra 3 feet.

Mayor Bruce Johnson noted that the disagreement would be settled if the city simply kept the parking lot. He added that he is no longer in real estate.

Council Member Wayne Murphy asked what the city’s obligation was.

Amundsen made a motion “to decline the purchase agreement if something would happen, and the property is needed that a mutual agreement is needed between the two parties.”

Murphy noted that the council made a commitment in the past not to act on audience requests until it had time to think about the request.

This resulted in a split vote, with Johnson abstaining, Amundsen voting yes, and three others voting no – Murphy, Carl Harju, and Gordy Erickson.

Another motion was made to by Murphy to table the subject until August, send it to the city attorney, collect all documents, and find what the cost would be to obtain a clear title.

This passed on a 4-1 vote, with Murphy, Johnson, Harju, and Erickson voting aye, and Amundsen voting naye.

Before the vote was taken, it was noted that the city already had the documents needed. “We’re reinventing the wheel,” Amundsen said. “The meter will be running (for costs per hour with the city attorney),” Amundsen said. “It’s just as easy to leave it a city parking lot.”


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