By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN Despite recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to place a right-in, right-out only access to the Shopko development, Cokato City Council approved full access off US Highway 12 in a split vote.
Council members Paul Boger and Jarod Sebring voted against the motion made by Council Member Carl Harju to grant full access; Council Member Butch Amundsen seconded the motion. Mayor Gordy Erickson, Amundsen, and Harju voted in favor of the motion.
The motion was approved with the understanding that Oppidan and the city will enter into a hold-harmless agreement if, for any reason, there are issues with MnDOT regarding the full-access entrance off Hwy. 12, or the fact that Oppidan is not seeking a permit from the state for the access.
“We don’t think we have to touch their right of way,” said Paul Tucci of Oppidan about not seeking a permit for the access.
“Nobody else has limited access like this,” Tucci said, referring to MnDOT’s recommendation and the other businesses along Hwy. 12 near the development. “I think the issue we have today is, we are being singled out.”
He noted that if traffic volume in the area is an issue, that should be addressed without singling out a new development.
Cokato’s attorney, Ron Batty, and Oppidan’s attorney have differing opinions regarding the state statute about access to Hwy. 12.
Batty interprets the statute to say Oppidan will need a permit from the state to grant access from Hwy. 12, according to City Administrator Annita Smythe.
Oppidan’s attorney does not think the statute applies to what Oppidan is going to do for the entrance, because it will not be changing the original intended purpose of the access currently in place, according to Tucci.
Although Cokato wants the new business in town, going around MnDOT’s recommendations may damage the city’s relationship with the state entity, Boger pointed out.
He noted the amount of time spent by MnDOT compiling information and taking measurements regarding what may happen with traffic because of the new development.
“They are telling us what they think is safe; what is good for the city,” Boger said, adding he has never seen a left turn allowed so soon after a stoplight.
“I don’t see this being an issue,” Harju said, noting that local residents will quickly realize that accessing the new development from Wright County Road 3 will be quicker and easier than Hwy. 12.
When asked if not granting full access would kill the deal, Tom Ryan of Oppidan referred to a letter from Shopko about the deal, which stated:
“It is very disturbing to hear that the City of Cokato is considering limiting access onto Route 12 from the proposed Oppidan development of the Shopko Hometown.
“This loss of full access will require that this location be reassessed by the Shopko Growth Team as to whether this location in the City of Cokato will be a viable Hometown location.”
There was brief discussion about whether allowing full access would cause MnDOT to construct a median down the middle of Hwy. 12 in the future to control traffic.
Sebring noted that [a median] would potentially “kill three businesses south of 12,” because the city allowed full access for one business.
Council approves survey for new public safety building
The council approved moving forward with surveying the site proposed for a new public safety building, which will house the Cokato Fire Department and Ambulance service.
Although estimates had also been obtained for soil boring to make sure the land was suitable for the building, Amundsen pointed out that the proposed site is a flood plain, according to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
He also asked if a building could be built on a flood plain, and, if so, if it would be insurable.
The survey will help determine the elevation of the site and whether or not it is a true flood plain. If not, the DNR can be approached about changing the map to reflect that, said Fire Chief Hutch Erickson.
The council agreed to wait to approve soil borings until the survey results showed the building would not be under threat of flooding.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• approved a merchant’s license for Chito’s Ice Cream.
• approved an increase in the firefighters pension benefit fund.
• approved the purchase of a lawnmower at a cost of $11,876 and rotary broom at a cost of $4,000 for the public works department.
• approved calling for bids for the 2015 sealcoating project, which includes Eshton Court, Prairie Avenue Southeast from Seventh Street Southeast to Eighth Street Southeast; Ninth Street Southeast, Swanson Avenue south of Seventh Street, Klarsyn Street Southeast, Klyva Road Southeast, north of Klarsyn Street; Tuva Road Southeast, Lee Avenue, and Lee Circle.
• approved the recruitment of a new swimming pool manager.