By Jennifer Kotila
“There’s too many ifs and buts going on right now too many open ends to make the project complete. I’m not comfortable with that, personally,” said Cokato Planning and Zoning Commissioner Frank Cruz about the site plan and plats for the Shopko development at last Monday’s meeting.
In letters to the city, both the city attorney and city engineer recommended Cokato City Council not approve the site plan and plats, due to several areas of concern. Such concerns include the US Highway 12 approach and impacts on nearby wetland.
The Shopko development site is on the northeast corner of the intersection of Hwy. 12 and Wright County Road 3, excluding the corner lot with the old creamery building.
At the meeting, City Attorney Ron Beatty noted there had been a lot of “butting of heads” with Oppidan, the site developer, during the last month as changes were made to the site plan and plats.
However, the project was running into timeline constraints, and Oppidan is eager to begin construction.
Beatty suggested the planning and zoning commission recommend that Cokato City Council adopt the resolutions approving the development, with conditions that must be met by Oppidan before the final plat is signed and released by the city.
A 120-day timeline for approval or denial of the plan and plats was ending Friday, Beatty explained. If the council did not act, the plan and plats would receive automatic approval without the city’s concerns being addressed.
If the council denied approval of the site plan and plats, it would have to specify the terms and conditions of the denial by Friday, Beatty added.
Oppidan president Joe Ryan expressed to the commission and the council that Oppidan wanted to “follow the rules,” was a “team player,” and wanted to complete the work to the city’s standards.
One issue of concern is the approach to the development from US Highway 12, which has been a contentious subject for several months.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has suggested a “pork chop” approach, allowing only right-in, right-out traffic from Hwy. 12.
City Engineer Eric Lembke noted that the current approach to the development from Hwy. 12 is too narrow to accommodate the traffic that will be using it, and it needs to be widened.
Any modification to the approach, which is in MnDOT’s right-of-way, requires a permit from MnDOT, Lembke noted.
It is Oppidan’s stance that it does not need a permit, and that the current approach is wide enough to accommodate the traffic that will be using it.
“We’re going to fight it, but that’s a fight with MnDOT,” Ryan said about the permit. “It is a very different development today than it was before MnDOT became involved.”
The resolution approving the site plan was adopted with the condition that Oppidan comes to a resolution with MnDOT, and re-designs the access to the satisfaction of the city engineer.
Another concern Lembke raised was wetland impacts at the site, and the need for a wetland delineation during the growing season, which has been communicated to Oppidan several times.
A wetland delineation establishes the existence or location of wetland, along with its physical limits, or size.
A Wetland Conservation Act permit and a permit from the Army Corp of Engineers may be needed based on the findings of wetland delineation, which is not expected to be complete until late May or June.
In an effort to forego permitting and begin construction sooner, the plan for the storm sewer relocation at the site was changed slightly by Oppidan.
However, Lembke pointed out that the change then brought the storm sewer too close to the building, and recommended approving the original plan to which Ryan conceded.
“We are hopeful to get a (building) permit and start development away from the site (of the wetland),” Ryan said.
The areas of the site that may require permits include a wetland on the northeast corner, and the ditch along Wright County Road 3.
The resolution approving the site plan includes a condition that Oppidan use the utility plan from the March 10 version of the site plan, specifically in regard to the location of the storm sewer.
The issues raised by the county attorney are related to the legal description of the property, easements, and rights of way.
Although all of the issues raised by the attorney can be addressed, Beatty had not heard from the title company, or the county surveyor for answers.
The resolutions approving the site plan and plats were adopted with the condition that the issues raised by Beatty would be resolved to his satisfaction before the final plat is signed and released by the city.
Additional conditions included in the resolution approving the plats include the payment of any outstanding administrative fees relating to the processing of the plat application; providing proof that the property has been acquired by the applicant (Oppidan); and, recording the plat with Wright County within 60 days of approval.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• adopted a resolution vacating drainage and utility easements for the Shopko development;
• adopted a resolution approving the tax increment funding agreement for Oppidan;
• adopted a resolution approving a variance for parking lot size for the Shopko development; and,
• adopted a resolution approving a personnel policy revision and a 2015 benefit transition plan for city employees.