By Jennifer Von Ohlen
COKATO, MN Residents of Trailstone Drive southwest of Cokato shared their concerns with the Cokato City Council Oct. 24 regarding the Trailstone extension and overlay project currently underway.
The project focuses on extending Trailstone Drive to accommodate the new Elim Mission Church building scheduled to be constructed in spring 2018. The church will be located at the back of that development.
Since the city hopes to eventually sell 16 vacant lots also in the Trailstone area, the council approved combining the extension project with an overlay project back in May so the land would not have to be disrupted again to install water and sewer lines for the homes expected to be built there.
The city obtained ownership of the lots and the one purchased by Elim Mission Church through forfeiture.
Trailstone residents requested a special meeting with the council to voice their concerns, which include increased traffic, existing covenants, lack of communication, and sound and light pollution.
Since the Trailstone extension would serve as a back entrance to Elim Mission Church, many residents were worried about increased traffic on their street.
“We have a curved road with poor visibility and a hill, and houses coming down on that hill,” shared resident Carol Impola. “We have over 30 kids in our neighborhood, including some handicapped children. And you’re talking about channeling them through that street. That doesn’t even sound safe to me at all.”
In response, Elim Mission Church elder Cary Linder told the residents the church’s main entrance would be off of Highway 12. When Trailstone resident Greg Peterson asked what could be done by the residents and the church to encourage church-goers to take the main entrance over the Trailstone exit, Linder acknowledged a sign may be placed along Highway 12 to help promote that route.
One Trailstone resident asked why the church felt it was necessary to have two entrances, since several other churches of similar attendance have only one. Linder responded, “It’s just one of those opportunities that the site presents. If the city ever develops around us, there’s going to need to be some kind of arrangement made for access to infrastructure and other things.”
City Administrator Annita Smythe added that Trailstone Drive was originally intended to extend to Highway 12 anyway, as Linder also noted. Now it will end at the Elim Mission Church property. From there, the church may use the land as it desires.
It was suggested that the church’s second entrance could connect to 53rd Street directly, thus avoiding Trailstone Drive altogether, but the council feared doing so would add another few thousand dollars to the project.
Council Member Jarod Sebring sympathized with the residents’ concerns for safety, sharing that he lives close to Cokato Elementary and had the same concern for his daughter regarding the school traffic.
“Nothing has come of it,” he said. “People come slow. They know that there are people there that live there; they respect the community.
“If you had to drive in someone’s [residential] community, you’re not going to tear through it, are you? You’re going to go through and go, ‘There might be kids here. Might be a family here. I see bikes; there might be young ones.’ So, you guys take caution when you go through other people’s communities, and I’m sure people are going to do the same to you. I don’t think anyone is going to intentionally disrespect you or your community, or tear through it just because they’re going to church.”
Residents did clarify that none of them object to having Elim Mission Church nearby. They are simply concerned about traffic safety.
“I think as a whole within our development we’re very happy to have the church,” stated resident Rob Jurmu. “It isn’t our intent to fight with anybody.”
In addition to traffic concerns, there was also a question as to whether the city violated the neighborhood’s covenants, which Trailstone residents insisted are still in effect. The last recorded covenant they had was from 2006, which self-renews (to no opposition) every 10 years.
Smythe informed the residents and council members that when the city possessed the land through forfeiture, any existing covenants were not included with the deeds, and therefore are no longer active to those lots (or the land recently purchased by Elim Mission Church).
Because the city has plans to sell the remaining 16 lots in the future, Council Member Forrest “Butch” Amundsen encouraged Trailstone residents to submit the latest covenant to the council so it can be applied to the unpurchased lots.
None of the council members expressed opposition to this arrangement.
One of the main factors that motivated Trailstone residents to request a special meeting with the city council is feeling they were not informed of the project beforehand.
“I think what has been missing from the beginning is just the communication,” stated Jurmu, explaining that none of the residents, as far as he knew, had received a notice about the extension and overlay project beforehand. Many reported that they didn’t learn of it until construction started.
Amundsen responded by stating the council has been discussing the project for at least four months, which could be found in the meetings’ minutes and the newspaper coverage.
“We did send out a newsletter right at the beginning of the project [around September] that attempted to outline the major terms of the project and who to contact with questions,” added Smythe.
The residents did not recall receiving the newsletter, and stated an official notice to each of them wasn’t “too much to ask for,” considering not all of them get the newspaper or try to access the council minutes.
Mayor Gordy Erickson made the comment, “I understand that not everybody gets the paper. [The meeting minutes] are also posted on the doors out here; if you’re ever uptown, just stop by and see. But yeah, there are [other] ways of communication and we’ll have to get better at that.”
Smythe informed the residents that an official notice would have been sent out for a public hearing when Elim Mission Church submitted its site plan/plat, applied for a conditional use permit, and scheduled a date to accept/authorize those.
As the meeting came to a close, Smythe and Amundsen encouraged the residents to bring the latest covenant agreements before the council to have them applied to the vacant. City engineer Josh Halvorson was also identified as the primary contact person for any questions that arise. The residents were also encouraged to attend the next planning and zoning meeting relating to the development of Elim Mission Church, where sound and light pollution concerns will be addressed. That meeting will be determined at a later date.
The council also had a special meeting Oct. 24 to discuss the Highway 12 resurfacing project. Coverage will appear in the Friday, Nov. 3 edition of the Enterprise Dispatch.