By TERRY LEHRKE
The Little Falls City Council accepted a large gift Monday — about 20.6 acres of land from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
The 20.6 acres of land is located on Heron Road (old Trunk Highway 371), adjacent to Prairie Drive, south of Edmund Street by the bus garage and behind Living Hope Church. It is about a half mile long narrow curved piece of land, between 250 – 300 feet wide, located about two miles north of downtown Little Falls.
The city had been looking at options to trade or barter this land with the MnDOT for several years, said Public Works Director Jerry Lochner.
Earlier this year, MnDOT had requested the city extend utilities on this portion of road and make surface and/or utility improvements and to add road, curb, gutter, sanitary sewer mains and sewer service lines, water mains and water service lines, so it could build a truck maintenance station near the land.
The city considered making the improvements at a cost of $137,395, because it considered the land valuable as a future recreation area.
However, MnDOT withdrew its request because it wanted the work done quickly. Having to work with Sante Fe Burlington Railroad would have pushed building on that area further into the future than MnDOT wanted.
To proceed at a quicker pace, MnDOT chose a different route gaining access for their facility off Pine Avenue and 11th Street, near Herzog Roofing, said Lochner. “In that corner is public right of way with utilities,” he said.
Lochner said he knew that in some instances in the past, MnDOT would offer land for public use for $1. But, when checking with MnDOT, the city learned it had changed its policy, but was willing to sell the land to the city.
“In the end, they actually came up with about $5,000 an acre for a price,” said Lochner. “About $100,000 for the property.”
Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem and Lochner met with Sen. Paul Gazelka and his staff member, Ken Swecker. They asked the senator to investigate the possibilities.
VanRisseghem said she found out through Gazelka’s office that MnDOT thought the city was going to purchase the land and sell it to a developer.
Once that was cleared up, said VanRisseghem, MnDOT called to meet with VanRisseghem and Lochner and told them the land would be the city’s — at no charge, provided it would forever, the city’s and remain land for public use.
MnDOT requires the city to use it as public land only, forever. It can never be sold, exchanged or traded.
Now that the city has accepted the land from MnDOT, uses for the land will be discussed by the city’s Park Board. The Park Board will then make its recommendations to the Council. The Council will make the final decision, said Lochner.
In the meantime, the city will be responsible for maintenance of the land.
Lochner said at one time, the Boys and Girls Club had been interested in the land, and perhaps a joint usage may be considered. A bike and trail system is already in place for one mile of the route from Little Falls, he noted.
What needs to be decided, “Are the options and possibilities in the future, to make it the most useful and efficient for multi-recreational uses in our community,” said Lochner.
VanRisseghem said the Park Board is familiar with thoughts for the land, including the possibility of a community center.
Some of the ideas mentioned Monday night for the land’s use included the splash pad, skate park, disc golf or even a baseball park.
“It will be used for the kids in town,” said VanRisseghem. “I can’t assume anything until the Park Board works with it. Once all of that works together and public input is given on it, then we’ll work toward getting grants.”
Little Falls City Council Briefs
In other business at Monday’s meeting, the Little Falls City Council:
• During its work session received budget projections for April. Finance Officer Lori Kasella said the projections for the golf course looked “really good,” with revenue of $16,000 compared to the same time in 2011, which was $7,000. She said it’s likely due to the weather being better than average and memberships being purchased earlier, which may show up in lower May numbers;
• Discussed a request for an exception to the city’s dog ordinance, which allows residents to have two dogs. Before making any decision, the Council asked for input from the Police Department and from the Morrison County Animal Humane Society;
• Learned during its work session that the county’s solid waste ordinance could be enforced within the city, to force cleanup of a home that burned down in Northeast Little Falls in December 2011;
• Noted during its work session that the city hadn’t heard from its attorney about allowing “overnight stays” as opposed to “camping” at Le Bourget Park as requested by the West Side Improvement Association for its Antiques and Collectibles Fair vendors;
• Received a report on new city lights from City Engineer Don Anderson to use state aid funds to replace a number of the city’s 200 street lights and poles with taller poles that include low emitting diode (LED) bulbs to save the city money;
• Approved a work order from contractor J.R. Ferche Inc. requesting $12,151.05 for work needed to complete the 18th Street Northeast improvement project this spring. Work was delayed because of the state government shutdown in July 2011, so the final layer of bituminous pavement could not be placed until this spring. Because of the delay, the cost for the mixture increased by $5.78 from last year to this year, cost the city an additional $6,000;
• Approved the installation of a stop sign on Third Street Southeast at Second Avenue Southeast, stopping east/west traffic;
• Authorized vacating a portion of Eighth Avenue Northeast between Fifth and Sixth Streets Northeast;
• Approved a request from Janell Osborn to allow an animal hospital and/or clinic on her property located at 305 W. Broadway, with conditions;
• Approved the Planning Commission’s recommendation to zone property on Hilton Road owned by Dennis and Kimberly Lind and Gerald and Catherine Gwost as one and two-family residential (R1), as are the surrounding properties. The Linds and Gwosts had requested their property be annexed into the city, and the zoning to R1 was necessary to accommodate the annexation;
• Approved unanimously to approve Ordinance 39 which grants Minnesota Power a nonexclusive franchise to construct, operate, repair and maintain within the city of Little Falls. The Council also approved publishing a summary of the ordinance;
• Approved Ordinance 37 which authorizes a natural gas franchise fee be charged to CenterPoint Energy for each property it serves in the city. CenterPoint Energy collects the fee from properties and submits the fees to the city on a quarterly basis;
• Approved the purchase of $23,909 worth of playground equipment to be erected at Lions Park on Southeast Fourth Street as requested by the Little Falls Lions. The Lions asked that the city pay for the equipment with the Lions reimbursing 100 percent of the costs to the city;
• Awarded a $9,742.57 quote to Eric Johnson of Blacktop Renovators to complete pavement and curb painting for 2012, to be charged to the Street Department budget. It is annual maintenance to paint stop bars, crosswalk lines, blocks, arrows and other pavement markings;
• Heard a request from resident Robin Hensel that, “Going forward, all meetings that happen in this city, whether they’re in the conference room or here (Council Chambers) be videotaped so that people who are disabled or work during the times these meeting are happening, or don’t drive, don’t have a car or don’t have a way to get the information, have full public access to this public information; and
• Declined to answer several questions posed by Hensel on advice of legal counsel, due to Hensel’s pending litigation against the city.
The Little Falls City Council’s next meeting will be held Monday, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.