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New transfer station gets CUP

The Park Rapids Planning Commission has recommended that the city grant a conditional use permit (CUP) for a new indoor solid waste transfer station.

The decision took place Monday during a meeting that included public hearings about the permit request as well as two zoning requests.

The CUP was requested by Josh Holte, Hubbard County Solid Waste administrator, to allow construction of a 20,600-square-foot building at 812 Henrietta Ave. S., in a district currently in process to be annexed into the city.

According to city planner Ryan Mathisrud, the annexation is crucial to the project because current building codes require the facility to be connected to city utilities — for example, to provide water service for a fire sprinkler system.

He said city staff recommended approval of the request, with a condition requiring a permit from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System to mitigate groundwater issues.

During the public hearing about the CUP, resident Sandy Eberhart said she supports the project, but she had a safety concern about traffic on Henrietta Avenue between Eighth Street and the transfer station driveway, a short way farther south.

Eberhart, who lives across Henrietta Avenue from the transfer station, said she has been watching traffic through the area recently while recovering from surgery at home.

"I hear the screeching tires. I hear people swearing and yelling and honking," she said.

One of the problems, Eberhart said, is the offset between Eighth Street and transfer station entrance. She asked county staff about whether a turn lane and a bypass lane could be added, but they told her the roadway was too narrow.

"The snowmobile and ATV trail runs right here," said Eberhart, indicating their location along Henrietta on a map. "There is a lot of pedestrian, bike and ATV traffic through that area. I've seen horses. The Antique Tractor Club (on Eighth Street) now has weddings, reunions, Legends and Logging Days. The traffic coming out of here is incredible. People coming down Henrietta who do not want to go to the transfer station swing out, even though it's illegal, and go around this car" that is waiting to turn into the transfer station.

She described frequently seeing drivers turn off Eighth Street and immediately stop in front of southbound traffic to turn left into the transfer station, or turn out of the facility and stop in front of northbound traffic to turn left onto Eighth.

"I've seen people actually throw themselves into the ditch so they don't get run over," Eberhart said. "I've watched a young woman who runs with a stroller every day come through here. Because of the safety of the public, I think you need to do something."

Eberhart acknowledged that straightening the offset intersection may be impractical because the city would have to buy property from a landowner north of the transfer station.

She suggested extending 12th Street across Henrietta to the south of the transfer station, where there is a trail through the woods east of St. Peter's Cemetery, and moving the facility's entrance to that side.

Commissioner Thomas Petschl argued there are no traffic problems in the area, based on what he has seen, and that any problems that do exist are due to "lousy driving." He recommended teaching people to drive better.

"I think the intersection is dangerous," Eberhart insisted. "It needs to be looked at. If you could move it, to make it a safer intersection, this would be the time to do it."

Chair Richard Bradow said he has seen the issues Eberhart described.

"That's a bad spot," said Bradow. "People coming off of Eighth do what she says they're doing."

Holte noted the solid waste facility was permitted in 1988 and again in 2007 without traffic issues being an impediment, and he did not think the new building will bring additional traffic.

Commissioner Sam Spaeth pointed out that the senior residential units opening soon at Crystal Brook, just down Henrietta Street, will bring more garbage to the transfer station, while traffic along County Road 6 (Henrietta Avenue) is increasing as the town grows.

Petschl argued Crystal Brook will have one hauler transporting its residents' garbage to the transfer station.

When Bradow supported Spaeth's view that traffic on Cty. 6 is increasing, Petschl suggested, "Close Eighth, then. That would eliminate a lot of problems from people jutting out. It's hardly used for anything, anyway, except for one time a year when the tractor club has something."

Planning assistant Carmen Lockhart noted the tractor club books an event almost every weekend.

Bradow asked Mathisrud for advice about how to move forward. Mathisrud said a decision about the request is required by law within 60 days, with the possibility of a 60-day extension.

Asked how this would affect his project, Holte said it could cause problems with construction scheduled for July.

Mathisrud said the commission's options included extending the time window and requiring a formal traffic study before approving the request; asking the sheriff's office for a traffic incident report, then making a decision; approving the CUP request with a traffic study as a condition, or denying the request.

A motion to add the sheriff's incident report into conditions of the permit passed, with Petschl opposed. Passed without dissent was a motion by Liz Stone to recommend approval of the CUP by the city council.

Bylaw change

During the meeting, Bruce Johnson read the oath of office as the newest member of the planning commission.

Liz Stone, the city council representative on the planning commission, had been elected vice chair but was not sworn in, due to a bylaw preventing ex officio members from being an officer.

Asked what the commission's options were regarding Stone's election, Mathisrud said they could either elect a different person as vice chair or change the bylaw.

Petschl said the bylaw should be changed. "If you have someone who is willing, there is no use forcing it on somebody who may not be willing," he said. "I don't see any conflict of interest."

Bradow asked Mathisrud what it would take to change the bylaw. Mathisrud said staff would have to draft the change and bring it to the commission's next meeting for recommendation to the city council for final approval.

Commissioner Sam Spaeth said, "It seems like every time we want to do something, we change the law. Why don't we live by the laws we have now?"

It was noted the bylaws were changed in 2015 to allow the city council representative to vote on the commission.

Petschl moved to have staff draft an amended bylaw allowing ex officio members to serve as an officer on the commission. Seconded by Nancy Newman, the motion passed with Spaeth opposed.

Other requests

Commissioners recommended that the city council approve a request by owners James and Kathryn Ahrens and purchaser Bruce Bolton to change the zoning of a .24-acre property at 207 Pleasant Avenue from B-2 General Business to R-B Residential Business Transitional, allowing Bolton to convert a former clinic and office building into a residential triplex.

Mathisrud said city staff recommended approval, on the condition that a walking path be added along the parking area behind the building.

The motion to approve the request passed over Spaeth's opposition.

The commission also recommended approval of a zoning request from Arch Simonson with Bemidji Management Co., LLC, to rezone two .16-acre parcels at 105 Park Ave. N. and 106 Main Ave. N. from R-2 Single/Two-Family/Townhouse District to B-1 Highway Business District, and one .03-acre parcel at 104 Main Ave. N. from B-2 to B-1.

These requests are part of an effort by the developer to consolidate several properties on the north side of Highway 34, between Main Street and Highway 71, and replat them as a single commercial property. Several residential houses, a pet grooming business, and two gas stations now stand or previously stood on these lots.

Mathisrud said city staff endorsed the request with conditions including treatment of the property as a brownfield site, restricting groundwater infiltration from the previous filling stations.

Mathisrud said the developer plans to build a convenience store, gas station and car wash on half of the property and to reserve the other half for another commercial use.

As a separate item of business, the commission also recommended that the city sell Simonson a narrow parcel in the project area with an alley running through it, held by fee title.

Mathisrud said Simonson needs to buy the alley before he can replat the project area. As a condition of the sale, Simonson would make a right of way available for utilities under the alley.

The next city planning commission meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, May 28 at the public library.