Roundabout discussion leads to approval

by Dawn Feddesen-Poindexter

Contributing writer

The Otsego City Council approved tax abatement for a new commercial property, and members were divided over the issue of a proposed roundabout at their regular meeting on March 25.

Council approves tax abatement for business

Melissa Lonsky, owner of Family Speech and Therapy Services, approached the city last fall regarding assistance to relocate her Elk River location to a vacant property in Otsego.

Currently, Lonsky is in the middle of a $140,000 renovation of a former day care building, located at 15590 90th St. NE, where she is planning to relocate a satellite office from its current location in Elk River. The main office is located in Andover.

The council unanimously approved a $25,000 tax abatement for the business. City Administrator Lori Johnson informed the council that the improvements to the building will nearly double its current taxable value, thus enabling the city to recapture the money in increased property tax revenue in less than a decade.

In addition to the building improvements, Johnson outlined many other benefits of the new business, including access to important services for residents and creating six new jobs in the city, which pay an average of $60,000. The business could potentially employ 15 in the future.

Council member Tom Darkenwald said, “I think it’s a great project for Otsego. It brings jobs to the community and improves one of our buildings that’s in desperate need of repair. I look forward to when you guys open your doors.”

After rejection, roundabout emerges on split vote

The Otsego Council was narrowly in favor of a roundabout design for the intersection overhaul of 70th Street and CSAH 37. Originally, based on extensive resident feedback, the city had submitted a design to Wright County that was very similar to the intersection’s current layout. Currently, CSAH 37 heads west from TH 101, then curves southwest until it intersects with Interstate 94. The intersection with 70th Street is a minor one where a motorist has to turn onto or off of 70th Street, preserving its residential feel.

But as the city and county have projects slated for the next several years to upgrade 70th Street and connect it from TH 101 to CR 19, county officials rejected the proposed intersection design because of projected increases in traffic on 70th Street. They gave Otsego the option to choose between a roundabout or a T-intersection.

Council member Tom Darkenwald expressed the most adamant dislike of a roundabout design.

“I still don’t know why we’re talking about a roundabout. I’m always open to new ideas but this one’s too much. I’d rather have a T. It makes more sense,” he said.

But other council members and city staff disagreed, concerned that a T-intersection would encourage even more traffic to continue on 70th Street and miss any signage directing them to turn left to stay on CSAH 37.

“People are going to use that route whether they have a roundabout or a T. They’re going to use that route anyway,” Darkenwald countered.

But Mayor Jessica Stockamp was very concerned about honoring the feedback that had been received from residents who live on 70th Street. They favored making an approach to the street appear like a private, residential area so that only locals who know they can cut through would do so, not everyone looking for access across the city or to I-94.

“The residents were very adamant when we were talking about paving that road. We had a few meetings’ worth of conversations,” she said.

City Engineer Ron Wagner summed up the argument in favor of a roundabout, because it forces drivers to slow down before the intersection, by saying, “You want to slow them down because of the decision-making process. Do I want to stay on 37 or go on 70th Street? If they’re going 30 miles per hour, they’re more likely to look for signs rather than flying through a T-intersection and then thinking, ‘What road am I on?’”

The council voted 3-2 to direct staff to work on a roundabout design to present to Wright County.