Star News » Government The Star News covers community news, sports, current events and provides advertising and information for Elk River, Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman, Minnesota and their surrounding areas. Tue, 28 Jul 2015 20:00:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sportech, Morrell on the grow Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:53:19 +0000 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Two local companies’ plans for expansion have been given a boost by the Elk River City Council.

The council voted on Monday to approve  a property tax abatement for Sportech and a property tax abatement and a loan for Morrell Companies.

The property tax abatement to Sportech is for up to $1.29 million and up to 20 years.

Sportech is buying two lots totaling 14 acres from the city in the Nature’s Edge Business Center, where the company plans to expand by building a 105,000-square-foot facility with an estimated taxable value of $5.2 million. Once completed, it’s estimated that the project will generate $216,383 in total property taxes a year, with the city’s share of property taxes abated approximately $49,136 annually, according to Amanda Othoudt, Elk River’s economic development director.

The building site is located near Highway 10 and the Northstar station.

The city had earlier agreed to sell the lots at the appraised value of $1.29 million. Sportech will pay $1 at closing and the city will be reimbursed through the abatement of city, and possibly county, taxes collected on the property.

Othoudt said if Sherburne County participates, the city should be able to recoup the land price in 12 to 14 years. Once the land price is recouped, the tax abatement would end.

If Sherburne County doesn’t participate, Othoudt said it’s not expected that the full value of the land would be recouped over the 20-year term of the abatement.

Sportech specializes in the design and production of products and accessories for the powersports industry. The company employs about 200 people now and plans to create at least 72 new jobs with the expansion, according to Annie Deckert of Decklan Group. There is also room on the site for a future expansion.

City approves loan, abatement for the  Morrell expansion  

The City Council also voted Monday to approve a property tax abatement of up to $121,905 and up to 15 years for Scott Morrell LLC. The abatement will allow Morrell Companies to buy four acres of property in Nature’s Edge Business Center from the city for $349,351 and to support annual cash flow for debt service on the $2.4 million project, Othoudt said.

The company plans to build a 14,000-square-foot wash facility, light duty maintenance  shop and office space with an estimated taxable value of $859,000.

Once completed, it’s estimated the project will generate $35,311 in total property taxes a year, with the city’s share of property taxes abated approximately $8,107 annually.

The facility will be built at 10755 170th Circle, next door to Morrell’s existing operation. Sherburne County will also consider a property tax abatement request.

Additionally, the City Council approved a $200,000 Jobs Incentive Mircoloan for the Morrell project. The loan program’s goal is to encourage the growth of new jobs and the retention of existing jobs, Othoudt said. The company employs 105 people and plans to add eight full-time equivalents with the expansion, she said.

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Plan to ease congestion on Highway 10 in Anoka reviewed Wed, 22 Jul 2015 11:27:51 +0000 by Mandy Moran Froemming

ECM Publishers

Tired of the slowdown on Highway 10 while commuting in and out of Anoka?

Help is on the way.

The Anoka City Council first had a look at the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Highway 10 Access Planning Study in November 2014.

The city accepted the study, but there were things that needed more refinement, said Greg Lee, Anoka’s public works director and city engineer.

“We took the study that MnDOT had previously done and refined it to fit in with Anoka’s values, our businesses and neighborhoods to make it fit within our community,” Lee said.

Anoka hired Bolton and Menk to investigate alternatives for improving Highway 10.

The most glaring example of disagreement was the intersection at Fairoak Avenue. The MnDOT study called for that connection to be severed and the signal lights removed.

That option didn’t sit will with several members of the City Council, particularly Council Member Jeff Weaver.

He has seen neighborhoods divided with highways 10 and 47 bisecting the heart of Anoka and doesn’t want the same thing to happen at Fairoak and Verndale avenues.

“I don’t want to leave that neighborhood isolated by taking away the connection they’ve historically had,” Weaver said.

While the new plan doesn’t allow for access to and from Highway 10 at Fairoak, the local street will remain intact will eventually run underneath Highway 10 when the intersection is improved.

An estimated 50,000-60,000 vehicles travel through Anoka on Highway 10 each day.

Drivers are faced with back-ups more than a mile long during rush hours where the speeds average 19 mph on the highway rated for 60 mph.

It is also a dangerous stretch of roadway, according to information presented by Bolton and Menk.

There have been 785 crashes in the past 10 years – four of them fatal. This is three times the average crash rate for similar state highways, and the accidents are four times more severe.

The $78.8 million “Anoka Solution” supported unanimously by the council Monday, July 6, promises a 75 percent reduction in delays and a 67 percent reduction in crashes.

Improving connections to local streets with the addition of a parkway and local frontage roads will also let drivers travel locally without having to hop on and off Highway 10, often just for the length of a single exit.

“Those are really big deals in my opinion for us and all of the people who use 10,” said Council Member Steve Schmidt, citing the reduction in delays, crash rates and the ease of traveling around Anoka.

The “Anoka Solution” has been broken down into eight standalone projects, listed in the order they will likely be implemented:

•Green Haven Parkway phase one will reduce the number of local trips on Highway 10 by adding a new street to connect Thurston Avenue and Garfield Street. This will allow drivers to get between Thurston and Main Street on local roadways.

•Green Haven Parkway phase two will provide a new connection between Verndale and Fairoak avenues, and close Verndale’s access to Highway 10.

•South frontage road phase one will provide a connection from Cutters Grove to the existing frontage road. This will eliminate a common shortcut through private parking lots.

•South frontage road phase two will finish the local connection between Fairoak and Main Street while reconfiguring the interchange at West Main as a roundabout. This ties Highway 10 businesses to downtown Anoka.

•Green Haven Parkway phase three will be a new street that ties into the existing frontage road and move traffic away from the busy four-way stop.

•Riverdale Drive extension provides south-side frontage to Highway 10 at Anoka’s border with Ramsey and will eliminate numerous access points to the highway.

•Fairoak Avenue signal removal will address the intersection that causes the most delay and safety issues in the region. Plans are to close Fairoak’s access to Highway 10 and turn the local street into an underpass. Highway 10 will need to be elevated 14 feet and Fairoak lowered 8 feet. This will also provide safe pedestrian and bike crossings of Highway 10.

•Thurston Avenue signal removal tackles the second-most problematic intersection in the region. Improvements will include grade separation with access. Highway 10 will shift to the south and will be elevated 20 feet. Thurston will be lowered 2 feet.

The Thurston and Fairoak intersections will be the costliest fixes, with estimates at $25.3 million for Fairoak and $31.9 million for Thurston.

The construction of Green Haven Parkway is the only project with a timeline at this point. The first two phases will be built in 2016 and 2017, according to the plan.

“This has been on the radar and literally in the works for greater than 10 years and possibly even 20 years,” Mayor Phil Rice said. “When we look at these kinds of projects and these kinds of dollars, they obviously don’t happen overnight.”

Anoka’s preferred plan does add to the overall price tag, increasing $22 million from MnDOT’s earlier estimates.

The “Anoka Solution” has been presented to Highway 10 property and business owners, as well as neighboring cities, MnDOT and Anoka County.

City Manager Tim Cruikshank said it has been well-received.

Representatives from the cities of Anoka, Andover, Ramsey, Coon Rapids – along with Anoka County – have formed an informal coalition with the common goal of Highway 10 improvements.

“The good news, at least for us in Anoka, is now that the Ramsey project is underway, the focus amongst everyone in the coalition is this segment through Anoka,” Cruikshank said. “It all comes down to money, and we at least need to get $78.8 million for our segment.”

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City awards HGKi for downtown park design Tue, 14 Jul 2015 11:00:53 +0000 by Paul Rignell

Contributing Writer

The city of Elk River developed its downtown River’s Edge Commons Park and amphitheater in 2006, and the summer Riverfront Concert Series opened there in 2007.

By 2013, city leaders saw that the Thursday night concerts often drew crowds of more than 1,500 people and they realized a need to consider park expansion.

City staff presented Mayor John Dietz and other council members with a concept plan for park improvements last April, and with council’s consent the staff then issued a request for proposals to attract a consulting firm for drafting a design and estimating costs.

The city received three quotes, and council at its July 6 meeting awarded this contract to Minneapolis firm Hoisington Koegler Group Inc., aka HKGi. Elk River worked with the same firm when establishing the park nine years ago. Council approved HKGi’s recent quote at $46,700, to be covered through the Park Improvement Fund.

A consulting firm based in St. Paul had quoted $37,900, but city staff reported the details of that firm’s proposal did not sufficiently match the city’s objectives as stated in the request for proposals.

State law allows cities to consider the “lowest responsible bidder” when contracting for professional services. A third metro-area firm quoted $68,955 in response to Elk River’s request.

The concert series’ next featured group will be the Minneapolis Police Band, performing July 16. The rest of this summer’s schedule is booked weekly, with Martin Zellar and band The Hardways slated to play for local fans at the season finale Aug. 20.

When the 2016 schedule begins next early June, concertgoers will find expanded seating and new retaining walls in the park’s upper parking lot as the hallmarks from this upcoming first phase of planned improvements.

Realistically, HKGi and other potential consulting firms read in the request for proposals that the city would consider a start to construction Monday, Aug. 24.

However, staff advised that most quality developers are busy and deep into their peak construction seasons and developers may be more eager for some spring work next year and could lower their bids accordingly during a winter bidding process.

Moreover, Dietz shared reports from park office staff that they have fielded calls from people wishing to reserve the park for special events in the early fall, and staff has had to reply with uncertainty on whether the park would be open for use.

The mayor said the city would need to learn as soon as possible from HKGi whether the firm will recommend winter bidding for spring work to allow for open scheduling at the park through September and October.

“I think we need to refine those (details),” Dietz said.

“If we don’t know until the end of August if (the park) is going to be closed or not, that doesn’t do anyone any good,” said Council Member Jennifer Wagner.

Councilmember Matt Westgaard concurred that it is a problem to leave the public unaware on the issue of park rentals this fall, but he added, “I’m a little uncomfortable saying we’re moving forward with this (expansion), not knowing what it’s going to cost.”

Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker said the city is likely to know by late July whether HKGi will recommend a fall closing for construction before winter, or if the firm believes winter bids would be of more benefit. He told the council to expect the firm’s cost estimates for the first phase at a meeting Aug. 3.

The request for proposals dictated that any spring work must be finished by May 27 in time to debut the expanded seating for next June’s concerts.

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Wright County delays crime lab action Tue, 14 Jul 2015 11:00:49 +0000 by John Holler

Special to the Star News

For the past two months, much of the discussion at the Wright County Board of Commissioners has centered on whether Wright County would remain part of the Tri-County Forensics Laboratory, pointing at June 23 as the date the county would vote whether to serve Anoka and Sherburne counties notice that, if the funding formula doesn’t change, Wright County would pull out of the joint powers agreement.

When the day of the June 23 meeting finally arrived, the board passed a 3-2 vote to delay taking any action until September. The discussion almost ended when it began when the first comment on the issue came from Commissioner Mark Daleiden, whose initial remark was to make a motion.

“I’ll make a motion to table this until the first meeting in September so the board has time to tour the Tri-County lab,” Daleiden said. “I want to have discussions with other counties before we do anything rash.”

The motion was quickly seconded by Commissioner Christine Husom, who said that, had Daleiden not made the motion, she would have.

“I was going to ask the same thing, so we can invite the other counties to our Aug. 11 meeting,” Husom said. “We’ve had these different discussions – Anoka County has had theirs, Sherburne County has had theirs, we’ve had ours. I want to get all of the commissioners together to discuss this.”

With a motion and a second proffered in less than one minute, the matter went to discussion – which would last for almost a half hour.

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke came to the June 23 meeting armed with dozens of documents from the minutes of previous county board meetings and Tri-County lab committee meetings that emphasized the point that Wright County has been contending the funding formula policy. He pointed out that as early as December 2007 – before the facility even opened – Wright County had objections on the record to the funding formula, adding that statements made by Sherburne County Board members directly conflict with what the minutes stated.

“Over time, history seems to change,” Sawatzke said. “Even people that were part of history seem to change history in the statements they make and the things that they say.”

Commissioner Charlie Borrell said that his problem with the Tri-County lab isn’t so much the funding formula, it’s the cost. Wright County pays almost $400,000 a year to be a member of the Tri-County lab, when they could hire an employee at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab who is dedicated to processing only evidence from Wright County at a cost of about $89,000 a year with the same speed and quality of service the county is getting for four times the price.

“I don’t know if this needs to get postponed; I think we should deal with it now,” Borrell said. “I want to do what’s best for Wright County. Just as when Sherburne County pulled out of River Rider, it was to their benefit. That’s why they made a vote to do it. I’m prepared to just withdraw from the organization. Even if I went over there and it was as good as it could possibly be, it doesn’t make economic sense. If we wanted to put a dedicated person for Wright County, we could do it at the (BCA) crime lab for way less money. I just don’t see this panning out economically for our county. I don’t need to postpone it. We just need to give our notice to get out.”

Daleiden said he may well end up agreeing with Borrell, but given the investment the county has made, he wanted the extra time to research and discuss the matter. The question on the motion was called and the motion to table until the first board meeting of September passed 3-2 – with Sawatzke and Borrell voting against the motion.

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Auto tuning shop turning down the noise levels Tue, 14 Jul 2015 11:00:30 +0000 by Paul Rignell

Contributing Writer

An Elk River auto tuning shop owner is taking steps to correct issues that led to a city review of his conditional use permit in late spring.

At the July 6 City Council meeting, Barton Wells of HiTech Motorsports, at 16820 Highway 10, described measures he has taken for noise reduction at his business in response to neighborhood complaints received by the city.

Council authorized a review of Wells’ permit for operation during a meeting May 18 and announced a public hearing to open on the matter June 15.

To test sound levels, city staff visited Wells’ shop June 19 with a decibel meter borrowed from the Elk River Police Department.

The same staff found decreased sound levels at all testing points in a return visit July 1.

In a continuation of the public hearing, Wells reported July 6 that he had installed soundproofing foam up to 10 feet high on all interior walls as part of a noise reduction effort.

City staff did determine that some of the loudest noise comes when shop employees drive a retuned vehicle out of the business’ rear garage through a north door and around the west end (near some neighboring homes) before heading back toward Highway 10. To avoid bringing cars around that west end, the owner’s legal counsel Michael Hoverson said Wells would consider installing a new exit door on the garage’s south side. He said they would need to get a cost estimate for that and determine whether more concrete placement would violate the city’s permit requirements for green space on the lot.

Hoverson said Wells may eventually end up using a garden tractor to tow retuned vehicles back to the front of his business to avoid running the car engines outside of the garage.

“If none of this can be done (more measures including a new garage door), we’ll tug the cars around,” the attorney said. “Mr. Wells wants to be compliant. There won’t be any noise (directly outside). It’s that simple.”

Council members agreed to move a vote on the HiTech Motorsports permit to Aug. 3, after Wells has more time for study and extra steps.

“I guess, for myself, I give Mr. Wells a lot of credit. I think he’s making every effort here to mitigate the noise and try to be a good neighbor,” Mayor John Dietz said. “You’ve come very far in the last six weeks. I’m willing to go an extra month to see what (more) you can come up with. It seems like you’ve made great strides already.”

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Elk River approves new name for farm Thu, 09 Jul 2015 18:03:29 +0000 William H. Houlton. Photo courtesy of the Sherburne History Center
William H. Houlton. Photo courtesy of the Sherburne History Center

After a spring contest where the Elk River City Council and the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission invited new naming suggestions for the 335-acre William H. Houlton farm, west of downtown at 1801 Main St. N.W., the site with prairie and woods that border the Elk and Mississippi rivers will be known as the William H. Houlton Conservation Area.
The new city land will be preserved as a native wildlife habitat, but also come open to the public in late 2016 for light recreational use that could include fishing, hiking, bird watching, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and limited hunting.
The city received 77 naming entries. A prize of $100 was offered for the most appropriate name, but the anonymous winner deferred that gift to the person whose suggestion was the closest match. That “runner-up” asked for the money to be designated for land improvements on the site.

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Firefighters see pension benefit increase Thu, 09 Jul 2015 18:00:43 +0000 The Elk River City Council has approved an annual pension benefit increase for the city’s volunteer, paid on-call firefighters, now totaling 45 in their ranks. The city’s firefighters are entitled to a full pension through the Elk River Fire Relief Association after age 50 and a minimum 20 years of service.
The agreement will not require more funding from the city beyond what was already in a preliminary budget for 2016. A majority of the ERFRA’s investment comes from Minnesota state fire aid, which is distributed from revenues collected through a tax on fire insurance premiums. Elk River’s share is based on its service area population and property values.
The association’s funds (invested in 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds) are managed by a division of Wells Fargo that also follows pension funds for 64 other fire relief associations in the state.
Elk River’s department saw an average return on investment of 7.3 percent in the past five years, but recent increases are more modest after a recession wiped out some of the funds. The group ended 2014 with an annual return of 4.1 percent. Mayor John Dietz, who serves on a nine-member board of trustees with the city finance director, fire chief and six other fire department members, said it is a conservative group.
“I think a steady course is a good course,” Dietz said.

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Boards recommend naming farm after William H. Houlton Thu, 02 Jul 2015 14:30:54 +0000 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Two city boards are recommending that Houlton Farm in Elk River be formally named the William H. Houlton Conservation Area. The Elk River City Council is slated to make a final decision on the name July 6.

William H. Houlton. Photo courtesy of the Sherburne History Center
William H. Houlton. Photo courtesy of the Sherburne History Center

Houlton was a pioneer settler and a prominent landowner, developer and businessman, according to the book, “Sherburne County Heritage.” He was one of the founders of the First National Bank of Elk River, served in the Minnesota Senate and was a Civil War veteran.

The city acquired the 335-acre Houlton Farm, located at 1801 Main St., late last year and recently sponsored a naming contest for the property.

Seventy-seven names were submitted. Thirty-two of the entries contained the word “Houlton” somewhere in the name. Fifteen submissions contained the word “elk” or “Elk River.” Entries ran the gamut from Two Rivers Nature Preserve and Freedom Valley to Orono Dam Wildlife Area and The River Refuge to Elk River Conservation Area and  Houlton Meadow Nature Preserve.

Both the Houlton Farm Planning Committee and the Elk River Parks and Recreation Commission are recommending that the property be named the William H. Houlton Conservation Area. That name was submitted anonymously.

The Houlton Farm as viewed from the Elk River.
The Houlton Farm as viewed from the Elk River.

Elk River Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Dave Anderson said during last month’s parks commission meeting that William H. Houlton “was a very significant player in the founding of our community.”

Elk River Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker said the planning committee felt it was important that property’s name conveys a historical perspective and promotes conservation.

Five members of the parks commission voted in favor of recommending that the site be named the William H. Houlton Conservation Area.

Commission member Mike Niziolek abstained.

The Trust for Public Land purchased the farm in December from the Houlton Olson family and then conveyed the land to the city. It is not expected to open to the public until the fall of 2016.

Fast facts about William H. Houlton

•Born in 1840 in Houlton, Maine, a town founded by his grandparents and named in their honor.

•Came to Minnesota with his father and settled on a farm near Monticello. Moved to Elk River in 1866.

•Was a member of the 8th Regiment of Minnesota Volunteers and took an active part in the Civil War. The history of the 8th Volunteer Regiment was written by him and published by the state in “The History of Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars.”

•Had a general store in Elk River with his brother, Horatio, and later was engaged in both flour and sawmilling.

•Served as Sherburne County treasurer from 1870 to 1874.

•Served in the Minnesota Senate from 1879 to 1886.

•Was one of the founders and charter members of Union Congregational Church in Elk River.

•Was superintendent of the Minnesota State Reformatory at St. Cloud from 1886 to 1900.

The Houlton building at the corner of Jackson and Main in downtown Elk River dates to 1903.
The Houlton building at the corner of Jackson and Main in downtown Elk River dates to 1903.

•Founded the Houlton Bank — the parent bank of  First National Bank of Elk River — in 1902 in the “Houlton Block” building he built about that time in downtown Elk River. The original bank building was destroyed by fire in 1903. The building was rebuilt and still stands today at the corner of Main and Jackson.

•He and his wife, Freddie Lewis Houlton, had three children, Sam R. Houlton, Lewis K. Houlton and Ruth Houlton.

•William H. Houlton died in 1915.

Source: “Sherburne County Heritage” book

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Pinewood case’s next stop may be Minnesota Supreme Court Thu, 02 Jul 2015 13:59:09 +0000 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

A lawsuit over Elk River’s Pinewood Golf Course may be headed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals in St. Paul heard an appeal in the case in March and issued a ruling June 22.

Elk River City Administrator Cal Portner said the court did not rule in the city’s favor and the city is now going to petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court to review.

“They are not obligated to review, but it may be a case they have an interest in,” Portner said.

He said the city has 30 days to file a petition.

Meanwhile, the course remains closed.

The city had agreed in 2006 to purchase the course at 18150 Waco St. from the Paul and Pamela Krause.

In April 2013, the city sought to renegotiate the final balloon payment by proposing an amendment to the contract for deed that would have reduced that payment from $1.5 million to $800,000. In response, the Krauses sued the city to compel the full payment.

The city’s attorney recommended that the course be closed while the lawsuit is pending, and Pinewood did not open for the 2014 or 2015 seasons.

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Board backs away from recording Mon, 29 Jun 2015 11:00:28 +0000 by Jim Boyle


Sherburne County Commissioners backed away June 16 from a proposal to add video recording capabilities to its board room for $100,000 or less.

IT specialist Brian Kamman prepared the proposal and laid it out for commissioners at a June 2 work session. It appeared it would win approval on June 16, but it derailed instead.

Possible expansion of the Sherburne County Government Center and potential partnerships with other entities that could contribute to a video recording system and shared board room have unraveled talks that appeared headed for action.

Kamman had told commissioners at the June 2 session 80 percent of the cost of the system would be transferable if a building expansion project is undertaken.

County Commissioner Bruce Anderson, who questions why video capabilities were not installed long ago, expressed comfort with that, but had a change of heart. He said now is not the time to pump $98,000 into a board room that may be moved in the future.

“I support it, but I don’t want to see $98,000 tossed out,” he said.

Commissioner Rachel Leonard, who also spoke positively about moving forward at the earlier work session, told Kamman he did what he was asked and did a good job, but there are times when proposals to spend upward of $80,000 to $90,000 get pooh-poohed.

“In my mind that’s a lot of money,” she said.

Sherburne County Commissioner Felix Schmiesing, the lone commissioner still in favor of proceeding, suggested another reason behind the board’s apprehension.

“The decision this board is making is ‘we really don’t want to have our meetings recorded,’ ” he said. “ ‘We don’t want to be as transparent as possible.’ I think that’s a big (loss) for citizens to not be able to watch elected officials. I am disappointed.”

Schmiesing said he believes the public expects meetings to be watchable on modern media devices, but the board continues to find reasons to delay.

Sherburne County is one of just three counties in a 12-county area that do not have their meetings video recorded. Municipal governments within Sherburne County already record their meetings as well.

“We will always have a reason to delay it,” Schmiesing said.

Anderson downplayed that line of thinking, reiterating that taxpayer money could be wasted if they proceed now only to change course later.

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