Nancy Edmonds Hanson
A full house of residents anxious to speak greeted the Moorhead City Council at its meeting Tuesday. They were drawn to comment on three issues on the agenda — tax abatements for an apartment project, potential special assessments for the Southeast Main/20th-21st Street railroad underpass, and a simmering issue of who should manage the Economic Development Authority’s director.
By meeting’s end, council members had approved the first, a four-year property tax abatement for the 33-unit apartment building at 1601 Eighth St. S. Discussion of the other two hot-button issues was leading up to council votes scheduled to take place at a special meeting June 4.
The apartment building proposed by Rock Development, a partnership of T & M Graham Management and Matt Baasch, previously received approval for rezoning the west end of the block to match the surrounding area’s mixed-use designation. The resolution approved Tuesday grants a four-year property tax abatement of $52,800, or $13,200 per year.
Several south Moorhead residents spoke in opposition to the changing character of the neighborhood along Eighth Street South. The four-story building on 16th Avenue – one story higher than condominiums directly to its south and the Eventide residence to the north – is out of scale with its surroundings, one speaker said, and will be “taller than the treetops.”
Most complaints centered on the jarring contemporary architecture and upkeep of the Red Door Apartments, the Graham company’s rental property completed in 2016 close to Concordia College. They objected to its corrugated metal over wood frame construction with accents, and also cited past complaints about weeds and lack of snow removal. Council members pointed out that the Red Door was not the focus, and that the proposed building on 16th Avenue is not expected to share the same esthetics.
The greatest number of comments were generated by the city engineering department’s request for a resolution preserving the eventual option of special assessments to help fund the railroad underpass project near Moorhead High School. City engineer Bob Zimmerman summarized his presentation on costs and options made at last week’s public hearing, which drew about 75 residents.
He has asked the council to pass a resolution that keeps the door open to issuing a bond to cover the gap in funding – the difference between the state’s appropriation, BNSF Railway’s contribution and other identified sources and the rising price tag for completing the project. Construction bids came in about $7 million over estimates, as did the amount to be paid for the railroad’s work. Review of project specs with low-bidder Ames Construction has led to identification of $2 to $2.5 million in potential savings, Zimmerman reported. The bonding bill passed by the Legislature, which appropriates an additional $6 million beyond its initial $42 million package, is on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
Zimmerman emphasized at the public hearing and again to the council that its approval of the enabling resolution is not a decision on special assessments – how much or even whether they’ll be assessed. It leaves the door open. If that route is chosen, additional hearings would be held in Fall 2019, and assessments wouldn’t begin until at least 2020. Based on his department’s best guess of total cost – a number that continues to evolve – the worst-case scenario, he said, was originally $775 over 20 years for a 1-acre lot. Changes already identified would reduce that to $335, or $17.50 per year. A final vote to maintain the option of issuing the bond, if it becomes necessary, is scheduled for next Monday.
The final agenda item drawing public input was the proposal to bring the city’s economic development director under the framework of city government. Currently the EDA director reports directly to the EDA’s governing board, which includes four appointed members plus representatives of the council, three at-large members, Moorhead Public Service, Moorhead Business Association and Moorhead Business Association. The change would assign oversight the city manager.
EDA president Charley Johnson and board member Bruce Bekkerus spoke against changing the current structure, which took effect three years ago. “The EDA has seen three years of good results under this arrangement, after 33 years of very little in the way of progress when the director was part of city government,” Bekkerus noted. “Deals have been done. Buildings are being built. I’m grateful for the clarity director Cindy Graffeo has brought to this position and the EDA.”
Several council members reflected on their support of the realignment or questions about reasons for bringing the director back under the city’s management structure. Council member Heidi Durand said, “I’ve very glad we’re not voting on this until next week. I’m still gathering information.”
In other matters, the council:
· Declared Growing Season 2018 the “year of garden beets” as part of Clay County Extension Service’s One Community, One Vegetable program.
· Proclaimed World Recycling Day, June 5, “A Day Without Plastic Pollution” in Moorhead, highlighting the blight caused by unrecycled plastic bags – estimated to amount to 52,400 pounds per supermarket per year.