Home Depot on fast track

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 15, 2001

The proposed Home Depot project on Albert Lea’s east side is on the fast track, and the city council took a step Monday to expedite the store’s construction.

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

The proposed Home Depot project on Albert Lea’s east side is on the fast track, and the city council took a step Monday to expedite the store’s construction.

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To meet a tight summer construction schedule, the council introduced a zoning change ordinance so it can be approved at the council’s next meeting May 29.

The Home Depot site, located just south of Cty. Rd. 46 and Interstate 35, is part of an area currently zoned as B-2 community business district. The Planning Commission recommended Thursday that the area change to a zone that allows for larger plats of land.

&uot;We are on a tight timeline,&uot; City Manager Paul Sparks told the council.

Sparks said the project developers have requested that the city designate the project as a &uot;fast track&uot; development, meaning all public hearings and approvals move ahead as quickly as possible to make way for a development agreement.

&uot;A fast track in the public sector, with all the advertising requirements we have, seems slow. But it’s moving along as fast as we can,&uot; Sparks said.

Sparks said the council may need to hold a special meeting in June or early July to approve construction bids on street and utility improvements. Otherwise, construction may begin too late in the season to allow for a spring opening.

Dennis Klose, a partner in the development, said Home Depot representatives would like to break ground in August and open as early as March 2002. He complimented the city for its long-range planning of the development area and for conducting a comprehensive traffic study.

&uot;This project definitely could not happen on this time frame if you hadn’t done that work and preparation for us,&uot; Klose said. &uot;I think it’s a tremendous growth opportunity for the city of Albert Lea.&uot;

Klose said the Home Depot store would be an attraction for shoppers from across the region and could attract more retailers in the next few years.

Sparks said the council will consider approving the preliminary plat and site plan, along with the zoning change ordinance, in two weeks.

In other council news:

n The council stayed with current tax-increment finance policy and denied apartment developer Michael Swenson’s request to form a district with a 15-year term.

Instead, the council approved a 10-year TIF district, which is consistent with other housing projects.

Swenson approached the board last month with the TIF request. He told the council that the 50-unit apartment complex he wants to build in Albert Lea’s northwest corner would not be financially feasible with a 10-year TIF term.

Swenson said the extra five years would save the project about $90,000 in up-front expenses.

But Sparks said he had reservations about extending the TIF term, fearing it would set an example for future housing developments.

&uot;I don’t know where you should draw the line,&uot; Sparks told the council. &uot;It’s really a policy decision that the council needs to decide.&uot;

After the meeting, Swenson did not comment on the future of the project.

&uot;We need to spend some time on that question and decide if we should move forward,&uot; Swenson said.

n The council approved a resolution to support a loan application on behalf of Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen. The $200,000 low-interest loan from the Southeast Minnesota Initiative Fund would assist the company in a planned $2.5 million expansion, adding about $20,000 square feet of production space.

In a separate action, the council also approved a tax-increment finance district to help the company finance the expansion.

n Marin proposed a last-minute change of plans for the Albert Lea Skate Park Association’s summer location.

Marin asked the council to consider moving the park to the Fountain Lake beach area as a permanent location rather than the temporary summer location at Channel View courts. He told the council the beach location would be suitable to skaters and would eliminate any conflict between the association and local tennis players and teams.

Despite support from Councilor Mary Kron, Marin’s proposal was defeated 5-2. It would have reversed an earlier council decision to give the skate club a temporary location at the Channel View courts until August.

n The council voted to begin a loan foreclosure against North Aire Fabrication Company, a small manufacturer in the North Aire Industrial Park.

Sparks said the company owes the city more than $54,000 in principal from a loan of $60,000 made in December 1998. The company is also behind on a lease agreement with the Albert Lea Port Authority.

n The city council’s next meeting is Tuesday, May 29 instead of the regular Monday meeting due to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.