Council rejects Legion’s request for sign

Published 9:25 am Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In a split 4-3 vote, the Albert Lea City Council on Monday denied a request from American Legion Leo Carey Post 56 to install an electronic message board on its building on North Broadway Avenue, in Albert Lea’s historic district.

Councilors who denied the request indicated they thought the sign would be considered outdoor advertising — essentially a billboard — which is only permitted in the B-2 and I-2 Districts.

Some also said they needed to consider what kind of character there needs to be in the downtown district, while others questioned the safety concerns that might rise out of it.

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Mayor Mike Murtaugh, along with councilors Vern Rasmussen, Ellen Kehr and Larry Baker, voted to deny the request, while councilors Reid Olson, Larry Anderson and Al Brooks voted to approve it.

American Legion Club manager Todd Utpadel said the sign would have helped promote not only Legion events but events taking place for service organizations, schools and other groups across the city and county. It would also tie into Amber Alerts.

It was part of a commander’s project for Post Cmdr. Rex Stotts.

Utpadel said information on the sign would rotate every 10 seconds. It would not be a flashing letter-changing sign, but would instead be static, or fixed, for those 10 seconds. And it would be without fancy transitions.

The sign was earlier denied by the Heritage Preservation Commission but approved by the Board of Appeals and then sent back to the council.

Utpadel said he was frustrated with some of the rules of the HPC that were in place but over the years have not been followed.

City Attorney Lee Bjorndal raised the concern of whether the sign would be a outdoor advertising, which he said is not permitted in the city code. He said if it was a sign advertising only Legion events, it would be different.

Utpadel said if that were the case, that would take away the point of the sign.

Murtaugh said what troubled him about the request was not having a clear understanding of how the sign was going to work.

Rasmussen said he thought approving the request would open a can of worms to other downtown businesses.

Murtaugh noted he thinks turning down the American Legion’s sign request is in “the best long-term interest of preserving the nature of downtown’s historic district.”

He said though he did vote against it based on the uncertainty as to how the sign would be used, he hopes the Legion will pursue a different commander’s project.

In other action, the City Council:

Went into closed session for at least one hour to discuss two topics.

The first was concerning the purchase of the Damman property, which is land adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant south of Albert Lea Lake.

In a summary of the session, Murtaugh said the council gave city staff the direction to pursue negotiations for purchase of that property.

The second topic was regarding union negotiations. Murtaugh said City Manager Victoria Simonsen and Human Resources Director Mike Zelenak updated about that topic.

 Authorized an agreement with the Albert Lea School District for rental of ice time at City Arena for the 2009-10 hockey season. The agreement will include use of the ice, dressing rooms, team showers and equipment area.

The agreement is for $50,000 in two payments, due on Dec. 15 and March 15, 2010.

 Voted to give Jose Soto-Gonzalez, owner of 316 Railroad Ave., an extension for completing work at the house, which was placarded as unfit for human occupancy in April 2007.

Soto-Gonzales has been working to bring the house up to code and has so far put on new siding and a new roof. He has yet to put in new windows and a new foundation.

The council gave him until Dec. 31 to have the windows put in.

Approved a request by David Courey to waive the fee to use the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center for his event over the weekend to raise money for the Freeborn County Historical Society.

The vote was 4-3.

Authorized membership in the Southeast Service Cooperative.

The membership will allow the city to go through this cooperative for health insurance for city employees during the 2010 plan year.

The Southeast Service Cooperative provides pooling opportunities with other groups in the region to leverage economies of scale, lower costs and achieve claim cost stability. It was established in 1976 by the Minnesota Legislature.

 Authorized the submittal of a grant application to the Office of the Secretary of State of Minnesota for federal funds available through the Help America Vote Act.

If obtained, the grant will fund six assessable polling booths and magnifiers.

 Approved an administrative survey of lots of record for the Carrington Companies, owners of Northbridge Mall.

Authorized a transfer of funds from the PIR capital projects fund to the PIR debt service fund.

Called a public hearing on Nov. 23 for Jobs Opportunity Building Zones tax exemptions for Alamco Wood Products LLC.

The owners are proposing a new operation in the facility that will result in an expansion and additional workers.