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Developer asks for time to negotiate on old school property

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MORRIS, Minn. -- The Morris City Council, acting as the city's Economic Development Authority, met with representatives from one company who are interested in developing the old elementary school property.

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On Tuesday, Steve Schwanke, managing partner with Prairieland Partners, told the EDA that his company is looking for a four to six month commitment to exclusively negotiate with the city on the project to give the company time to "drill down into the details" of development options.

Schwanke said the company prides itself on doing an "extensive" amount of research before going into a project, looking broadly at issues like demand and financing and specifically at issues like how to design specific buildings.

In order to answer these questions, the company will look at studies that have already been done, conduct a housing research study, and conduct interviews with different market segments in the community, Schwanke said.

"You can do cookie cutter stuff -- I can pull three or four designs off the shelf -- but what we like to do is get a real specific sense of what's needed here," said Schwanke. "We take a fair amount of time to do that because we like to build something to the community."

According to the submitted proposal, Prairieland Partners is interested in purchasing between 9.5 and 12 acres of the property to use for a "mix of higher density housing types" for a variety of demographics.

The proposal includes about 50 to 60 units of post-secondary student housing on four or five acres along College Avenue; 20 units of senior assisted living on 2.5 to three acres along Seventh Street; and 24 to 30 units of market-rate or affordable housing on three or four acres along Columbia Avenue depending on the demand in the area.

"We think that those three types fill a very distinct need in town and we think they're very compatible," said Schwanke. Prairieland Partners and their companies would be long-term holders in the projects and serve as managers for both the senior and student housing.

The company did not include plans for the five-acres section of property that includes the old football field, a concern raised by members of the EDA at a prior work session.

"As part of this four to six months, we certainly like to try and figure that out," said Schwanke "There is no doubt in my mind that one of the worst things that could come out of this is that part of it gets developed and we can't figure out what to do with the rest."

After the presentation, the EDA took no official action on the project.

City applies for 2014 transit grant

The council authorized City Finance Director Deb Raasch to submit a transit grant application for 2014 funding.

The grant request estimates total expenses for Morris Transit at $434,443, with state and federal grants picking up nearly $350,000 of that total. The remainder is covered by fares, rent revenue and some city tax dollars.

City Manager Blaine Hill told the council that the city will be meeting with officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other transit leaders next month to discuss merging or combining transit systems.

Currently, the state issues about 64 transit grants across the state, but is pushing to cut back that number by merging some systems together to make the grant process more efficient, Hill said. This could mean combining Morris Transit with Rainbow Rider, a regional transit system.

"We like the way we run, we think we do a very good job of providing service for our local community," said Hill. "Unless there's a really good reason for us to join together with them, we're not interested in doing that."

However, the city may not have a choice if funding agencies push for a combined system.

Companies need peddler permit in city limits

City Manager Blaine Hill told the Morris City Council Tuesday that a couple of roofing companies have been offering their services around town without applying for a peddling permit.

Hill said companies must pay a fee and submit information for a background check before they can go door-to-door offering their services to make sure "scam artists" stay out of town.

In wake of the recent storm, Hill said he has denied a permit to a representative of a company and stopped another company from going door-to-door without a permit until a background check is completed.

"In order to go door-to-door, you have to have a permit," said Hill. "These companies know that, but I think they're just trying to come in and jump on the sales."

Other business

• The council authorized city staff to accept a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for a new airport hangar and land acquisition for a buffer zone at the airport.

• The council approved using $10,000 from the Tourism Fund for new holiday lights for downtown Morris as part of the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce's community pride project. The new holiday lights will be delivered in time for the Parade of Lights in November.

• The council approved a payment of $5,604 to F and S Concrete of Garfield for a sidewalk improvement project on West Fifth Street.

• The council approved the third payment to Breitbach Construction for a road improvement project on the west side. The payment of approximately $308,000 brings the total project cost to about $566,600 to date.

• The council also approved a second payment of approximately $96,300 to Dore and Associates for demolition at the old elementary school project. The total project cost to date is about $228,200.

• The council approved an agreement with the Morris Area School Board for Morris Police Department Officer Anita Liebl to serve as the school resource officer for the 2013 - 2014 school year. The school board will pay for 60 percent of the cost, about $21,900.

• The council, acting as the Economic Development Authority, approved a $30,000 loan from the city's revolving loan pool to Greg and Marcia Buss to renovate the front of Don's Cafe. Marcia told the board they are hoping to redo the building with more energy-efficient materials.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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