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News from the week of June 8, 2005

Hearing set for South Tracy drainage plan

A long-discussed plan to improve South Tracy drainage may be moving forward.

A June 27 public hearing for the proposed drainage improvements has been set for Monday, June 27, at 6:35 p.m. at Tracy City Hall.

Public hearing notices from the City of Tracy will be mailed to property owners who would benefit from the drainage improvements. The letters will include estimated assessments on a per square foot basis. It has been the city’s past assessment policy to assess benefiting property owners for 50% of drainage improvements, with the other 50% added to the city’s tax levy.

City council members are expected to decide whether or not to pursue the drainage project after the public hearing.


Support voiced

Public Works Director Rick Robinson backs the project.

“I’d like to see something done,” Robinson told city council members last week. “This is a very doable project.”

Two South Tracy business owners agreed.

“I’ve been waiting for 20 years to have something done,” said Jeff Farber of Greenwood Nursery.

“Our business is within the City of Tracy and I expect the City of Tracy to address this problem,” said Dr. Kathy Brown of the Brockway-Brown Veterinary Clinic.

Several council members also voiced support for the project.

“I don’t think we can wait any longer,” said Charlie Snyder.

Jan Arvizu said, “this flooding has been a problem for a long time.”


New drainage ditch suggested

A Worthington engineering firm—Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc. (SEH) developed a drainage plan for south Tracy last fall. A two-pronged approach was suggested: 1) Construct three “dry” water retention ponds west, southwest, and south of Tracy Area High School at an estimated cost of $1,769,000; 2) Install new storm sewer pipes and build a new drainage ditch to speed the movement of water to County Ditch 23. Estimated cost of the storm sewers and new drained ditch was estimated at $267,800. Engineers said that neither step, by itself, would take care of all south drainage problems, but both would help.

Council consensus last fall was that the retention ponds, which would require the city to purchase farmland outside city limits, were not now affordable for the City of Tracy, but that the ditch and storm sewer improvements would be a good first step.

The open ditch would be built from the intersection of Front and South Fourth streets, northeastward toward Ditch 23, which runs along the railroad tracks. Some underground storm sewer piping would be constructed along South Fourth, and from Spring Street, to bring surface-run-off to the new ditch.

Estimated cost of the new ditch, storm sewer piping, and engineering plans is $315,000. The estimate does not include the cost for purchasing land (the former Central Livestock property) that would be needed to build the ditch. How much land the city needs to acquire is dependent upon the route chosen for the drainage ditch, and whether a new housing development would be incorporated with the project.

Dr. Brown and Farber told council members last week that they feel that the scaled down plan is worth doing, even if the project doesn’t remedy drainage problems 100%.


Lyon County’s role

Phil Nelson, who represents Tracy and Monroe Township on the five-member Lyon County Board of Commissioners, told council members the county would not be directly involved in the project.

The county’s only role with drainage, he said, is to “act as a referee” among property owners who benefit from drainage improvements. The county, Nelson said, can not improve a drainage system without a petition from property owners. Nelson noted that the county plans to re-grade and improve County Road 73 (Highline Road), which could result in some drainage benefits for south Tracy.

Nelson said that the present ditch and tile system serving south Tracy was originally built to handle farmland. Subsequent development, he said, has overloaded the system. The commissioners said that what is known as County Ditch 10, is network of field tile that was installed a hundred years ago. Many tile lines, he said, are likely broken or plugged.


Nielsen suggests petition

City Attorney Frank Nielsen said that if Tracy property owners petition for improvements to the existing county ditch system that serves south Tracy, then perhaps benefiting landowners outside city limits could share in the cost of improvements. He said that at present, the county operates the south Tracy drainage system and that it might be more efficient to continue having a single operator of the drainage system rather than two. Nielsen pointed out that the City of Tracy pays fees every year for its use of the county ditch system.

The city’s legal counsel said he was concerned that the engineering report states that the proposed drainage ditch and storm sewer will not solve the south Tracy drainage problems unless the retention ponds are also built. The engineering report, he said, could be used by a property owner as grounds to contest special assessments for proposed drainage project.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that since city policy calls for the property owner to be assessed for only half of drainage improvements, the city would be able to show that the benefit of storm sewer improvements exceeded any assessment cost.

Ordinance restricts 'adult' businesses

Call it Tracy’s “X-rated” ordinance, if you will. Tracy City Government has never had a document quite like Ordinance No. 293, which will be considered for adoption by Tracy City Council members Monday.

The proposed ordinance—which often draws upon explicit sexual terms and language—establishes regulations and restrictions for sexually-oriented businesses. City Administrator Audrey Koopman says the intent is to give the city tools to restrict and regulate “adult” oriented businesses, should one ever attempt to open in Tracy.

“The law does not allow cities to prohibit such businesses,” she said. However, cities are allowed to regulate the location and operation of sexually oriented businesses through zoning, licensing, health and public safety requirements.

The new ordinance, Koopman indicates, has been prompted by the experience of several small rural Minnesota communities without “adult use” ordinances, where sexually-oriented businesses have opened.

Tracy has had an “emergency” ordinance regulating sexually-oriented businesses for nearly two years. However, that emergency ordinance, which has been extended twice, is set to expire in September and the council can not extend it again. The ordinance now being considered would establish permanent regulations for such “adult” businesses.

The Tracy Planning Commission recommends passage of the ordinance. The city council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance at 6:35 p.m. in the Tracy City Council Chambers. Copies of the 22-page ordinance are available at city hall.


Adverse effects

Ordinance 293 contains a “finding” that adult-oriented businesses have adverse impacts of surrounding neighborhoods. The negative effects include “increased crime rates, lower property values, increased transiency, neighborhood blight and potential health risks.”

The ordinance defines an adult-oriented business as an operation that generates a substantial portion of its business from “merchandise, devices or other materials distinguished or characterized by an emphasis on material depicting, exposing, simulating, describing, or relating to specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas…”

Adult-oriented businesses specifically mentioned in the ordinance include adult book and/or media stores, adult cabarets, adult hotel or motels, adult mini-motion picture theaters, adult modeling studios, adult motion picture arcades, adult motion picture theaters, adult novelty businesses, adult media, adult body painting studios, adult conversation/rap parlors, adult health/sport clubs, adult massage parlors, adult saunas, adult steam rooms/bathrooms/spa, and adult car washes, etc.

The ordinance lists definitions for “specified sexual activities,” what is considered a state of nudity, and what are considered to be different types of “adult oriented” businesses.


Many limitations

The requirements in the ordinance would make it difficult for a sex-oriented business to locate and operate in Tracy.

For example, adult-oriented businesses could not be open from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. under the proposed ordinance. All non-emergency entrances to the business have to be visible from public right-of-way. Businesses have to be arranged so that law enforcement officers can view patrons at all times.

The ordinances specifies that adult-oriented businesses are permitted uses only in I-1 and I-2 (industrial) zones. Zoning regulations also stipulated that such establishments must be at least 750 feet from other adult-use businesses and at least 750 feet away from any residentially zoned property. Adult oriented businesses can not be within 750 feet of schools, places of worship, libraries,, daycare facilities, parks, playgrounds or recreation areas.

Council retreats from stance on Charter cable franchise

Tracy City Council members have softened their position on a proposed cable television franchise renewal with Charter Communications.

In April, the council voted unanimously to demand that Charter either accept the same franchise renewal terms that PrairieWave Communications had accepted, or face a review process in front of an administrative law judge. But at a May 31 meeting where they met with a top Charter official, council members expressed a willingness to accept an earlier offer from Charter.

“I hate to see this go on and on,” said Sandi Rettmer, who offered a motion to rescind the council’s earlier action and accept Charter’s franchise terms.

Charlie Snyder said he “had a problem” with any action that resulted in more legal fees for the city.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that he saw no point in a protracted disagreement with Charter that drove up costs for both the city and the company, and ultimately could result in higher fees for Charter customers.

Council members seemed ready to pass Rettmer’s motion, until city legal counsel Jim Kerr suggested that the council seek an opinion from Robert Vose, the Minneapolis attorney the council hired last year to negotiate a franchise renewal with Charter, before makinig a decision.

Rettmer withdrew her motion, and suggested a special council meeting, “with input from Mr. Vose and get this taken care of once and for all.” Other council members agreed to ask for a recommendation from Vose, but indicated that a telephone or written recommendation would be sufficient instead of paying the attorney to travel to Tracy. Council members agreed to have the Charter franchise placed on a future agenda.

“The bottom line is that we will have this taken care of,” Ferrazzano told Arne “Tucker” Carlson, director of government relations for Charter.

Carlson, the son of the former Minnesota governor, emphatically told council members that Charter would not accept the terms of the PrairieWave contract. Provisions objectionable to Charter, he said, could be insisted upon in Charter franchises negotiations elsewhere, if the company accepted them in Tracy. In a May 17 letter to the council, Carlson charged that the PrairieWave franchise “contains provisions that are inconsistent with applicable law and is therefore not acceptable.”

If the city insisted upon the review process with the administrative law judge, Carlson told the council that Charter was prepared to go ahead with the review, no matter what the cost, rather than accept the city’s last demand.

• • •

In an April 4 letter to the city, Vose said that there were only five substantial differences between the proposed Charter franchise and the PrairieWave contract.

Carlson felt that the major sticking point was the provision sought by Charter, to limit legal fees to $1,000 for franchise transfers reviewed by the city. Carlson contended that open-ended legal costs could make Charter pay more than a statutory cap of 5% of gross revenues.

• • •

Negotiations with Charter for a new franchise agreement have been going on for more than a year. Charter’s last franchise agreement with the city expired March 28, 2004. Vose, from the Twin Cities law firm of Kennedy & Graven, was hired by the council last fall to negotiate the new franchise terms. PrairieWave, Charter’s cable TV competitor in Tracy, agreed to terms with the city last year.

In April, Koopman reported that the city’s legal expenses for the Charter franchise negotiations were $9,700 through December of 2004, and mounting. Council members, when they hired Vose, had the understanding the Charter would pay for the legal bills related to the franchise renewal. The City of Tracy has paid for the legal bills to date, and billed Charter for reimbursement, but has not received any payment.

In comments last week, Carlson said that Charter’s franchise fees to the city could be applied to the legal bills.


20 candles for 'Wheels'

Open house planned Tuesday

Wheels Across the Prairie Museum is observing the 20th anniversary with an open house Tuesday, June 14 from 1 to 8 p.m. Refreshments will be served.

The Tracy museum, which opened in 1985 with a single building, now has 12 buildings that contain pieces of history from the Tracy community and surrounding area. The museum also features a switch engine, tender car, box car, and caboose.

The public

Horses are way of life for Ruppert family

By Megan Meyer

Karly Ruppert is one of the local equestrians saddling up this weekend for the Plum Creek Saddle Club’s annual show.

Horses have long been a part of her life. The rural Currie teen spends about three hours every day working with horses, Her father, Karl, has passed on his love of horses to Karly and her older sister, Tory.

“Sis,” the horse Karly rides, is one of eight horses on the Ruppert farm.

“Eight is after we cut back,” Karly said.

This weekend Karly will be riding in the “English Pleasure” category, one of many styles of riding a horse. During the competition, the judge tells the rider how to pace the horse, from a walk, trot, and canter, which is similar to galloping.

While competing, Karly will be wearing a riding helmet, riding pants, belt, overcoat, under shirt and English riding boots. The pants, she stated, are usually peach in color and the over coat is typically black or gray. The boots are black and extend up to Karly’s knees.

Another riding style is “Western Pleasure,” which is her sister Tory’s category of choice.

• • •

The family has owned “Sis” for three years. The 19-year-old is mostly quarter horse but does have a little thoroughbred blood, Karly shares. Many hours are spent caring for and training the horses.

Karly and Tory have group riding lessons on Monday nights and individual lessons with their trainer on Fridays. Grooming a horse is an on-going responsibility. Karly clips the hair on Sis’ mane, ears and muzzle. Sometimes she puts braids in the horse’s tail.

Many pieces of equipment are needed for the care and riding of horses.

Karly opened the door to the trailer and inside were saddles, many bridles and ropes and blankets known as saddle pads. There is a significant size difference between English and Western saddles, which Karly and Tory use for their respective competitions. A bridle is the set of ropes and metal that helps to steer the horse. The metal piece goes inside the horse’s mouth and the ropes then fall back into place around the horse’s head. “Like this,” Karly states as she places the bridle on her own head.

The two girls have come to love riding and have become good at what they do. Their grandmother shares their accomplishments by telling how great they both do. Tory once placed fifth in showmanship at the 4-H State Fair.

is invited. Regular museum hours are Monday through Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.

New house envisioned on run-down property

Western Community Action is considering a plan to build at new house at 174 Center Street. The plan is dependent upon whether the Tracy Economic Development Authority could buy the property at a Lyon County tax forfeiture real estate auction this summer and then clear the site. The property now has a vacant house and garage.

The new house envisioned for the site would be about 1,200 square feet with an attached garage. Western Community Action built a similar house in Mt. Lake for about $104,000.

EDA members have expressed interest in working with Western Community Action on the project at recent meetings. The EDA’s only cost would be the purchase price (which will start at $1,000 for the upcoming tax auction) and demolition expenses estimated at $4,000.

Western Community would be responsible for building the house, providing construction financing, and the sale of the house.